I used to imagine that there was a simple explanation. To anything. To everything.
I imagined, for example, that there was a simple explanation for my out-of-control sexual behavior. I thought someone (my shrink?) could just tell it to me, and then, magically, the (need for) the behavior would just – POOF! – disappear. (“N,” he would say, “you’re doing this because your mother left you when you were young,” or some such. And she did. And I was. But, as we say in my hometown, that and a token get you on the subway. And now even that’s not true….)
Alas, that just isn’t how the (my?) world works. Sure, there are a couple of reductionist ways of explaining (away) my relationships with women: I fear abandonment, I crave acceptance and validation, I’m hungry to feel desired. But… Those sorts of “explanations,” though true enough, are both incomplete and useless.
If the complete truth were that I feared abandonment, well then shouldn’t I have vanquished that shit with T, who stood by me through everything? Ditto, on some level, with acceptance and validation. I mean, fuck, how many guys are married to women who tolerate hypersexuality, polyamory, swinging, and, to top it all off, blogging about it all? Isn’t that prima facie evidence of acceptance?
But here’s the thing: as much as I craved those things (and I did, I do), it wasn’t until I began to understand, to feel in my bones, that I also craved their opposites that I could even begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Here’s a simple way of explaining what I mean: for years, I held the following beliefs as doctrinal truths:
1. I didn’t want to be cheating on my wife.
2. I didn’t want to be engaging in the behaviors in which I was engaging regularly, daily, hourly, constantly.
3. There were aspects of my behaviors which were particularly annihilating, devastating, and counter to what it was I was seeking. In particular, and for example, I believed that the requirement that I pay women to minister to me sexually was a sort of unfortunate but inevitable feature of my circumstance, that if I could seduce women, I would, but I couldn’t, so I needed to use money to conjure them. And I believed that the flakiness of paid sexual companions, their tendency to disappear, or miss scheduled liaisons, or reschedule at the last minute, was a particularly unfortunate aspect of paid sex.
4. I believed the shame I felt after acting out sexually was a sort of byproduct of the whole thing, an unfortunate thing that happened, but that was an unintended and inevitable consequence.
The truth is, though, all of these beliefs were dead wrong.
1 and 2. It simply isn’t meaningful to assert that one doesn’t want to do something one is doing. At least not to/for me. If I’m going to the ATM, getting cash, walking up a dark stairway, undressing, and lying on a table in a dark room so a 25-year-old Eastern European woman can rub my cock for an hour, it’s because I want to. And if I say I don’t want to, even as I’m doing it, well, then, that’s an act of dissociation, of positing two of me – one, essential me that judges, and another that desires, that does. But at the end of the day, I’ve got one body, one brain, and goddammit if they both weren’t on that table getting a handjob. And judging me at the same time.
3 and 4. The idea that we (that I) might actually want to experience unpleasant emotions and feelings is so anathematic that it’s simply hard to imagine. But I believe it’s true. That, again, I’m a smart enough guy that if I do x over and over again, it’s probably because I want x. It wasn’t the case that I couldn’t seduce women (though it sure felt that way), it was that I wanted the complex set of experiences that came along with paying for sex. Including shame, embarrassment, inadequacy. I came up with a highly specific, highly ritualized set of ways in which I acted out sexually. They were designed to produce precisely the combination of feelings they did produce – positive and negative.
It wasn’t until I opened myself up to these ideas, to these possibilities, that I began even to be able to begin to imagine a way out.