Book Reviews

The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships by Neil Strauss -Book Notes, Summary, and Review

26. The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships - Neil Strauss

Get it on Amazon

Rating: 10/10

Date of reading: 7th – 14th of July, 2017

Description: Another Strauss’s masterpiece. This is everything you need to know about relationships and everything most of us try to avoid for our entire lives. If you can be strong enough to find and read The Truth, it will truly set you free. This is the best book on relationships I ever read in my entire life. 


My notes:


PROLOGUE: The Hand You Are Dealt Face Down


“And so I faced a decision: How far would I go to protect my parents? Is it better to betray the people responsible for my existence or to betray that existence itself? It is a decision that everyone, at some point in life, must make. Most make the wrong one.” ( :16)


Door 1


“”That’s great.” He doesn’t look like the kind of guy who ever needed my advice. “I met my wife because of you. I owe you everything.”” ( :20)

“She is reliving her mother’s relationship with her cheating father. I am reliving my father’s secret sex life. We are repeating a pattern handed down by generations of lying, cheating assholes and the poor fools who trust them.” ( :21)

“When I’m single, I want to be in a relationship. When I’m in a relationship, I miss being single. And worst of all, when the relationship ends and my captor-lover finally moves on, I regret everything and don’t know what I want anymore.” ( :22)

“Several years ago, I wrote a book called The Game about an underground community of pickup artists I joined in search of an answer to the biggest question plaguing my lonely life at the time: Why don’t women I like ever like me back?” ( :23)


“”Guilt is just about your behavior. Shame is about who you are.”” ( :26)

“”And shame.” Lots of shame. She leads me back to the reception” ( :27)

“”You’re enabling my cast addiction,” Dawn jokes. And we laugh as if everything’s normal. But as we do, I look down and see the red tag dangling over my solar plexus like a scarlet letter. And I start to falter, to get nervous, to wonder if they’ve noticed that, of all the people to talk to here, I’ve chosen them—the youngest ones, the most attractive ones, the only two I shouldn’t be sitting with. If they don’t know yet what this red badge means, they will know soon: Keep away. This” ( :29)

“You don’t have time to think. If you ever want to be truly happy in this lifetime, you have to recognize that you’re using sex like a drug to fill a hole. And that hole is your self-esteem. Deep down, you feel unlovable. So you try to escape from that feeling by conquering new women. And when you finally go too far and hurt Ingrid, all it’s going to do is reinforce your original belief that you’re not worthy of love.” ( :34)

“about how I’ve made my living off my so-called sex addiction. My sex addiction pays for my phone, rent, and health insurance. It pays for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; for movies, books, and the computer I’m writing on; for socks, underwear, and shoes. Fuck, I couldn’t afford to be here getting treatment without it.” ( :37)

“he first time I did it out of desire. The second time I did it out of guilt. The third time I did it out of fear: She’d threatened to tell Ingrid. Then I didn’t do it the fourth time.” ( :40)

“Ingrid, it’s the pain of knowing I’ve hurt her. In this life, we don’t meet many people who truly love us, who accept us for who we are, who put us before themselves. Maybe a parent or two if we’re lucky, perhaps a couple of previous partners. So what kind of person rewards someone’s love with lies, betrayal, and pain? A selfish person. A coldhearted person. A thoughtless person. An asshole. A liar. A cheater. A guy who thinks with his dick. Me.” ( :41)

“Guilt is about breaking the rules. Shame is about being broken.” ( :42)

“The first time I heard of sex addiction was when I saw a news exposé as a teenager. It followed a sex addict who drove around the city in a van with a mattress in back and somehow talked women into hooking up with him in there. He was very ordinary looking and plainly dressed, and I was envious that his sheer determination to have sex could actually produce results when my desire was getting me nowhere with the ladies.” ( :44)

“”Being relational is being in the moment—in the here and now—with someone else. Here’s a tool you can use: Your mind can only do two things at once. So if you can sit and feel your breath go in and out as you listen to someone else, you are in the moment, in action. And when you’re not in action, you’re not relational: You’re in reaction.”” ( :45)

“I suppose another term for recovery is just behavior modification.” ( :49)

“learned survival response. We have a saying here: If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.”” ( :49)

“”Most people think of trauma as the result of a serious assault, disaster, or tragedy,” Lorraine continues. “But a small trauma, like a parent criticizing you day in and day out, can be just as damaging because it’s happening on a regular basis. Think of it this way: If one big-T Trauma is a ten on the scale and a little-t trauma is a one, then ten little traumas can be just as powerful as one big” ( :49)

“Trauma.”” ( :50)

“”When children experience trauma, they tend to absorb the feelings of their abusers and store them in a compartment in their psyche that we call the shame core. It contains the beliefs I am worthless, I am unlovable, I don’t deserve. Any time you feel one down—or inferior—to someone or you feel one up—or superior—those are false beliefs generated by your shame core. Because, in reality, every person in the world has equal worth and value.”” ( :50)

“”And how do you feel about that?” Lorraine asks. “I’m standing here, a middle-aged widow, telling you how to live your life. I’m telling you I know more than you do and I’m one up to you.” “I feel anger,” Charles says. “Exactly. To survive painful beliefs and feelings, we often mask them with anger. That way, we don’t have to feel the shame behind it.”” ( :50)

“Eighty-eight percent of sex addicts, she tells us, came from emotionally disengaged families. Seventy-seven percent came from rigid or strict families. And sixty-eight percent say their families were both distant and strict.” ( :50)

“”I cheated on my girlfriend.” “Strict mother?” “Yes.” “Mom wasn’t emotionally available, so you’re taking out your dick and using it to look for love. And sex is healing the anger at Mom for not being available.” She speaks quickly and confidently, as if my story is exactly what she knew it would be.” ( :50)

“”Was she there for you . . . or were you there for her?”” ( :50)

“I can’t just blindly obey. It needs to make fucking sense to me. It’s like going to a church to be a better person, but then being told that the only way to do it is by worshipping a god you don’t believe in.” ( :53)

“If true intimacy, then no outside sex. “That’s your theory,” I begin. “If you boil it down to the basic idea behind it, what you get is this . . .” If true X, then no outside Y. “And the problem is, this equation just isn’t true.” In school, I never thought I’d actually have to use algebra in real life. I was wrong. “Even if you make both X and Y the exact same variable, it still doesn’t work.” I continue writing: If true X in the relationship, then no X outside the relationship.” ( :54)

“If true cooking in the relationship, then no cooking outside the relationship. “But that’s just not true. Sometimes you want to go to a restaurant for a change.” The guys are watching intently. Calvin is on the edge of his seat. Troy has a big smile on his face. Charles’s brows are deeply furrowed. This is it. This is the moment where I disprove all the bullshit Joan’s been feeding us. She can have her revenge afterward, whatever it may be. “Now let’s go back to your original premise. And let’s make it even stronger.” If true intimacy, then no outside intimacy.” ( :54)

“”So what are we supposed to do with all the rest of our sexual needs?”” ( :55)

“Joan doesn’t change her expression. She’s stone cold. “Cross out if intimacy, then no outside intimacy,” she instructs me. I do as she says. “Now cross out, if cooking, then no outside cooking.” I do that. “Now go back to your seat.” I do that too. She stares at the board. “I’m processing,” she says. The room is completely silent. It’s like a chess match. And everyone’s wondering if it’s checkmate. Finally, Joan turns to me. “You need to define intimacy.” “Would you like me to do that now?” “You can do that on your own time.”” ( :55)

“Intimacy is sharing your reality with someone else and knowing you’re safe, and them being able to share their reality with you and also be safe.” ( :55)

“I was with a porn star from Serbia once. She was a ten. Cost a thousand dollars— and she worked me over.” ( :57)

“was with a porn star from Serbia once. She was a ten. Cost a thousand dollars— and she worked me over. It was the best experience of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” He pauses and reflects. “I’ve probably wasted more money on bad food.”” ( :57)

“Adam nods. “You know, I don’t think there are many guys who, if they were staying alone in a hotel and a beautiful woman wanted to have sex with them, would turn it down.”” ( :57)

“”Things were okay at first,” Adam says. “But when we had kids, everything changed. She just let herself go. We tried having date nights once a month, but all she’d do is worry about the kids. So we stopped doing that too. And”—he hesitates—”I’ll tell you honestly: I like sex that’s exciting, you know, and sometimes a little rough. And she just lies there like once every three months, and basically lets me have sex with her.”” ( :58)

“THE MALE DILEMMA 1. Sex is great. 2. Relationships are great. 3. Relationships grow over time. 4. The sex gets old over time. 5. So does she. 6. Thus the problem.” ( :58)

“”You know who the best girlfriend would be?” Calvin interjects, his eyes lit up as if he’s just had the perfect picnic. “That mutant from X-Men who can turn into anyone she wants. I’d never get bored of her! You could have sex with Megan Fox one night and Hillary Clinton the next.”” ( :59)

“In a book on evolution I once read, the writer cited research claiming that gay women have fewer than ten partners on average in their lifetimes whereas gay men have more than a hundred. So I ask Paul about it.” ( :59)

“So I ask Paul about it. “I’ve been with over a thousand guys,” he confirms. His voice is raspy and gruff, and he has the permanent look of someone who’s had a rough night partying.” ( :59)

“MOTHER Punishing Strict Secretive Complaining Suffering FATHER Distant Unemotional Selfish Temperamental Alone” ( :63)

“disengaged). I press on, writing down my most prevalent feeling growing up (“misunderstood”) and my family role (“the black sheep”).” ( :63)

“As the three of them respond supportively, I still feel like an impostor: My trauma is woefully inadequate compared to theirs. Even here, in a hospital of misfits, I don’t fit in.” ( :65)

“In the art room the next morning, I quickly finish my last rule—”Don’t trust other people: They are out to hurt you”—and race to join the guys in group therapy. Joan storms into the room a few minutes later carrying a stapled printout. My picture is on it. She looks at me and blurts, “Are you here for research?”” ( :68)

“I tell her I wasn’t aware of that, and she goes on to explain that couples should have seventeen dates and fully get to know each other before initiating any physical contact.” ( :68)

“The words fly out between tears and spittle. “And my mom’s a fucking cripple. She had no idea he had this obsession when she married him. That’s why she hates him so much. She thinks she’s like the prize of his collection.”” ( :69)

“”When your mom is emotionally dependent on you and has intimate discussions with you that she should be having with her spouse, there’s a name for that.” Joan looks at me like a prizefighter sizing up a dazed opponent, then lands her final blow. “It’s called emotional incest.” And I’m done.” ( :71)

“Guilt is about making a mistake. Shame is about being a mistake.” ( :75)

“And fear.” ( :76)

“Don’t you dare give anyone my phone number. Okay. Please, Mom. I don’t know what to say. There’s nothing you can say. Physically, it’s just very difficult to travel. If they have therapists in Chicago they recommend, can we all go see one together? I don’t think so. There’s nothing we could do or add. We don’t feel you have a problem. Whatever problem you have, you know and we know.” ( :78)

“I’m aware, as I walk away, that I’m not really mad at them. And I’m not mad at the talking stick. It’s actually a decent rule. If I’d had the chance to speak uninterrupted as a child and express myself and truly be heard, I’d probably be much healthier.” ( :81)

“Check-in: fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. And rethinking everything I thought I knew about my childhood, my life, and who I am. The perfect frame of mind to see Ingrid after all this time apart.” ( :81)

“”But this is what pertains to us: They say here that if you tell them what kind of relationship you had with your opposite-sex parent as a child, they can tell you what kind of romantic relationship you’re going to have as an adult. Unless you’re gay, in which case it would be the same-sex parent.”” ( :83)

“hey say here that there are three ways of raising children. The first is functional bonding, in which the parents or primary caregivers love, nurture, affirm, set healthy limits with, and take care of the needs of the child. I turn over my timeline and sketch it for her:” ( :83)

“They may feel like they’re not enough for their partners; become so wrapped up in their relationships that they lose sight of their own needs and selfworth; and be emotionally intense, passive-aggressive, or in need of constant reassurance that they’re not being abandoned. Here, they call this type of person a love addict.” ( :83)

“Instead of taking care of a child’s needs, the enmeshing parent tries to get his or her own needs met through the child. This can take various forms: a parent who lives through a child’s accomplishments; who makes the child a surrogate spouse, therapist, or caretaker; who is depressed and emotionally uses the child; who is overbearing or overcontrolling; or who is excessively emotional or anxious about a child. If you grew up feeling sorry for or smothered by a parent, this is a sign that enmeshment likely occurred:” ( :84)

“As adults, they usually avoid letting anyone get too close and suck the life out of them again. Where the abandoned are often unable to contain their feelings, the enmeshed tend to be cut off from them, and be perfectionistic and controlling of themselves and others.” ( :84)

“Though they may pursue a relationship thinking they want connection, once they’re in the reality of one, they often put up walls, feel superior, and use other distancing techniques to avoid intimacy. This is known as avoidant attachment—or, as they put it here, love avoidance. And most sex addicts, according to this theory, are love avoidants.” ( :84)

“smile, which I’ve sorely missed, spreads across her face. “Why don’t you show everyone here your freedom?” she mocks, pulling next at my boxer shorts. I yank the waistband up to keep from exposing myself: If Joan saw this, she’d probably add compulsive exhibitionist to my permanent” ( :85)

“The sins of the parents are the destinies of their children. Unless the children wake up and do something about it.” ( :86)

“Of course he can, I think. I must give out some sort of enmeshment signal, letting everyone know they can confide their crazy shit in me. That’s probably why I ended up profiling rock stars for Rolling Stone, why all those mistrustful celebrities felt comfortable divulging private thoughts to me that they’d never shared with anyone else, why my editors clapped me on the back afterward and put the story on the cover.” ( :86)

“saw our parents—and the world—at age eight or twelve and not as we understand them now. And this is what we hear. Maybe, if you choose to do the same, you’ll recognize someone you know . . .” ( :88)

“When one of your needs doesn’t get met, however big or small, it can leave a wound. These wounds are known as childhood trauma. Each instance or pattern of trauma can create specific core personal issues and relationship challenges—and if these are left untreated, you’re likely to pass your wounds on to the next generation. Since this trauma occurs early in life, it can affect social, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and moral development.” ( :89)

“These can include the revered hero, the troublemaking scapegoat, the neglected lost child, the people-pleasing placater, and the mood-lifting mascot.” ( :89)

“”Cells that fire together, wire together.” So trying to see yourself with any objectivity can be like trying to touch your right elbow with your right hand. But if you can detach from yourself a little bit, you’ll notice that the things you do and think don’t just come out of nowhere. Here are a few techniques and tools you can use to better understand the way your past can interfere with your happiness, your relationships, and your life today.” ( :90)

“Are you relentlessly driving yourself to succeed and beating yourself up when you fail? Maybe that’s because when you were a teenager, your parents made you feel as if your worth as a human being was dependent on your grades, touchdowns, or accomplishments.” ( :90)

“Are you out of touch with your emotions because Stepdad always told you to toughen up when you cried? Do you feel deep A re you getting the hang of this yet? God? family because Dad acted as if he were infallible and must be unquestioningly obeyed, so criticizing him would be like blaspheming you were never able to save Mom from her depression or addiction? Are you in complete denial that anything was wrong with your down like you don’t matter because you were often ignored growing up? Are you always trying to save or care for others because” ( :90)

“This shit is known as “the stories you tell yourself.”” ( :90)

“As a result, you can spend much of your life misinterpreting situations and thinking you’ve found more evidence to support these false conclusions formed in childhood. One way to recognize when you’re stuck in your own story is whenever you feel less than or better than others.” ( :90)

“So if you remain loyal to people who abuse and mistreat you, that’s called trauma bonding. If you only feel normal if you’re doing something extreme or high-risk, that’s trauma arousal.” ( :90)

“If you’ve developed intense self-loathing, you’ve got trauma shame. If you find chemical, mental, or technological ways to numb yourself” ( :91)

“That’s the easy part. The tough part is to quarantine the virus, and to recognize the false self and restore the true self. Because it isn’t until we start developing an honest, compassionate, and functional relationship with ourselves that we can begin to experience a healthy, loving relationship with others.” ( :91)

“Joan calls this euphoric recall. “And I ended up going to this place where they had a menu of services and had a threesome with two very attractive women for four hundred and fifty dollars.”” ( :92)

“Looking back on that phone call—the only time I ever got propositioned in high school or college —I don’t know why I never rebelled, why I never just went out anyway, why even at that age I put up with being constantly imprisoned. Senior year of high school, second semester, when you’ve already been accepted to college—that’s supposed to be the best time of your life. At least for teenagers who aren’t enmeshed.” ( :95)

“know about each relative, from their birth order to tragedies in their lives to the power balance in their marriages. This is called a genogram. She’s looking for patterns. And she finds several.” ( :96)

“”Because your example was your dad, and he never stood up for himself. And his father didn’t stand up to his mother either.”” ( :96)

“thinks, unconsciously, If you knew who I actually was, you’d leave me.” “I always think that!” Calvin says, raising his hand for a high five. It goes unslapped.” ( :96)

“The avoidant gives and gives, sacrificing his own needs, but it’s never enough for the love addict. So the avoidant grows resentful and seeks an outlet outside of the relationship, but at the same time feels too guilty to stop taking care of the needy person.”” ( :97)

“As she speaks, I think of one of the most classic myths of our civilization: The Odyssey. Odysseus cheats rampantly on his voyage home from the Trojan War, even shacking up with a nymph for seven years, knowing full well that his wife, Penelope, is waiting for him. Meanwhile, Penelope stays pure for twenty years, even though she thinks he’s dead. Yet Odysseus is the hero of the tale and even slaughters all 108 of Penelope’s suitors for daring to court her. In here, they’d diagnose Odysseus as a love avoidant—off adventuring, warring, and intensity-seeking—and Penelope as a love addict, living in fantasy. This relationship is as old as time.” ( :97)

“Soon, the relationship is no longer about love for either partner, but about escaping from reality.”” ( :97)

“”A healthy relationship is when two individuated adults decide to have a relationship and that becomes a third entity. They nurture the relationship and the relationship nurtures them. But they’re not overly dependent or independent: They are interdependent, which means that they take care of the majority of their needs and wants on their own, but when they can’t, they’re not afraid to ask their partner for help.” She pauses to let it all sink in, then concludes, “Only when our love for someone exceeds our need for them do we have a shot at a genuine relationship together.”” ( :98)

“”If it’s not outside your value system and there aren’t any negative consequences, then live it up,” Lorraine replies. “But I would question why you’d choose intensity over intimacy.” “Because intensity’s more fun.”” ( :99)

“”I’d be willing to bet that after the high of the intensity, there’s a comedown, and you feel not so great and you need that next hit of intensity,” Lorraine responds coolly. “So ultimately, you can live your life like a hamster on a wheel, chasing after the next hit to keep yourself spinning. Or you can realize that ultimately it’s all a distraction to avoid the harsh reality that you are not connected to yourself.” The jubilation in the room dies down. Her blows are well aimed and hard. Unlike Joan, Lorraine doesn’t seem to be trying to win, but rather to help—and her position is not only less dogmatic, it actually makes sense. “There’s an unconscious part of ourselves we want to defend,” she continues, “and it’s been useful and helped us survive the difficult stuff we went through with Mom or Dad or the priest or the coach. But we don’t want it driving the car anymore.” She looks at me and Troy and Adam and Calvin, then concludes: “Life’s not worth living if you’re living someone else’s life.” Calvin starts crying.” ( :99)

“”This is not about you, Dad,” she says. “This is about me.” I repeat. “This is about your behaviors, not about who you are as a person.”” ( :101)

“”I realized why he has that obsession,” I say, each word escaping after a heave of my chest. “Because that’s how he feels inside, like a cripple. He’s emotionally crippled.” And then I really break down. When I recover, she tells me to” ( :102)

“The room, and the world, seem to freeze as I vomit out every single memory of being overcontrolled, overwhelmed, and overshared with: The constant groundings. The warnings that everyone was out to hurt me. The criticisms of all my friends and girlfriends. The belittling of my dad as a husband and lover. The prohibiting of my first dates. The withholding of keys to the house. The insistence that I report to her room after returning home at night to tell her everything I did. The abandonment when I chose to live with a girlfriend. The request to not bring girlfriends when I visited home. The refusal to let them stay at the house when I did. The comments that she’d rather live to see” ( :103)

“my next book than to see a grandchild.” ( :104)

“”I haven’t been connecting with Ingrid.” The tears come harder. I can’t believe I’m bawling like this. Again. “Every time I have sex with her, I’m thinking about some random woman I didn’t have sex with. I’m not letting her in.” I’m crumpled in my seat now. I can hear Calvin and the other guys crying. I feel the support and encouragement of all the sex maniacs in the room. “It’s not fair to her.”” ( :104)

“And then I have a fucking breakdown within the breakdown. I don’t share this next epiphany, but I recognize that they do belong together: two trauma-bonded cripples who are comfortable in their walls of secrecy and silent suffering, who are even more afraid of intimacy than I am, and who are mortally terrified of anyone knowing who they are.” ( :105)

“I thought that the tears were done and dried, but they’re back again. This time, though, they’re accompanied by a feeling of lightness and freedom in my chest. I can’t remember the last time I saw the truth. This is more cathartic than any drug experience I’ve ever had. All my anxiety and fear and guilt have peeled away, as if they were layers of clothing I didn’t know I was wearing. I thought they were part of my skin the whole time, but it turns out they were someone else’s hand-me-downs.” ( :105)

“I used to think that intelligence came from books and knowledge and rational thought. But that’s not intelligence: It’s just information and interpretation. Real intelligence is when your mind and your heart connect. That’s when you see the truth so clearly and unmistakably that you don’t have to think about it. In fact, all thinking will do is lead you away from the truth and soon you’ll be back in your head, groping with a penlight in the dark again.” ( :105)

“After all, the information travels down similar neural pathways. So I suppose it doesn’t matter that she actually didn’t hear a thing and may never understand. My brain thinks she did, and that’s good enough.” ( :105)

“Technically, this process is called post-induction therapy. Others call it ego-state integration. Joan calls it feeling reduction work. And Lorraine calls it an experiential. But those are euphemisms for what it really is: an exorcism. An exorcism of childhood demons.” ( :106)


Door 2


“Instead of glimpsing anonymous individuals hurrying by, I see different archetypal products of bad parenting. That meek old man with the blank stare was probably beaten senseless by his father; the sad-looking obese guy in an undersized T-shirt may have grown up with a mom who expressed love only through her cooking; the uptight businessman was likely raised by strict parents who never allowed him to be imperfect. Suddenly there seem to be very few adults in the world, just suffering children and overcompensating adolescents.” ( :109)

“An Asian American tech entrepreneur, whom my friend Melanie once tried to set me up with, writes that she wants to get on Skype to “distract me.” An Australian girl I hooked up with on a book tour says she wants to end six months of celibacy with me. A porn star I once had horrible sex with in a bathroom says she misses me.” ( :113)

“six months of celibacy with me. A porn star I once had horrible sex with in a bathroom says she misses me. A social-networking friend from France whom I’ve never met asks when I’m going to be in Paris next, and attaches a photo of herself standing naked in a garden. And on and on: women sending sonar signals, waiting for a ping back so they know what their position is.” ( :113)

“blend of who-knows-what nationalities, beauty regimens, and surgeries, resulting in a perpetual tan and fake breasts that catch the light like brass Christmas ornaments. I look at Ingrid’s key. And it looks back at me. They say that a man is as faithful as his options, and in this moment I know it to be true. So I switch the phone off. It’s too much. Even Jesus had only three temptations.” ( :113)

“I need to end this conversation. She may think she’s telling me how much she loves me, but what I’m hearing is that by not calling her on Sundays, I’m slowly killing her. One of the biggest indicators of enmeshment, according to Lorraine, is when a mother tells her children that she lives only for them.” ( :116)

“”Now I’m not going to be able to get to sleep tonight. You know how I—” The guilt is like a carcinogenic gas, seeping through the holes of the phone receiver, down my ear canal, and toward the folds and crevices of my brain. “Havetogonicetalkingbye!”” ( :117)

“Eventually he rises to his feet, stretches out his front legs, takes a few steps, pisses on the couch, walks in a tight pointless circle so that the urine gets all over his paws, then drops back onto his chin, exhausted from this evidently Herculean effort.” ( :118)

“makes me think of Asian women, which makes me think of the tech entrepreneur who wanted to Skype me. I decide to search the Internet to see how her start-up is doing, and I come across a photo of her in a bikini. Five minutes later, I’m on PornHub watching videos of Asian women who look like her while stroking myself.” ( :118)

“A text suddenly arrives on my phone from Belle, the Australian who wants to end her celibacy experiment with me: “It’s my birthday today. I wish you were unwrapping me right now.” And I text back, “I wish I were too.”” ( :119)

“Don’t try. Do it. Really get into recovery and feel it for at least ninety days. And if at the end of that time, you’re still not happy, then do what you feel is right. Find an open relationship, go crazy, have all the sex with all the people you want and see how that feels. The goal is not monogamy or nonmonogamy. It’s for you to be living a life that brings you happiness.” ( :122)

“As a result of this confusing dynamic, Adams continues, when the child grows up, relationships often begin with “immediate and total commitment,” but this is soon “followed by uncertainty and ambivalence.” And, often, “having an affair is a way to be relieved of the struggle with commitment.”” ( :124)

“”Alfred Nobel, the same guy who invented dynamite, went on to create the Nobel Peace Prize.” He looks at me, trying to make sure his point landed. And slowly what he’s trying to say dawns” ( :124)

“As he speaks, I realize that’s the exact problem: These two contradictory evolutionary desires— for variety and for family—have been tearing me apart. And on the journey to reconcile them, not only am I getting neither, but I’m discovering I’m insane.” ( :127)

“ow all of a sudden I have generalized anxiety syndrome, depressive disorder, socialization problems, brain damage, ADD, sex addiction, eroticized rage, developmental trauma disorder, emotional incest syndrome, Axis V impairment, and who knows what else. It’s a miracle I can function in society at all.” ( :127)

“Purposely loud. Each obnoxious stomp of her heels on the wood forms a word in a sentence: “I’m . . . coming . . . home . . . stop . . . whatever . . . you . . . are . . . doing . . . and . . . pay . . . attention . . . to . . . me!”” ( :130)

“So if I can’t find anything significantly wrong with her, then I must accept the only other conclusion available: the problem is still me. And after months of working on me, I’m a bigger mess than I was when this whole thing started. When I was dating Ingrid and cheating behind her back, everything was in stasis. She was happy. I was happy enough. We were living in ignorant bliss. Those were the good old lies.” ( :132)

“I look into her eyes and try to stop the enmeshed monster inside me from taking over, but it’s too late. The love I see shining there is like a bear trap, snapped shut on my soul to keep me from straying. I am a prisoner of fear. And in that moment, I realize that the self-destructive impulse I’ve had lately is not actually about wanting to hurt myself. It’s about freedom. It’s about not wanting to” ( :132)

“live under constant scrutiny, to be responsible for her feelings, to feel guilty if I happen to have a sexual thought that’s not about her, to feel like my every word or expression is a red-hot brand that may scar her.” ( :133)

“I’m going to be too old to be a good dad who can still relate to his children and play ball with them. It’s been almost a year and I’m definitely not happy. It seems more like I’m repressing my authentic self than becoming it.” ( :133)

“”Think about it: If you add up all the people who’ve cheated in their relationships, that’s tens of millions of customers in the U.S. alone. Now add to that the even huger number of people who watch porn, and this is the smartest business plan in the world. If they turn being male and horny into some kind of brain cancer that’s covered by health insurance, they’ll be billionaires.”” ( :135)

“”That part may be true, but remember: This is the same profession that said homosexuality was a disease and gave gay people electroshock treatment and lobotomies. And, you know what, back then, therapists probably blamed it on smothering mothers also. Maybe we’re just different sexually but the world hasn’t accepted it yet.”” ( :136)

“Perhaps sex addiction is the new ADD or Asperger’s syndrome. It’s very real for some people, but it’s also massively overdiagnosed and anyone who doesn’t fit a certain unrealistic standard of behavior is labeled with it.” ( :136)

“”Sex addiction isn’t even in the DSM,” Calvin goes on, his ovoid face heated red. “It was considered and completely rejected! We’ve been chasing a ghost.”” ( :136)

“Dr. Helen Fisher. For more than two decades, she’s been studying love, sex, and marriage across cultures, species, and time—” ( :137)

“the origins of this behavior: “During our long evolutionary history most males pursued trysts to spread their genes, while females evolved two alternative strategies to acquire resources: some women elected to be relatively faithful to a single man in order to reap a lot of benefits from him; others engaged in clandestine sex with many men to acquire resources from each. This scenario roughly coincides with the common beliefs: man, the natural playboy; woman, the madonna or the whore.”” ( :137)

“mating: one for sex, another for romantic love, and a third for deep attachment.” ( :137)

“third for deep attachment. And after the initial intensity of a new relationship, our romance and sex drives often swing toward other people, while our attachment drive remains connected to our primary partner.” ( :137)

“together (to release dopamine and get the romance rush), make love regularly (to release oxytocin and sexually bond), cut themselves off from cheating opportunities, and, in general, make sure their partners are “continually thrilling” enough to keep all three drives humming.” ( :138)

“”The prerequisite for a good marriage, it seems to me, is the license to be unfaithful,” Jung wrote in a letter to Freud.” ( :138)

“And Bill W., the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was so notorious for cheating on his wife with attractive women who attended sobriety meetings that his colleagues later started calling this type of lechery the thirteenth step.” ( :138)

“”If it were all genetic, if humans just by nature mated for life and there were a very tight pairbond,” Professor Peter J. Richerson explains, “then we wouldn’t need all these marriage customs.”” ( :138)

“And so I find myself, nearly a year after returning from rehab, caught between one school of thought telling me I have an incurable psychosexual disease I need to treat daily, and another making a very convincing argument that over two hundred thousand years of human culture and evolution support my behavior as perfectly natural.” ( :140)

“”We talked a lot about abandonment, because her dad walked out on her and her mom,” I recap. “One day she was feeling really sad, so she texted him and asked, ‘Do you still love me?’ But her father’s new wife texted back and said to leave him alone and stop bothering him. It’s so cruel. We were both practically crying.” Ingrid stiffens and says dryly, “Oh, so you both cried together?”” ( :140)

“And the first words out of Lorraine’s mouth not only shock me, but they’re exactly what I need to hear right now. “We had a discussion when you left rehab,” she says. “And we don’t think you’re a sex addict.” “Really?” “You have a sexual compulsivity and it’s one of many symptoms of your upbringing.” “Thank you.”” ( :143)

“After we order, I let Rick know that I’m ready to throw in the towel on this whole accepteverything-a-sex-addiction-expert-says idea. “It’s been a year and I’m still not happy. I’ve followed everything to the letter and I’ve learned a lot” ( :143)

“But before he can respond, Lorraine asks me, “Is that outside your value system?” “No.” “Then I don’t see what’s wrong with it. After my husband died, I decided I didn’t want to live with anyone again. I live alone and I’m happy, and I wouldn’t want anyone in that space. And that’s what’s right for me. What’s great about today is that there are many different options and you can choose any one that’s true to you.”” ( :143)

“There are some couples who have a lifelong relationship and children, and they agree to have an open marriage. As long as both people are truthful and intimate and operating with integrity, I’m not going to judge them.”” ( :144)

“This is when Rick finally opens his mouth to speak. “What I wish for you,” he begins, measuring each word to make sure it lands as powerfully as possible, “is that you commit all the way to living this adventurous lifestyle you want, without any other option. Because you need to get to the place where you have all the women you desire and find out it doesn’t solve your loneliness or your need for connection or your pain.”” ( :144)

“”The mystery is whether the path you’re embarking on is authentic or you’re operating out of a wound.” “How will I know the difference?” “Wounds bring drama and trauma” ( :144)

“”Wounds bring drama and trauma. They don’t bring comfort.” She pauses to make sure I understand, then elaborates. “We all have six core needs: emotional, social, intellectual, physical, sexual, and spiritual. And if they’re being attended to and enhanced, then you’re doing the right thing.”” ( :144)

“I’m silent. I can’t do it. This is what I’ve been saying is so natural, yet now I can’t bring myself to let go. We have a trip scheduled to Machu Picchu in a couple of months, and countless other adventures we’ve planned and imagined. I’ve spent my whole life dreaming of being with someone like Ingrid: someone who I respect, who I trust, who I laugh with constantly, who I wake up next to and look at and just smile, grateful to the universe for bringing someone so lovely and loving into my life. But . . .” ( :147)

“And that’s when I lose it. I hug her, tears drenching our faces. “Thank you for teaching me how to love and for teaching me what love is,” she says. “You have the biggest heart of anyone I know.” I don’t believe those words or even see how she can believe them. Yet she does.” ( :147)

“”I feel like I caught a beautiful bird in the wild and put it in a cage, just for me to look at.” I listen. She knows. She understands me. “The cage is near the window, and the bird keeps looking outside and thinking about life out there. And I need to open the cage and let it go, because it belongs in the wild.”” ( :147)

“Then her face falls, her eyes redden, and the tears start coming faster. I can’t let go, but she can. Between sobs, she sputters her last thought, the six words that will haunt me forever after: “But birds” ( :147)

“die in the wild.”” ( :148)


Door 3


“Thank you for letting me see your heart. You always said it was full of darkness, but what I saw was bright and warm, full of life. It’s the most beautiful thing, kind of like walking inside of a cave with a candle and finding this amazing hidden treasure. I think that’s why you have the treasure map engraved on you. You told me that your mom gave away your goldfish when you were young because she said you couldn’t take care of things. So I’m leaving my plant with you. I call it the Survivor because when I got it, it went for months without water and still kept growing. So now it’s yours, full of life, to prove you can take care of things.” ( :151)

“Please do not reply to this and do not call me. I will be trying to heal. If you ever need to reach me in an emergency, your code word is ‘Freeeeeeedom!’ You may only use it once and I will be there for you.”” ( :151)

“I once asked Dave Navarro, a rock guitarist I wrote a book with, why he was sabotaging his marriage to Carmen Electra, who at the time was one of the world’s biggest sex symbols. “It’s like living with my best friend,” he complained. And I responded, “That sounds great. Who wouldn’t want to live with their best friend all their life?” Now I know the answer: When you live with your best friend, your dick gets lonely.” ( :152)

“1. It can’t be sexually exclusive, which rules out monogamy. 2. It has to be honest, which rules out adultery. 3. It has to be capable of developing romantic and emotional attachment, which rules out being a permanent bachelor. 4. It has to be capable of evolving into a family with healthy, well-adjusted children, which rules out unstable partners and lifestyles.” ( :155)

“We’ve been living in the dark ages of relationships. It was the Catholic Church that began a relentless campaign to make monogamy and lifelong marriages inviolable institutions in the ninth century. It’s time to enter an enlightened age of love, sexuality, and attachment. Someone has to undo the padlock that society has put on our genitals—even if it means getting burned at the stake by Sheila,” ( :156)

“Charles, Joan, Patrick Carnes, and millions of others who are terrified of change, freedom, and, ultimately, pleasure.” ( :157)

“Men have a conflicted relationship with female sexuality: When a man is single, he wants women to be as easy and undiscerning as porn stars. But at the same time he’s terrified by this behavior, because he thinks if a woman sleeps with him so easily, then clearly she’ll sleep with anybody and thus won’t be faithful in a relationship. We have so many contradictory, repressive, self-limiting beliefs about sexuality—and almost every one of them stems from a pathological need to dictate to someone else what they are and aren’t allowed to do with their body and heart.” ( :161)

“1. Having a primary partner, with each person free to negotiate or enter into separate secondary and tertiary relationships. 2. Creating a triad, in which three people are romantically involved. This can take the form of three people in an equal relationship (a “triangle”); one person simultaneously dating two others who are not as close to each other (a “V”); or a couple sharing the same secondary (which she doesn’t name but I suppose would be a “T”). 3. Forming a group relationship of four or more people.” ( :161)

“”Whatever the situation may be, what you want is a bonded partnership that gives you a foundation to fly,” she tells me. “There’s a concept called compersion. And that means if your partner has another lover, rather than being jealous, you’re happy for her because she’s happy.”” ( :162)

“Question two: “How do I know which type of relationship is right for me?” She recommends dipping my toe in the water by going to the annual World Polyamory Association Conference, which she describes as the biggest and most established event in the community.” ( :162)

“consensual nonmonogamy—The Ethical Slut, Opening Up, Sex at Dawn, Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits—” ( :165)

“So I very clearly and compassionately explain to her, “When I hear your question, it sounds like you believe that an experience with someone else would detract from whatever we’re developing together. But wouldn’t it be better to just allow this relationship to set its own course without trying to control it or limit each other? Sexual exclusivity shouldn’t be a criteria for deciding whether to care about someone or not.”” ( :165)

“Her words shock me: as if sex is something to barter with in exchange for commitment, as if love is a business agreement to be negotiated and notarized, as if her pussy is a fucking startup and my dick is the angel investor who’s going to fund it. Even more shocking, she’s already in a long-term relationship with a high-profile lawyer. Maybe she’s planning to jump ship. There’s a term called hypergamy, which is when people marry someone of higher status, so I suppose this would be hypogamy.” ( :165)

“And then there’s Belle, the Australian coquette who kept texting while I was with Ingrid. When I met Belle, I brought her and a cute skater girl back to my hotel room to spend the night, so she’s clearly nonmonogamous. “Remember that night?” I ask when I call her. She giggles; she remembers. After a little small talk, I continue: “I don’t know if you’re familiar with polyamory, but it’s the idea that love is not some kind of scarce resource that can flow only into a single person.”” ( :166)

“”A harem, to me, is a bunch of women controlled by a guy. I’d rather live in a group atmosphere of learning and growth where everyone’s equal and free.” “Who are these other women you want to live with?” Suddenly the lilt changes to a sharp, suspicious minor key. Behind every yes, there’s always a no waiting to ruin all the fun.” ( :166)

“Because if monogamy isn’t natural and cheating isn’t moral, then the people there must be the bravest, most ethical, and most enlightened beings in the relationship world.” ( :167)

“World Polyamory Association along with his wife, Janet, who later explains that polyamory was a gift given to our civilization by aliens from the planet Nibiru. I’m reminded, fretfully, of Shama Helena’s parting words. Is the idea of polyamory so far out that only people who believe in aliens can grok it?” ( :168)

“It is in these moments that I miss Ingrid most. Loneliness is holding in a joke because you have no one to share it with.” ( :169)

“Kamala Devi and Shama Helena said polyamory was about loving relationships, not casual sex. But these guys seem more like next-level pickup artists, coming to these conferences with the intention of sucking any available women into their powerful reality. Although I suppose if you’re a spiritually evolved super-being, you exist in a constant state of love, so there’s no such thing as casual sex. If you love everyone, all sex is polyamory.” ( :171)

“Tantra-Palooza,”” ( :171)

“I want to stay and see what happens next, but I heave a sigh and rise to my feet. She’s right. These people need to feel comfortable getting naked and weird together without some overly clothed journalist eating junk food in the corner and silently mocking them. This is truly the blackest day of my life: I’ve been kicked out of an orgy for eating popcorn.” ( :175)

“if he’s swallowed a lightbulb. I’d met him once before at a party, where I introduced him to my friend Leah, a girl-next-door type with a wholesome face you could gaze at for hours. Leah called me afterward and said that on her first date with him, she had the best night of orgasms of her life. I haven’t seen either of them since, but evidently those orgasms produced so much oxytocin that, four years later, they’re still dating.” ( :176)

“”Unfortunately,” Leah adds, “some of the women are just replacing one type of predator with another. Lawrence used to work with this one Tantric sex guru who told women his dick was the Godhead, and they had to open up and receive it to be awakened. He called his sperm the nectar of the gods. Afterward, a lot of the women felt deceived and used.”” ( :177)

“For most men, what’s tougher than breaking up is the moment when their ex finally falls out of love with them and lets go, perhaps because it triggers a childhood fear—a psychological terror—of losing the first woman whose love they needed: their mother. And so, as Sheila would recommend, I let myself feel the pain, the loneliness, and the fear, using all my strength as the days pass to keep from giving in and reaching out to Ingrid.” ( :178)

“”Look at Randy. He’s dying inside. No one wants to hear that his sex life with you would be better if he hadn’t married you.” Randy avoids eye contact with her—and the fight that will occur later if he agrees with me. “So if you weren’t married, would you—if the circumstances were right and it just happened—ever have a threesome?”” ( :181)

“”See, and that’s where I’m having a problem! At least you can get those needs met by having emotional connections with family and friends outside your relationship. But with sexual needs, you’re stuck trying to get them all met by just one person. And if you try to get them from anyone else, you’re pond scum.” That’s when Nicole turns slowly, gazes at me with soft blue eyes, and says quietly, “I couldn’t agree more.” “Really?” “I just look like a good girl on the outside,”” ( :181)

“Many women think that if they put out too quickly, their partner won’t respect them. This is not the case. It’s not about waiting for a certain quantity of time before having sex, it’s about waiting for a certain quality of connection.” ( :182)

“”What do you mean by the Lifestyle?”” ( :183)

“We’re soon joined by two couples, each with men who dress too young for their age and women who look like they stepped off the pages of Maxim. One is a sculpted, statuesque, raven-haired woman. The other is a living Barbie doll who introduces herself as Chelsea.” ( :185)

“”I think the mistake you made with her,” Nicole jumps in, “is that you made it all about you wanting to be with other people. You should have made it instead about wanting to have sexual adventures together. This way, you can include her rather than making it seem like a failing on her part. That’s what worked on me.”” ( :186)

“”You kind of need to get that first marriage or big-deal relationship out of your system before you can come around to the truth that having sex with someone else has no effect on your love for each other. If anything, it can add to it.”” ( :186)

“Instantly I feel better. The door opens, revealing a tall woman with metallic red hair who looks like she belongs on the” ( :187)

“cover of a fashion magazine. She has pixielike features with an almost imperceptible dusting of freckles, smoky black eyeshadow, and full sensuous lips. Her hair is cut short and swept just above her right eye. It’s a powerful beauty that’s simultaneously mainstream and alternative, masculine and feminine, young and old. Most strikingly of all, I know her.” ( :188)

“Her tongue flits alluringly between her lips and she tells me about her last relationship. She dated a guy who was trying to create what he called a circle—a group relationship consisting of himself, Sage, and two other women. It sounds very Father Yod-like. However, he eventually became obsessed with one of the women, broke up with everyone else, started dating her exclusively, and recently married her. Evidently a line was preferable to a circle for him.” ( :190)

“A chorus of grunts and groans fills the room, and I look up to see three couples around the circular table. Two of the women are bending over the tabletop as guys slam them from behind. Everyone must have been waiting for someone with the courage to get the party started. However, it doesn’t look like a giant swap meet or sex pile, just couples having sex around other couples having sex. There was actually more swapping at the puja. Perhaps the high of swinging for some is just being in an atmosphere of sexual decadence.” ( :192)

“Tommy and James are stuck standing awkwardly on the side of the bed, so I slide over to make room for them. I don’t know why. I’m in the middle of three scantily clad, ready-to-go nonmonogamous women. Why the fuck should I care about these guys’ comfort? I would’ve paid every penny in the bank for this experience ten years ago—if I’d known it was even possible. Now, instead of enjoying it, I’m turning into a theater usher. Chelsea lies on the bed, petite and golden with sculpted abs, her pasties thrust toward the ceiling. “Take care of her for me,” Tommy tells me. “Define take care.” This is my first real swinger party, so I’m unsure of the etiquette. I don’t want to start fucking her, then find out he just meant to get her a pillow. “Do whatever you want,” James explains. “You’re the lead sled dog here.” “Just be safe, okay?” Tommy whispers in my ear. They’re literally offering their girls to me. When I was learning the game, I worked so hard for an opportunity with just one woman like this. Now there are three, and no stupid games and will-youstill-respect-me-in-the-morning fears.” ( :194)

“As we start to leave, one of the guys who was watching earlier introduces himself. “I run the Bliss parties,” he says. “I’m familiar with your work. I think you’ll find this community very interesting.” He points out another guy who was watching. “He’s actually here because of your books.”” ( :195)

“As he dances around the question, I start to understand why Adam’s story gets me so emotionally worked up: because I am his kids. I was raised by parents who rarely got along and who brought out the worst in each other. Yet for some reason, they never divorced. So I grew up hoping they’d separate and find partners who made them happier. Perhaps I’m trying to get closure by encouraging Adam to do what my father never could.” ( :203)

“Look what I got. And she loves me, so I must have value. And if you treat me with enough respect and admiration, I will share her with you—but not too much, because I don’t want to lose control of her. That would cause me to feel pain and question my fragile sense of self-worth.” ( :204)

“”because all I want is the love of other males. When Nicole and I dated another girl for a while, the best part wasn’t the threesomes, it was walking into a club with two hot women and getting the male admiration.”” ( :204)

“”Once fear of loss is taken away, you get past jealousy.” He speaks in an almost academic monotone, with very little feeling.” ( :205)

“”It actually takes most people a couple of years to work through those powerful feelings of guilt and disloyalty,” Pepper responds. “So I’d say the most important thing for you as you expand your relationships will be open and honest communication with your partners.”” ( :205)

“other people, they just get to feel free knowing they have the option to do so. There’s the jealousy test, which you pass if you’re able to have a serious relationship with someone who’s sleeping with other people or in love with someone else. Then there’s fluid bonded, which refers to partners who feel safe having unprotected sex with one another, and veto power, which means that one partner can ask another to end an outside relationship—an agreement that Pepper feels can cause more problems than it solves. Finally, there are the wearisome cowboys and cowgirls who get into the poly scene, date someone’s partner, and then try to rope that person into a monogamous relationship. I learn more in a half-hour conversation with Pepper than I did at the entire polyamory conference. After dinner, I thank him for the advice and make sure to get his phone number.” ( :206)

“Their story reminds me of Tahl’s and Lawrence’s. If you want to open your relationship, then proper etiquette is required: ladies first.” ( :210)

“The shadow he’s been repressing has broken loose. And I can relate: So has mine. But as any good Jungian therapist will tell you, you’re not supposed to repress the shadow in the first place. That’s when bad things happen. The goal is to integrate it. And I hope that’s the path we’re both ultimately on.” ( :213)

“Then, there’s James and Nicole’s friend, Camille. “Hi Neil. I’m meeting my friend Laura, who’s American just like you,” she texts. “She wants to go to a great switch club and I promised I’d get in trouble with her. Do you want to come with us?” “Is it okay if I’m with a date?”” ( :214)

“”Dump the girl. There’ll be plenty of dates for you there! And they all want to have sex :)” This switch club sounds like a goldmine of open-minded single women. The only problem: I want to bring Anne.” ( :214)

“In life, whoever has the strongest reality wins. Lose your moral certainty and lose the ground you stand on.” ( :215)

“Perhaps the problem with most relationships is that the rules start to become more important than the values they’re supposed to be representing.” ( :216)

“Most of the women on the mega-bed are completely naked while the men are still wearing dress shirts, ties, and pants. However, their pants are all unzipped or lowered and their junk is hanging out. Dicks are everywhere. Even the guys who aren’t with women are walking around the room with expectant cocks dangling in the air in case someone has a need for them. I’m the only guy who’s zipped up. Until Bliss, I’d rarely seen a guy naked before. And here, with more people in less space, it looks like a snake pit.” ( :217)

“”But I thought maybe—” “I just want a cock in me.”” ( :217)

“This is the kind of woman I fantasized about as a teenager: an indiscriminate one. And more than even the pujas and Bliss, this seems like free sex—because there’s no spiritual baggage, drug baggage, or even much relationship baggage around it. In fact, there’s no baggage or encumbrances whatsoever, just randomly intersecting body parts. And now that I’m in the midst of it, I’m terrified. It’s so shockingly . . . open.” ( :217)

“nearly impossible weight to move. This way, we don’t actually have to change. I thought I was fighting the system, but all I’ve really been doing is fighting myself: first my compulsions, now my inhibitions.” ( :218)

“But I don’t want this to end, so I pull out of Camille’s mouth. “Let me suck you!” she begs. This is the best night of my life. The scene on this bed is basically what Muslim martyrs are promised in the afterlife, except with virgins. But paradise is here. Now.” ( :219)

“But, I realize, the goal isn’t sexual anarchy. It’s that I want the rules around my sexuality to be self-imposed, not externally imposed. That’s the key difference—perhaps in everything.” ( :220)

“But before I get a chance to do a thing about it, Bruno appears out of the blue and starts fucking her.” ( :220)

“I don’t know how he does it. This must be his tenth woman.” ( :220)

“lower orifice is free, Bruno is in there. The guy never misses an opportunity. I’m sure he’s a great businessman in the outside world.” ( :220)

“We walk upstairs to a smoking room, and Veronika and I finally have a chance to talk. It’s like the perfect date in reverse: first have sex, then get to know each other.” ( :222)

“”No. I’m visiting a guy in Paris. I told him I was only coming as a friend, but when I wouldn’t have sex with him, he got angry. Camille lives next door, so she said she would take me out tonight without him.”” ( :222)

“And that’s when I realize I’ve done it: I’m living in a world of liberated women and free sexuality. It’s becoming my lifestyle. My reality. I am finding my tribe. Now it’s time not just to have sex with multiple partners, but to build intimate relationships with them also. Time to find out if this way of life is truly sustainable for me and can lead to a better kind of love, a stronger kind of family, and a fuller sense of happiness.” ( :223)

“Whatever we are looking for, we will find—if it doesn’t find us first. However, the result will not be what we’re consciously looking for, but what we’re unconsciously seeking. And so what we want will never be anything like what we expect. It is the forager’s law: You can find the berry bush, but you can’t control its yield.” ( :225)

“Three hours later, we’re lying in bed, content in the afternoon light of San Francisco, having a postcoital talk about body language. I try to take a snapshot of the moment in my heart so I can remember the exhilarating feeling of having gone from strangers to lovers to domestic partners in a matter of weeks. If I’d stayed with Ingrid, I never would have gotten to experience this.” ( :226)

“”Fine stands for fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional.”” ( :226)

“Because it’s not just about a couple of weeks, it’s about my future. “I was texting to make arrangements with the girls who are coming to stay with us,” I tell her. “But from now on, unless we’re making plans for that day, let’s all try to ignore the phone when we’re together so we can be in the moment with each other.”” ( :226)

“”I’m curious,” I say to Belle, changing the subject. “What were your parents like when you were growing up?” “They were perfect. They loved me very much.” She takes a sip of her cocktail, then looks up at us, a big red smile covering the truth like a latex mask.” ( :229)

“godlike fashion that they’re perfect and that the child owes them obedience because they’re responsible for his or her existence.” ( :229)

“Belle broke through to reality. Now we know who she is. Just as some people have a drug or sex addiction, she has a word addiction. She builds a wall of words to protect herself from uncomfortable feelings. However, when someone is enmeshed with a parent of the same sex, this can make it difficult for them to form intimate friendships of the same gender. So that may be a big barrier for us as a quad.” ( :229)

“As we leave, Veronika puts her arms around me and kisses the back of my neck. Then she moves my arm around Belle and we all walk out together. I kiss each of them on the lips. And for the first time that day, I have hope. We feel like a V.” ( :229)

“What I’ve learned about relationships is that the most important thing is talking. If two or more people have a relationship, they must be able to talk with each other with no hesitation about their feelings. As an example, I was upset about his texting and didn’t say anything. But he understood me and started to talk with me himself. I told him what I was feeling and ever since that moment, everything’s been different. We changed our behavior and found a compromise. It was very surprising because it wasn’t hard at all. I’m so glad that he did it.” ( :231)

“Then Belle sidles closer to me and tries to make out. It seems not like an act of spontaneous passion, but an attempt to prove to the others that she’s the number-one girlfriend. When I pull back, Belle storms away, then dances erotically on the stripper pole and makes out with Nicole. “She’s just doing that to get your approval,” Veronika remarks drily. “Can we go home soon?” And now we are a dysfunctional relationship.” ( :232)

“advice Lorraine taught in rehab rings ominously in my head: “Unspoken expectations are premeditated resentments.”” ( :233)

“Unlike with monogamy, our culture offers no schooling on how to make a group relationship work, no real role models to look up to, and few—if any—friends to turn to for advice. Even in movies, when couples decide to open their marriage, the results are usually disastrous and the moral of the story is to stick with what you’ve got.” ( :235)

“”You need to talk before you leave and have a plan for party protocol. If someone gets tired, do they take a cab home alone or do you all leave together? And if it’s a sexual situation, decide ahead of time whether you want to watch or leave or join the sex pile.” This makes perfect sense, yet it never occurred to me: The art of group relationships is logistics. “I want to encourage you to do little check-ins with one another constantly, with the knowledge that you don’t know each other very well. This way you can start to build a team feeling together.”” ( :236)

“The three of you”—he gestures to the women—”should hang out without him and also start negotiating decisions that don’t have to go through him first. The easy part of the situation is you and Neil, and you and Neil, and you and Neil”—here he points to each woman. “The hard part of the situation is your relationships with each other. I have a saying: Poly works or fails on trust between metamours.” “What’s a metamour?” Veronika asks. “A metamour is a partner’s partner. So if Neil and I were both dating you, then Neil would be my metamour. And it succeeds between him and me, because we have the hard part but not the good stuff. So when you build trust among metamours, everything comes together and the group starts functioning. Does that make sense?”” ( :236)

“Try not making the request to Neil. Make it to Anne and Veronika. And if they both say it’s okay, then you can do whatever you want with Neil.” The corners of Belle’s mouth turn up in an unsuccessfully repressed smile. Pepper spots this and adds sagely, “But be willing to hear a no.”” ( :236)

“”If things get weird, let them be weird. If you can all get to a high communication level, and learn the process of negotiation and setting boundaries and talking through discomfort, this will start working much better for all of you.”” ( :237)

“And that’s when something unexpected happens: I’m overcome by a powerful sense of unworthiness. It doesn’t seem fair that these women have to share me. Any one of them could easily have her pick of the guys here who keep looking at us. But instead they’re settling for scraps of my affection—the crumbs of a crumb.” ( :237)

“Maybe the real purpose of this quad relationship for me is to break through my walls and feel worthy of love—or whatever this is.” ( :237)

“fucking them as Arabic music pipes softly through the rooms. At every party I’ve been to so far, the women seem to be in control of when the action starts and with whom, but once things are underway, they tend to play submissive roles. I don’t see any sultanesses, for example, worshipped by harem boys.” ( :238)

“As we sit and watch, Belle whispers to me, “Why don’t you and Veronika have sex?” “Do you want to join us if she’s open to it?” “I don’t think she likes me that much. Go ahead. I’ll get you later.” “Are you sure?” I can’t believe this is happening. It’s practically a miracle. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say it is a miracle. The poly gods have smiled on us today. “I’m sure.”” ( :238)

“Meet Reid Mihalko,” Nicole announces. Reid, she explains, is one of the leading figures in San Francisco’s sex-positive scene. He has slept with, by his own estimation, a thousand men and women. And he teaches courses on everything from kissing to pegging (when a woman puts on a strap-on and inserts it in a man).” ( :240)

“”What are you afraid to ask other people for?”” ( :240)

“”What don’t you think you deserve?” “If you could experience anything in your next few days together, what would it be?”” ( :241)

“”My invitation for each of you is to spend more time asking for what you want rather than asking everyone else what they want,” he concludes. “You will speed up your growth by being selfish. So imagine that the people you’re looking at can actually take care of themselves. And if you ask for what you want and trust that the other person will say yes or no powerfully, it will make things very interesting.”” ( :241)

“”With anyone.” For chrissake. At the house meeting this afternoon, we told you where we were going and what we would be doing there. You raised your hand and said you wanted to go. And now you’re changing the rules? That’s what I want to say. Instead, I try not to react. Where there is reactivity, there is a wound. It seems they were right” ( :242)

“about everything in sex addiction therapy, except the sex part.” ( :243)

“There is no shame. And though the couples look more like the ones at the polyamory conference, the scene is as beautiful as the one at Bliss. That’s when I understand that it’s not physical beauty that makes these parties pretty or ugly—it’s honest and open intentions. Hypocrisy is ugly.” ( :247)

“In that moment, I hate her. I hate her for not saying anything. I hate her for silently suffering, just like my mom. I hate her for not listening to a word we said at the house meeting before, or a thing I said when inviting her to live with us. I hate her for having completely unreasonable expectations of me. I hate her for not considering my feelings in any of this. I hate her for being wounded when I was trying to take care of my own needs for once. I hate her for loving me, for wanting to possess me, for embodying everything I’m trying to escape. And, most of all, I hate her because I feel guilty. I’ve smashed someone’s already fragile heart to bits.” ( :250)

“What the fuck: Am I responsible for everyone’s diet and nutrition now? She figured out how to eat before she met me. “You’re a big girl. Figure it out for yourself!” These women just don’t stop going after one another. She shakes her head and says, “That was mean.” Once again, she’s right. Where there’s reactivity, there’s a wound. And I am overreacting to everything.” ( :253)

“”What mistake is that?” I ask. “I want to stay. I promise to share things.” She glances at Belle, who nods her approval. “I’m willing to share you. Yes, I want to stay.” One thing about polyamory is that it’s never dull or predictable. Belle’s negotiation was evidently a success. “You manipulated her!” Veronika cuts in, glaring at Belle. “It’s not fair to do that to Anne just so we can sleep with Neil.” If you’d asked any of them a month ago what they’d do in this exact situation, every one probably would’ve said she’d leave and never speak to me again. Yet here they are, breaking every law of logic, self-respect, and common sense. And perhaps it’s a dynamic I set up by Svengali-ing these smitten women into playing a role in my sick fantasy.” ( :260)

“Then why don’t you take your mother’s advice? You’re a healer, and you spend a lot of time healing other people, but maybe it’s time to start healing yourself.” I suddenly realize that those feelings of hatred I had for Anne the night before weren’t actually about her at all. They were about my mother. And when Anne looks at me with those loving eyes, she’s not Stalin trying to send me to an emotional gulag or a zombie trying to eat my brains. She just loves me. Whether rightly or wrongly, it doesn’t matter. It’s just love. That’s it. Nothing to be afraid of.” ( :261)

“He had an insightful remark that was like: “If it was your daughter, what would you tell her to do? Behave with yourself as if you were your own mother.”” ( :263)

“I struggle to get my head around what he’s saying. “So let me see if I understand this. You’re cheating on your wife with your affair partner. And now you’re also cheating on your affair partner with your wife?” “Welcome to my life.”” ( :264)

“Letting go would make my life so much easier. Maybe this whole thing was a bad idea. “Part of me really wants to. But if I tried to go back to Ingrid now and it actually worked out, I’d always wonder what if?” What if I quit too soon, just before finding someone as open as Nicole or Sage? What if I found a nonmonogamous version of Ingrid? What if there’s a stone I left unturned and it’s the right stone? And most terrifying of all, what if I return out of fear and failure but not love and commitment? What if, what if, what if . . . It’s the ambivalent’s mating call.” ( :265)

“I appear to have found my species, not to mention the heart connection I told Rick about. And so one of my first dates in this world becomes my last: Sage from Bliss.” ( :284)

“That first date ended in a foursome with my old friend and commune-mate Leah and a heavily tattooed ex-girlfriend of Sage’s named Winter. I watched as Sage attacked Winter—eating her out, fingering her, spanking her, then flipping her over and fingering her from behind—and I thought, “I’ve met my match.” Soon, Sage, Leah, and Winter started going down on me—passing it, fighting over it, sharing it, talking dirty.” ( :285)

“”It was really a great experience on a number of levels, including that” ( :285)

“it was part of a good friendship with both of you.” Evidently it was the right answer, because he responded: “That’s exactly what I was thinking. Poignant. I really appreciate our friendship.”” ( :286)

“I never would have imagined that my sex life would become better, wilder, and more varied in a relationship than it was at the peak of my singledom. Finally, after everyone said it was impossible, I’m having my cake and eating it too.” ( :286)

“”What’s wrong?” I ask as she sits on the couch afterward, sobbing. She wipes her nose. She looks up at me with those loving but not loving eyes. She says, “I’ve been reading my diary—and I miss me.” “What do you mean?” “I don’t know exactly. I guess sometimes I miss my wild days, when I was single and could just do whatever I wanted.”” ( :287)

“So maybe I’m feeling jealousy because I’m not secure in the relationship right now. I’m worried that Sage opened it up because I wasn’t enough, because she was bored by the things that I’ve been enjoying, or, even worse, because she was so attracted to Donald.” ( :290)

“She told me that respect is important to her and she needs to always be put first. So we decided to build our open relationship on a foundation of honesty, freedom, and respect. It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted. And what I like most about it is that, as Pepper advised, there are no rules, just intents.” ( :290)

“Suddenly, I have a little more empathy for the guy in the commune who tried to murder me. “If you’re feeling insecurity or jealousy, that’s for you to manage,” Lawrence answers. “It’s not her job to manage your discomfort—unless she’s doing something that’s disrespectful or hurtful. One tool I’ve used is to understand that even if Leah deeply loves another person, it can only be additive to our relationship.” “In what way?”” ( :290)

“”So,” I confirm with Lawrence, “if she’s happy, it’s not like she’s going to go home and be sad because she got all the happiness out of her system?”” ( :291)

“I once dated a woman who always said she wanted to marry someone rich. She ended up marrying a flat-broke musician. His name was Rich. The universe listens—and it gives you not just what you want, but what you deserve. It’s the forager’s karmic law.” ( :292)

“Unfortunately, the Temptation website is everything I hoped it wasn’t. The banner on it proclaims: “Topless optional. Fun. Tempting. Sensual.” It sounds like a permanent swinger party.” ( :293)

“The first fear that comes up is that of not being enough—of thinking that Sage is having more fun without me, that these guys are taking better care of her, that she has more in common with them, that they look healthier in bathing suits, that they appreciate her more, that they’re better in bed than me. If even half of this is true, then it makes my second fear almost a certainty: abandonment. Perhaps she’s discovering that she’s happier without me around or, even worse, she’s barely thinking about me and the call was just the obligation of a love avoidant acting out of guilt. The third fear is that I’m not cut out for nonmonogamy, and I’m a hypocrite who wants to fuck other women but not allow my partner her own freedom.” ( :296)

“Adam, and most people, seem to believe that if a relationship doesn’t last until death, it’s a failure. But the only relationship that’s truly a failure is one that lasts longer than it should.” ( :300)

“The success of a relationship should be measured by its depth, not by its length.” ( :300)

“his wife: sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, physical attractiveness, domestic support, and admiration.” ( :300)

“five basic needs are affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, and family commitment.” ( :300)

“And so I say something I’ve never spoken to anyone, the magic sentence capable of destroying any relationship, the four words Ingrid spoke to me shortly before we broke up: “Show me your phone.” “No,” she says. “Now I’m sure you’re lying. Just show it to me.”” ( :305)

“She raises the phone to chest level and her fingers dance frantically all over it. “Don’t delete a single message or we’re through!” I’ve made an ultimatum. I’ve hit rock bottom.” ( :305)

“”I’ve never done anything like that on a plane before.”” ( :305)

“”You lied to me and cheated on me in a fucking open relationship with no rules.” The tears come now, burning with resentment. I am her father. I am the ruiner of fun. I am the enemy” ( :306)

“As I pull away, the violence explodes from her. She pounds my chest with her fists and stomps in the sand, like a child. “I want to be in your arms all the time,” she yells. “I need that more than anything. I feel like I belong there”—she kicks an arc of sand into the air—”but I also want to have my cake and eat it.”” ( :306)

“my cake and eat it.” I try to disentangle her words: She wants me but she doesn’t want me. She needs the security of the relationship but she doesn’t want the responsibility of it. She wants my commitment but she wants her freedom. And slowly the truth dawns on me. I’ve gotten what I deserve: someone just like me.” ( :306)

“Though her words are more the result of momentary passion than judicious premeditation, I elatedly wonder if I’ve actually found it: a relationship that fits all four criteria I laid out when I started this journey. It’s not sexually exclusive, it’s honest (now), it’s emotional, and it’s capable of developing into a family. Though I wonder what we’re supposed to say when our kid walks in the room and sees a bunch of women spread-eagled on the bed: “Son, when a man and four women love each other very much . . .”?” ( :308)

“”Deepak Chopra says that if you want to stop smoking, you have to change the way in which you smoke. In other words, if you smoke with coffee or after sex, stop smoking with coffee or after sex. Then, when you smoke at other times, really feel all the sensations in your body. And you’ll see it for what it really is: putting poison in your lungs.”” ( :308)

“I try to imagine a woman I’m attracted to and haven’t slept with yet, but no one comes to mind. I try to think of a sexual fantasy I haven’t experienced yet, but can’t come up with a single one. I try to think of something that will turn me on, but I draw a complete blank. I have nothing to masturbate to. I didn’t even think this was possible. For the first time in my life, my fantasy coffers are empty.” ( :310)

“As people’s incomes rose up to $75,000 annually, their happiness increased. But at incomes beyond that, people on average did not become happier.” ( :310)

“”There’s a book I want,” he says. “It is about strategies for these women. Very helpful.” “Is it The Game?” Calvin asks. “No.” We pause to lean against a large outcropping of boulders, drink water, and wipe sweat while he searches his memory for the book’s name. Then suddenly, it comes back to him. “I think it’s called How to Cheat.”” ( :313)

“Sex is easy to find—whether through game, money, chance, social proof, or charm. So are affairs, orgies, adventures, and three-month relationships—if you know where to look and are willing to go there. But love is rare.” ( :314)

“I close my eyes and a deep sense of despair overwhelms me. What’s the fun of hiking Machu Picchu, of walking a trail carved centuries ago, of waking to see the sun cresting over a mountaintop and the clouds below, of eating Andean cuisine and playing Skittykitts in a tent underneath the glow of a lantern, if I can’t share it with someone I love? That is the price of freedom.” ( :315)

“It’s predictable, even stereotypical, that a love avoidant like me would hit a bottom and reach out to the love addict, only to start the cycle anew and waste another year of our lives. Or that a love avoidant, as soon as his next girlfriend says she wants to have a family together, would start pining for the one who got away.” ( :319)


Door 4


“”Anhedonia.” I repeat the word clumsily. I’ve read many big books with big words, but I’ve never come across anhedonia before. Whatever it is, I don’t like the sound of it. “It’s the dark place of not feeling,” she elaborates. “People feel dead in the place of anhedonia. They can’t experience joy.”” ( :324)

“When I last sat with Rick and Lorraine, it felt like every door in the world was opening to me. Now they’re all shut, locked, and sealed with concrete—including, most painfully of all, the only one I want to walk through, the one leading back to where I started. “But what should I do about Ingrid’s wedding?” “Don’t worry about Ingrid for now,”” ( :324)

“”What kinds of things do you want to fill me up with?” I ask, to be certain. “With freedom.” That’s the last word I expected to hear her say. “What do you mean?”” ( :324)

“”In life, we are born innocent and pure, beautiful and honest, and in a state of oneness with each moment. As we develop, however, our caregivers and others load us with baggage. Some of us keep accumulating more and more baggage until we become burdened by all the weight, trapped in beliefs and behaviors that keep us stuck. But the true purpose of life is to divest yourself of that baggage and become light and pure again. You’ve been searching for freedom this whole time. That is true freedom.”” ( :324)

“”So basically,” he asks, “you want me to castrate myself?” “Yes,” Rick replies coolly. “We do.”” ( :325)

“It’s just instant sexual gratification with no waiting, no rejection, no emotion, no commitment, no obligation whatsoever—plus infinite variety.” ( :326)

“I’m praying for a miracle when I see Ingrid again at her brother’s wedding, has been lurking in the shadows of my mind: Is being monogamous something that’s genetically determined or do I have a choice in the matter? When I asked for Walum’s contact information, Lorraine replied, “Oh, I don’t know him. I’ve just read about him.”” ( :328)

“So, generally, good parenting will promote better oxytocin and vasopressin systems in the long run, and these are linked with more closely bonding individuals when it comes to romantic relationships. We haven’t published it yet, but that’s exactly what we’re looking at right now.”” ( :328)

“”Not exactly. I would never be unfaithful. But in relationships, I feel limited because I’m missing out on other things. It’s a bit tragic. You can be with someone that you really, really like and still feel a bit sad that you can’t have anything else.”” ( :329)

“People always ask how supposedly good German people could have been complicit in the atrocities of the Nazi regime. And one part of the answer is: the family system. Children in that time were taught to be obedient to their fathers, that Father is always right, and that they must make sacrifices for the parents to whom they owe their entire existence.”” ( :331)

“make sure we get it. “And then what happens? The government demands loyalty, obedience, and sacrifice, until you have a nation of people violating their internal value system for the Fatherland.”” ( :332)

“”Then let me ask you”—here it comes, the verbal aikido that will use my words to topple my beliefs—”is it possible to live your authentic life if you have inauthentic people around you?”” ( :333)

“1. Change my phone number 2. Change my email address 3. Block all social networks on my computer 4. Don’t give my new information to anyone with tits And that’s when I reach for the Kleenex.” ( :334)

“freedom, understanding, fairness, acceptance—are exactly the things that” ( :337)

“you never got from your mom. So every time you load all that unfinished business onto your partner, you’re setting yourself up for another disappointment. Because as an adult, the only person who can give you those things is you. Do you understand that?”” ( :338)

“‘You worked on the farm because you felt like you should; your brother came back to work on the farm out of choice. And that is the more meaningful of the two.'”” ( :338)

“why monogamy never worked for me before. It’s always been something that I felt my partner expected or made me do. If I treat it as a choice this time as opposed to a demand, then maybe I can be the Prodigal Boyfriend.” ( :338)

“ot all of it works, but none of it hurts.” ( :341)

“”change often” next to them. Though I feel a pang of guilt as I scoop them up and toss them in the trash, I recall Barbara McNally telling me that this kind of guilt is a good thing. It means that I’m finally doing the work of separation. While I’m at it, I throw away all the keys to old cars and apartments that I’ve saved in some unconscious attempt to prove to my mother that I won’t ever lose them.” ( :341)

“I think back to the photos that Ingrid texted me, the ones with her face altered to look unflattering. The message that accompanied them read: “Let’s grow old and fat together.” I wondered in Peru what love was. That is love. It’s when two (or more) hearts build a safe emotional, mental, and spiritual home that will stand strong no matter how much anyone changes on the inside or the outside.” ( :344)

“I’m off all social and dating apps and websites. That’s freedom. Less than twenty people have my email address. That’s freedom. My phone barely makes a sound. That’s freedom. I have my life back. That’s freedom. I didn’t catch anything communicable. That’s a fucking relief.” ( :344)

“That’s when I see our relationship as if it were a movie—with distance, detachment, and clarity. It’s a black comedy about a mother who feels victimized by her husband, yet too broken to do anything about it, so nearly everything in her life, including her own son, becomes a weapon to use or an ally to recruit in her private, solitary war against this oblivious man.” ( :345)

“As I end the conversation with her, not only do I let go of any remaining expectations that she’ll be nurturing or mothering, but I let go, without guilt, of any obligations I owe her as my mother. And it is this moment of release—of changing her role in my life from mother to adapted adolescent—that ultimately frees me” ( :345)

“Each day, I try to take care of the six core needs Lorraine told me about: physical, by surfing and eating healthily; emotional, by allowing myself to experience and express feelings without being either hypercontrolling or out of control with them; social, by spending time with Adam, Calvin, Rick, and other growth-minded friends; intellectual, by reading literature, listening to lectures, starting a film discussion group, and, most importantly, simply listening more; and, most alien of all for me, spiritual, through transcendental meditation, which a friend of Rick’s teaches me.” ( :348)

“I’ve cleansed the childhood wounds and I’m filling the holes inside. All my life, I’ve been trying to fill the wrong holes.” ( :348)

“”I know. I feel different. I thought this was just to change my beliefs about sex, but it’s shifted everything.” “How you do anything is how you do everything,” Rick responds, with a calmness that for once I mirror.” ( :349)

“everything.” “How you do anything is how you do everything,” Rick responds, with a calmness that for once I mirror. “Do you see now that the way you choose to live your life affects everything about it? A cheat here and there is not just a cheat here and there. It’s a break in the continuum of who you are and the person you are in the world.” “I get that. I think I have a good understanding now of why I cheated.” “And why is that?” The words sound vaguely challenging, like a test to make sure I really have changed. “It’s actually a list of things.” I pull out my phone and show him” ( :349)

“”Don’t trade long-term happiness for short-term pleasure.” I add that phrase to my notes. It’s a good mantra to remember.” ( :350)

“Yet as I speak those words, I feel a small flutter of discomfort with the idea, and a rising fear from deep inside that surprises me: Will someone want to commit to me without the sex and the oxytocin of orgasm? This would mean that she’d actually have to like me for who I am. And a powerful voice from somewhere else inside me rises and cradles the fear like a child, telling it, simply, “Yes, she will.”” ( :350)

“She looks forlorn and expectant, and every now and then tears fall from her eyes as she tells me that she spent her savings to fly out here. Until recently, this was my nightmare: having to meet other people’s expectations—especially when doing what’s right for me hurts someone else’s feelings. But it was her choice to come here, so there’s nothing to feel guilty about. This is my chance to implement the boundaries I’ve learned, to enforce them when they’re trespassed so I don’t feel enmeshed, to break old habits and reinforce new ones.” ( :354)

“”What?” It’s amazing: Even when you set a boundary, people still want to trample across it. She says, “I have nowhere to stay. Can I at least stay in the spare bedroom and we can talk when you’re ready?” I remind myself . . . She says, “I took a cab from the airport.” . . . that Sage is not my mother and . . . She says, “I promise I’ll leave after we talk.” . . . I am not responsible for her happiness. So I draw the boundary more firmly. “It’s not okay to stay here. I’m sorry, but I made a commitment to myself and I need to honor it.”” ( :355)

“The words register on her face and she starts to protest. The old me would want to hug her, to say we can talk later, to let her crash here, to promise that we can still be friends, to make any number of mistakes. But now all that goes through my mind is a question: Is it in my highest good? And none of these is in my highest good. So I remain resolute like stone and she melts into water. The tears mix with her mascara, running black down her face. They are not my problem. They are her problem. And she will get over it. Or she won’t. But the most compassionate thing I can do is let her make her own decision based on the truth. And the truth is that I love Ingrid.” ( :355)

“I just hope that Ingrid loves me.” ( :356)

“without getting Hasse Walum to lower my testosterone levels—but I’ve removed what was psychological: the fear of loving, the terror of being loved, the compulsion to cheat, the cowardice of lying, the weak sense of self, the pathological accommodation, and all the defense mechanisms that kept this system in place and me too blind to see it.” ( :357)

“I was left with an even bigger emptiness inside. It took the pain of the last year to realize that I needed to stop being a half trying to find my other half, but to be a whole on my own. I had to learn how to love myself. I had to learn to value myself. And I had to learn that I mattered.” ( :359)


Door 5


“It’s odd how relationships work like that: Love is not an accident. It is a delicate union of two complex, complementary puzzle pieces that have inadvertently been created by different manufacturers.” ( :363)

“As I slide the keys around the elephant, I finally understand what the true intimacy that Joan spoke about in rehab actually is: It’s when partners stop living in the past—in their trauma history—and start having a relationship with each other in the present moment. Love, it turns out, is not something to be learned. It’s something we already have, and we must unlearn in order to access it.” ( :364)

“”But maybe all those things you did weren’t a relapse after all but were part of the healing.” “I’d like to think so.”” ( :365)

“complex. People want love, but after they get it, they become scared or bored or uncertain or resentful. And when they get pain instead of love, they don’t leave. They cling to it more strongly than they would to pleasure. And so in life, the real obstacle keeping two lovers apart is not external. The battle to be fought is within. And so, I think as I take in Ingrid’s words, in the end, love is not about finding the right person.” ( :365)

“It’s about becoming the right person.” ( :365)

“It turns out that relationships don’t require sacrifices. They just require growing up—and the ability to stop clinging to immature needs that are so tenacious, they keep the mature needs from getting met.” ( :366)

“As I take her hand in mine, I realize that before trauma healing, I always wanted more—more women, more success, more money, more space, more experience, more possessions. Not once did I stop and say, as I do now, “I have enough.”” ( :367)


EPILOGUE: When the Wild Card Is Played, Is It Still Wild?


“”Take your time. Go slow. And don’t rush it.” To break the silence, I ask what his father was like. “He was very quiet and didn’t say much. He usually worked all the time.” “What’s your favorite memory of him?” “I guess it was when we were fishing together one day, just in silence.” I think about how lonely that must have been, and I suppose, in correlation, how lonely I was. “What about your mom? What’s your favorite memory of her?”” ( :370)

“I’m surprised to hear how similar our childhoods were—with a distant father, narcissistic mother, favored sibling, and babysitter raising us. And I think about how similar our adult lives almost were.” ( :371)

“them—over and over again.” He shakes his head at the cosmic absurdity of it all. “It takes hard, conscious, diligent work to genuinely change.” I have a feeling it’s the closest thing to a wedding congratulations I’m going to get from Rick, so I accept it as such. The reception, Ingrid and I agreed, should be small, so that we actually have time and energy to pay attention to each other.” ( :372)

“immediate family, Rick, the red demons, close friends like Melanie, and a few dating coaches and relationship healers. The former gave me the tools to meet Ingrid, the latter to commit to her.” ( :372)

“”You know, I think I blew it up into too big a deal. I hate to say this, but Joan was right: I was just throwing intellectual barriers in my way to avoid being vulnerable and committed.” In a big, connected world, it’s easy to find enough people with the same trauma profile to agree with you, then simply discount, ignore, or attack all evidence to the contrary.” ( :372)

“As a result, we developed the relationship I’d been looking for the whole time, only I didn’t know what it was: a relationship without fear. Without fear of intimacy, without fear of suffocation, without fear of loss, without fear of speaking our truth, without fear of being hurt, without fear of boredom, without fear of change, without fear of the future, without fear of conflict, and even without fear of other people.” ( :373)

“The opposite of fear is not joy. It is acceptance.” ( :373)

“Our commitment is solely to nurturing, supporting, and honoring three important entities in our lives: me, her, and the relationship. Whatever it takes and however we may change.” ( :373)

“I’ve come to realize that there’s no so-called natural way to be in a relationship. The whole idea that we can study the past or other cultures to determine what’s right for us today is ridiculous. Because nearly every society of simians tells a different story of mating and sexuality—and every point of view can be supported with evidence from some other tribe or species. There isn’t just one true and proper way to love, to relate, to bond, to touch. Any style of relationship is the right one, as long as it’s a decision made by the whole person and not the hole in the person.” ( :373)

“many claiming that they are newer, better, or more scientific than others—all that ultimately matters is what works for you. So be open-minded and try everything for yourself firsthand rather than accepting received opinions, including mine.” ( :378)

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