There were a bunch of things the New Age Girl still “needed” me to do before our relationship was put on the chopping block. I started regularly going to yoga with her, which I sucked at. I started hiking the butte with her after work (at which I’d spent all day on my feet, hiking an actual mountain range, doing actual work). I’d already gone to see the therapist, like she asked. (“It’s just to learn how to communicate better,” she told me after I sorely objected to it, telling her my mental health was at the very fucking least above average, and that she should know that by now.) Who’d told me, the therapist, that there was nothing wrong with me, that my internal dialogue was as healthy as she’d ever seen and it sounded like my partner wasn’t allowing an external one, except in these narrowly-defined parameters. And that she seemed to be demanding more than she was giving.
She sounded, the therapist told me, like she needed to talk to a therapist.
Which, I’m guessing, is exactly why the New Age Girl shot down my idea of therapy in a couples’ setting. It would’ve made her look bad.
So, in one last ditch effort to try and make something out of it, between going to a weekend retreat where hippies danced in their jammies and got real friendly with one another, spending a week in classes at the Process Work Institute in something they called “psyche surgery” or taking part in a newly-established men’s group at her friend Charlie’s house, I chose the men’s group.
Seemed like the most non-invasive.
So, what’s a “men’s group,” you may ask? Well, allow me to enlighten you.
But before I do, let me tell you about her best friend, Jussie.
The New Age Girl met Jussie at the Rolfing Institute. What’s the Rolfing Institute, you may ask? It’s where people go to learn how to Rolf. Duh.
Jussie and the New Age Girl have the same birthday, coincidentally. Two years apart. Like almost every guy she met after having turned twenty-two, had sex for the first time and became liberated from the confines of the Christian Church (surprised? You shouldn’t be), she thought he was the “one.”
Which, of course, doesn’t necessarily imply that she has borderline personality disorder…
…but I don’t know how to finish the rest of that sentence.
He was dating someone, she was single. And, knowing this, she still slept with him. She’s done this numerous times in her life, by the way—married men, men who claim to be separated from their wives, men who reveal they’re already dating someone; no one is off-limits to the New Age Girl. (It’s like that one Salt ‘N’ Pepa song. Or any Salt ‘N’ Pepa song, if it were sung by G. G. Allin and the Murder Junkies.) He subsequently breaks up with his girlfriend to start dating her, and then—guess what? She dumps him three weeks later.
And then he writes her a card on their birthday, a long, drawn out exoneration about how much he loves her as a human being, that it’s okay that they weren’t compatible and she wanted to start seeing someone else, that he loves being her friend and he’s looking forward to their future relationship as potential besties until the two of them grow old together and have their own babies.
But then, guess what? Now he’s always around. And his input becomes crucial to nearly everything she does. Because, being a New Age Guy, he did that breakup shit perfectly.
And the New Age Girl is selfish. Selfish, selfish, selfish. And blind in her selfishness. He offered her what she desperately needed, and as far as she ever wanted to look into it—which wasn’t very far—it was accepted unconditionally.
New Age Life Lesson # Whatever: Give the New Age Person everything they need, expect nothing in return, and they will love you unconditionally and your relationship will blossom.
While they continue to love everyone else they feel like, too. And give far, far less than what they demand.
Well, who the fuck is dumb enough to do that, you may ask?
Bottom-feeders. A whole school of them.
Which, speaking of, brings me to my men’s group.
We were all sitting in a warm, Eastern-themed, sparsely furnished studio above the garage in Charlie’s house. Charlie was a millionaire who’d sold off the almond-milk-based ice cream company he and his partner had started, and then almost went broke starting a high-priced, self-immersion retreat on his property, erecting a massive sanctuary right smack dab in the middle of his ten-acre property. He had big house, a personal sauna and a bajillion friends, and often would have people over, sometimes after a sauna, to engage in just the kind of thing we were engaging in tonight. Only tonight, we were the “men’s group.”
Charlie was considered the alpha flounder. Which—totally fine with me. I was just SCUBA diving along with these dried-off groupers. He was married to a much younger woman who’d stolen him away from his previous wife, in that New Age Way (NAW) of hers, who then declared to him after eight years together that she wanted to start sleeping with other people while still remaining married to him. (NAW, dawg.) And he agreed.
Jussie was dating a girl he really didn’t care about all that much, the New Age Girl told me, while still, of course, being in love with the NAG. (I’m just going to start calling her the NAG from now on. Don’t know how that never occurred to me before.)
Anyway, Lothario Starchild was a kid of about twenty who I’m guessing hadn’t been in a serious romantic relationship in his life. I’m guessing, too, for all that open-minded-and-free-spirited zeal, he’d never harbored a single, independent thought in his head. Guy was fucking adorable, by the way.
And the others: Raven (not Native American, of course); Shad (there’s always a Shad); Scott (apologies to some Scotts of the world, but this guy was a scheming, honorless dickbag); Ron (regular old Ron, who the NAG always talked about coming to every one of the yoga classes she taught); and me.
We were out of the sauna and dressed and toweled off after a light rinsing in Charlie’s public shower, which I took part in, because I had this weird feeling all eyes were on me to see if I had the balls (figuratively), and were now hanging out in the kitchen area, steeping our teas. That’s not a euphemism or anything. I was starting to realize over the course of our uncomfortable sauna, based on some offhanded story Jussie told about the NAG’s ample bosom and small sauna towels, and everyone’s reaction to it, that, with the exception of maybe Charlie, every single one of these guys had either had sex with or currently lusted after the NAG. My NAG. Sorry—the NAG with whom I was currently, and without setting a future time limit on it, partnered. It felt like there was a hit on tonight, and I was the target, in the hopes, on the part of these gentle goons, of making me and all “men” men look bad in the eyes of the NAG.
Because for all the NAG’s NAGness, she still had a lot of conventionality to her, and still lusted after “men” men. Which they all recognized, and knew they couldn’t compete against on a level playing field.
She had a corporate job, expensive wardrobe, wore makeup. She traveled the world and was considerably cultured, had her degree in molecular biology. She also loathed the farthest reaches of SNAGdom*, because, believe it or not, there were farther reaches. People who didn’t bathe. Y-chromosomed feminists who claimed to know more about feminism than she did. Pseudo-Buddhists. The cultishly brainwashed. People who kindly disbelieved everything that came from any corporation, large or small. Which, of course, included every single credible news source in the world. They annoyed her. She’d vented to me many times.
Yet here I was, surrounded by their crooked union reps.
“If everyone’s got their tea, and a comfortable pillow,” Charlie started, “why don’t we take a moment to…relax. Be present, in the here and now. To feel into the moment. Think about where we are, and how that makes us feel. To breathe in deeply, then let it out. And if anyone would like, once we’ve all settled, they’re more than welcome to say a few words. What they feel, what’s in their hearts.”
Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah. So, anyway, fast forward to me standing, holding hands with Ron, silently staring into his eyes like we were about to recite our non-traditional, same-sex wedding vows to one another on a beach in Mon Luv Nao, Thailand.
It was an exercise meant to express vulnerability, foster trust and create an environment where we would be more open to discussing things of a personal nature with one another. And it took massive balls. It’s true—vulnerability takes courage. It also takes trust. And, staring into Ron’s average, middle-aged eyes, gazing longingly into mine, I realized the reason I was standing here in the first place—i.e., the lack of vulnerability in my own relationship—was precisely because I didn’t trust the NAG enough to express any. Too much other-male bodily fluid had flowed under the bridge during our time together, if you get what I’m saying.
She admittedly kept secrets, some of which I already knew, and will get to in the next volume of this edge-of-your-seat-cum-laid-back, hippie roller coaster ride of a tale, told in four parts.
You just can’t trust a secret-keeper. It’s written in the Healthy Relationship Manual, Chapter, like, 3. Because the only reason people keep secrets from you is because they don’t want you to know something. It’s not about freedom or sovereignty or identity. It’s about you. And your relationship to them.
It was a revelation.
We all sat back down on our pillows, me the only one not in Lotus position (because my legs kept popping out every time I tried it), and after a little break where everyone, for some reason, was really smiley and touchy-feely, pawing T-shirts like they were wiping boogers on one another, we went around the room, discussing, in abbreviated form, our fears of the here and now and, in listening and remaining curious, engaged in an exercise in empathy. But without actually asking questions for, you know, the point of actually learning something.
I swear to God, this all felt like it was written down in a book of formulas someplace. We’re going to be empathetic now, so this is how we’re going to do it. We’re going to be curious now, so here’s how we have to do that. We’re going to listen now, so here’s how we’re going to do it. We’re going to sit here right now, so here’s how we have to do it. We’re going to be silent right now, so here’s how were going to do it. We’re going to fucking breathe right now, (in a gentle voice) SO HERE’S HOW WE’RE GOING TO FUCKING DO IT.
There was nothing natural about it.
Frankly, I was starting to tune out. There was this thing on the inside of my knee, and it had been there forever, so I was starting to poke at it. Was it a scar? A birthmark that was getting bigger? It looked like a bruise, but it didn’t hurt. Did the NAG give me a hickey right there while I was sleeping? No, that wasn’t it. Ohhh, it was when I banged the inside of my two tibias together doing this stupid yoga pose like a week and a half ago. That was it. It hurt for like a minute, then stopped. I think it was all the yoga. Hm? What? I thought I heard someone say my name. I looked up. They were all looking at me now, with these really strained smiles on their faces. Except for Jussie. And Scott, who certainly known to him but not known that it was known to me had this intermittent, love triangle thing going on with me and the NAG.
Charlie kept glancing in my direction, a perturbed, Gandhi-esque smile on his face, and other eyes were trying to keep from looking but still darting at me, like I was snoring at a public hanging. I felt the need to speak, so I said, “Oh, me? I’m sorry, is there, like, a format here? Is there something I’m supposed to, you know…say?” They were real questions, but they just came out. I could feel the hatred cast back toward me in the room just then. I think someone even hissed. Lothario Starchild chuckled, bless his heart.
“If you don’t feel comfortable, there’s no need to contribute,” Charlie replied, gently. “One of the most important facets of being open to sharing from within, is first seeing the significance of sharing.”
“Or having something to share, yeah,” I nodded in a completely brainwashed tone of voice. They all just stared at me. Still in Lotus position. Like a bitter, resentful, landed swarm of hairy, man-butterflies. Except Lothario Starchild, who smiled. Like he was a child of the stars, or something.
“It’s okay,” Charlie went on. “Fear is nothing we can force out of us.”
“Oh, it’s already out. I don’t live with fear in my daily life.”
Charlie smiled again, quite condescendingly. Jussie spoke up. He had one of those spazzy, high-pitched, mush-mouthed voices that always sounded like his tongue was a hair too thick for his mouth. “The tough guys are the ones who always have the most difficulty opening up.”
“You referring to me?” I said. “Well, suppose I got a fear of heights? A big one? If I jumped out that window, would that prove to everyone that I don’t live with fear?”
His balls to the wall, Jussie just chuckled, awkwardly. “Fear of heights doesn’t mean fear of commitment. Or being able to communicate properly. Or of being vulnerable.”
“Suppose I took off my pants? While reciting all the things that might go wrong in my relationship tomorrow?” I stood up, unzipped my pants, “My girlfriend could dump me for not being open enough, I could get ostracized by her and her friends,” dropped them to my ankles and then slung them over my shoulder, “they could be telling secrets behind my back, she could be having a secret love affair,” I was heading for the window. (I saw half the room stiffen. And not at me sashaying by in my underpants.) “How’s that? That good enough?” I opened the screen. I looked back. “You guys get this after I go?” Some of them actually gasped.
Charlie finally came to his senses, pleading, after I got one leg out, “There’s no need to do this. It would unnecessarily put your life in danger, and it would place an undue amount of stress on the rest of us here. It’s quite obvious that jumping out of a window in your underpants is something that you’re not afraid to do.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“Please, just sit back down, take a few deep breaths, and remain calm. Just…find your center. And breathe. Then, if everybody’s had a turn to speak, we can bring an end to tonight’s first meeting. Namaste.”
“Namaste,” they all droned back.
A couple minutes later, after everyone was up and not acknowledging my existence—and my pants were back on—I got my stuff and headed for the door, calling out, “Hey, thanks for having me, guys.” They just looked. “Charlie,” I called, “thank you for hosting this. I look forward to seeing you all again soon,” and headed downstairs to my car.
Lothario Starchild shouted, “Bye, Lester!” That was when I knew I had him. And as I got into my car, the smell of sandalwood and unwashed man crotch leaving my nostrils, I had only one thought in my head. Well, two, actually. 1.) My relationship was pretty much fucked at this point, and 2.) I was going to turn Lothario Starchild into a “man” man even if it meant he wasn’t going to wear hemp capri pants, Birkenstocks and drug rugs in his life ever again.
Which, again—totally fine with me.
*- Sensitive New Age Guy-dom