I was sitting with Timmy (not his real name) at dinner the other night as he recounted how a close friend of his had "lived out every wife's worst nightmare." The guy made it big in the venture capital world, took a business trip to Vegas, wandered into a strip club, and never came back.
A few days later, the guy told his then-wife that he didn't love her anymore and was marrying a dancer he met in Vegas. He's not the only guy who's seen his life upended in Sin City. My buddy told me that a guy who worked on the "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" ad campaign did the same thing while shooting the commercials.
The Vegas stories made me think about trying to help a rapper friend of mine stay sober. He'd been arrested after getting so drunk that he couldn't get his car out of a parallel parking spot, ramming a BMW repeatedly, and then getting in a fight with the car's owner. He sincerely wanted to change his life, or so he told me.
Early on in our friendship he called me from the wedding reception of his best friend and band-mate. He was agitated because he had to break up a fistfight between the groom and his best man. The groom had decided to marry a stripper from the Foxy Lady (a strip club in Providence) after getting her pregnant. The best man, also a band member, had disrespected her after the ceremony by commenting on her occupation, at which point the fight broke out and the cops were called.
"What should I do?" my new friend asked me over the phone.
"Get the hell out of there," I told him.
A few months later, after my rapper buddy began to get his act together, he met up with his friends again to talk business. He called with another question: "The guys want to meet at the Foxy Lady to talk shop. Nothing wrong with that, is there?"
"Tell 'em to meet you at Starbucks," I said.
"Wow, never thought of that," the rapper replied. I hung up, and laughed out loud at his pure insanity.
As I told Timmy about the conversation I laughed again. After digesting each other's stories of guys trapped inside a sexual fantasy, Timmy and I started bemoaning the state of network television. The discussion at the time was about hair pulling on "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," "The Bachelorette" and "Celebrity Rehab."
"Maybe we should create a show called "Stripper Rehab," I suggested in jest.Timmy laughed. "That would be perfect--just take this whole thing to its logical extreme." We chuckled as we talked about whether we would recruit strippers for the show or strippers and the guys who end up marrying them. It would be a great way, we agreed, to poke fun at our national obsession with porn and reality television.
I woke up this morning still thinking about that conversation. Then I received an email from one of the many guys who responds to my columns with anonymous pleas for guidance. He wrote to say that he'd been in "a car accident while having phone sex with a guy, totaled my car, got a concussion and ringing in my ear that took almost two years to resolve, and derailed my new stand-up comedy career." I slipped into a funk thinking about the lives of strippers and the guys paying for nudity, phone sex and intercourse.
Spending the last two years talking to men about goodness, I've often been led to the issues of sex, porn and prostitution. I've struggled to get my arms around the issue: is sexual exploitation of women getting worse, or is it an innate part of manhood?
David Hirshberg, who runs the most respected treatment facility for teenage female prostitutes, told me essentially that men suck and have always sucked, citing the way armies in the Middle Ages fought for the right to kill their enemies' men and rape their women.
I joked with him that as the founder of The Good Men Project, I was not prepared to accept that men suck. But it did make me think, as did my conversation with Timmy.
There is plenty of evidence that porn consumption is accelerating, as is our collective obsession with sex. But from my perch as a guy looking closely at manhood, I'm beginning to get the sense that it's a hollow satisfaction. Maybe that's wishful thinking on my part, but story after story about Tiger Woods, Jesse James and Lawrence Taylor have forced normal guys to look in the mirror. "Going to a strip club feels like going to the zoo," Timmy admitted to me. "There is nothing appealing about petting the elephants when you have the real thing at home."
Even as "hookup" culture has taken hold in my teenage kids' generation, there are encouraging signs that more guys are ready to do what it takes to find love rather than a fantasy. Every day I hear from guys working hard to be good husbands.
As for my rapper friend, he's now happily married with two kids, and nearly a decade removed from his last trip to the Foxy Lady. As is Timmy. As am I. I'd like to believe there's hope for us guys, after all. At the very least, it's time for us to come clean and talk about the insanity that pervades the sex trade.