Cracked: Putting Broken Lives Together Again - Drew Pinsky, Todd Gold (2004)
WHEN I ARRIVE home, I find my wife on the back-door steps, looking through a photo album. It’s a warm night, the air as comfortable as a light blanket. Through the glare of city lights, the sky is full of stars. I sit down beside Susan, close enough to see over her shoulder. She flips through the pages, searching for something, and then hands me a yellowed piece of paper that has several folds where it is also starting to tear.
“What’s this?” I ask.
It’s a prescription written many years ago by her grandmother Marie’s brother, Rajvik, a doctor in Prague.
“Cool. What’s up with this?”
She reminds me of the psychic party she hosted the previous night for her friends. “The psychic mentioned Prague and Rajvik. Then today I found this.”
We go inside the house and page through several more family albums. It turns into a night of remembering Marie. Susan’s grandmother was twelve when she emigrated to the United States from Prague to escape the Nazis. She married in her early twenties and settled in Cleveland, where she and her husband ran a family restaurant and raised two boys. After her husband died at fifty-two, she continued running the restaurant for years, remaining active—even in the archery club—until she died at ninety-two. Never wealthy, she led a rich and enviable life thanks to a lifetime of interests, activity, and friendships.
Susan and I spend some time sharing our hopes that our lives can be as full and as rewarding as her grandmother’s. We dated for years when we were young, then broke up briefly because I wasn’t ready to settle down. Then we got back together, and we’ve been happily married since 1991. We have triplets. Between work, friends, school, lessons, sports, and everything else, we squeeze as much into each day as possible. Any more and both of us would probably live on the freeway. As it is, our cars are like rolling apartments or offices, with all the crap we throw into the backseats.
The lives we lead today are longer than those of our parents, but more hectic. I can’t imagine the world my kids, Douglas, Jordan, and Paulina, will inherit when they are my age. It frightens me. Our culture is just like the junk food we live on: It fills you up without the distracting burden of nourishment. An average person exposed to television, movies, and magazines is overwhelmed by messages that arouse, stimulate, and suggest that the answer to all problems is the same: gratification. Have a beer, take a pill, roll on the deodorant, get a Whopper, JUST DO IT!
These are just diversions from an empty world. If you’ve been abused, if you don’t know how to trust, and if you’re already overwhelmed by feelings you can’t handle, an icy six pack won’t solve anything. Nor will a new pair of Nikes. Nor will ninety-nine new ways to drive your man wild in bed, as all the women’s magazines promise. They aggravate the situation. They ignore the problems. Sadly, the culture offers few messages that address what it means to be human, how to go about feeling healthy. We forget that people feel best when they’re interacting, talking, helping, and creating with other people.
“Are you still going tomorrow?” Susan asks. I’m scheduled to take an overnight trip to New Jersey for a speaking engagement at Princeton University.
“Yes,” I say. “My flight is early.”
The next evening I am in front of 750 students. I do several such talks each month at high schools and colleges. I generally open by talking about the lessons I’ve learned from my own life. I tell my audiences to listen to their instincts, to that inner voice that has an opinion on everything you do. I don’t think the importance of instincts, let alone how to hear them or follow them, is emphasized enough in our children’s education.
“If you live your life with integrity, with a clear sense of right and wrong, you will hear that voice more clearly,” I say. “It tells you who you should be dating, what you should be doing with your life, when something doesn’t feel right, and when you feel good. And it’s usually correct.”
From there it’s an easy step into a discussion about interpersonal relationships, the meat and potatoes of my talk. They know me from Loveline, and they expect to hear me talk about sex and drugs, men and women, the whole gestalt of their world when their noses aren’t pressed into books. To them, life is supposed to resemble a beer commercial or MTV’s spring break beach house. They are bombarded with messages from every form of media, designed to put them in a constant state of arousal.
“What do guys generally want to know about?” I ask.
All at once about twenty-five people yell, “Sex!”
“Right. But what about sex?”
I get a bunch of answers: adequacy, size, duration, where to get some. They’re all correct.
“With guys, it’s all about their adequacy. Guys want to know if they’re normal, if they’re doing it right. What about women? What do they want to know?”
“Sex!” a couple guys call out.
“Not quite,” I say.
“Relationships,” a young woman in front says.
“Yes,” I say. “But women are vastly more complex creatures, and so not only do they want to know about relationships, they want to know specifics about men. How do they work? How could he be like that? How come he doesn’t behave the way they said he would in the magazine I read? Why is my boyfriend so into lesbians? Why does he want a threesome?”
The subject matter is irresistible. Within minutes, hands are up. This is my favorite part of any talk. In this nonjudgmental atmosphere, the students are open, graphically so. One girl asks why women can’t talk about masturbation. I let her tell her story and express her views for a few moments before asking, “Who says women can’t talk about it?”
“What do you mean?” she asks, perplexed.
“You’re talking about it in front of seven hundred and fifty people,” I say.
A mix of laughter, applause, and other sex-related questions follows, giving me a chance to clear up a few myths and mysteries about men and women when it comes to sex. Men are easy to please, I tell them: Most guys are happy if a girl’s just there with him. Period. If she’s having sex with him, even better. He’s ecstatic. Don’t worry. He’s fine.
“Men are like a machine with a single wheel,” I say. “We’re not dumb. We’re not bad. We’re just kind of lame.
“By comparison, women are Rubik’s Cubes. They’re complicated, hard to figure out, each one unique and different. Yet the popular media tells women they are supposed to function like seventeen-year-old guys. They’re supposed to be as into sex as their male counterparts and experience sex in precisely the same way. They feel inadequate when they don’t measure up to this male version of sexuality. When they don’t respond the way Cosmo says they should, they feel flawed and inhibited from expressing their feelings about it.”
I follow that with an example.
“Where’s the guy who told me he’s dumping his girlfriend because she can’t have an orgasm?” I ask, referring to a young man who had asked a question earlier.
I scan the faces as best I can, hoping he raises his hand or shouts out. He does. He’s a thick-looking guy, built like a rugby player, with short hair and a blue Lacoste shirt and jeans. After explaining that I believe in teaching and learning from our experiences, he allows me to serve him up as a guinea pig.
“What do you think is missing from the equation with you and your girlfriend?” I ask. “What do you think women want in order to have a satisfying sexual experience?”
He thinks for a moment.
“Tommy Lee?” he says.
“No. Try again.”
“A Mercedes,” he jokes.
“He’s getting laughs, and that’s good,” I say. “But in all seriousness, women want a connected experience. They want meaning. They want feelings.”
This is an important point. I sidetrack a bit, though, explaining that so much of what I do at the hospital concerns patients who, due to early life traumas, aren’t able to have genuine relationships or connected experiences. Why should this concern a bunch of Ivy League students? Because, like everyone else their age, they have been raised in a pop culture that puts little stock in genuine relationships or connected experiences. It is all about feeling good, getting pumped, going nuts…chasing the big wahoo moment.
They may think they’re immune, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I ask them to take a look at their social encounters on campus. I think this is probably the most important portion of my whole talk, as everybody in the audience can relate. According to everything I know, campus social relationships break down into three main groups: a) hooking up, b) joined at the hip, and c) friends with benefits.
I see people agreeing with me.
“In youth culture today, hooking up is the primary means of making contact,” I say. “Guys tell me they get loaded so they can get the job done more effectively. The women tell me they get loaded to tolerate the situation because they have to contend with loaded guys hitting on them.
“‘Friends with benefits’ is one of the other two unhappy choices for women,” I go on. “The other is ‘joined at the hip.’ Both always end in disaster. Who is benefiting in these rapidly developing relationships? The sex isn’t good. The bonds aren’t strong. The drama in the relationship is the arousing drug.
“I was once with a group of twelve-to-fourteen-year-olds who insisted that you needed three hookups—which to them usually included oral sex—before you could consider yourself boyfriend and girlfriend.”
Half the audience groans. The other half nods in recognition.
“I had an interesting experience at the last high school I spoke at,” I say. “A sixteen-year-old girl came up to me after a similar discussion about hooking up and said she got loaded because she was unable to tolerate all the sloppy drunk guys trying to hook up with her. ‘I hate those drunk guys,’ she said. I asked what she would prefer from men. She said, ‘Well, it would be nice if someone would just spend some time talking to me.’ Let’s say she enjoyed the conversation, I asked; would she want to do it again with him? ‘Sure,’ she said. At that point, I said, ‘Do you understand you’re describing a date?’”
Most of the women listening show their approval; the majority of the guys hem and haw, uncertain how to react. The way things stand, the guys have a good deal going—at least in the short term. In the long run, though, no one benefits. None of the relationships are real, deep, or lasting. These kids might find plenty of immediate gratification, but they’re never going to get the satisfaction of a genuine relationship from these shallow hookups.
“I see heads nodding out there,” I say. “It’s like being a drug addict. You always need more, more, more. You’re always feeling out of control.”
By the end, I have covered an enormous amount of material. The average mom and dad would be shocked to hear their straight-A offspring talking about X, orgasms, threesomes, and hooking up for a night, but I drive home a message that would comfort Grandma and Grandpa: Life isn’t all about fun and sex. It can be even better. Slow down. Listen to your inner voice when it comes to right and wrong. Think for yourself. Be more human.