Taming of the Shrewd

By Amy Dresner 04/25/14

People in 12-step communities refer to outsiders as "normies." I dated one. It didn't go so well, but I'm all the stronger for it.

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So I meet this guy on Tinder. I know it’s fucking TINDER but when you’re sick of dating in the rooms (or too notorious to pull it off anymore) and your office is your laptop in a shared room in a sober living home, it’s tough to meet eligible new men. I’m not really the type to rock cleavage in the produce aisle and the majority of my friends are gay. Anyway…

First date, this guy pulled my covers. I walked in with my wall up, my hand on my proverbial cock, aggressive and attempting to amuse. Immediately he said, “I know you were a comic but for fuck’s sake put the mic down and quit doing shtick. You’re not on stage.” I was aghast but intrigued. I then tried to run my “I’ll scare the shit out of you” game with all my sordid stories of psych wards, diagnoses, rehabs and arrests.

I think we cry over what could have been. It’s our idealism and hopes and optimism that really break our heart.

“Stop trying to corner and disarm me with your freaky stories. It’s not going to work. I don’t give a shit about your past. You’ll be somebody completely new and different with me.” I probably should have thanked him for the mind-fucking and oysters and left then, but his arrogance and confidence impressed me. As he kissed me good night he said, “I’m afraid I’ll fall in love with you and you won’t be able to return my affection.” I wondered if it was a line and, although my head had doubts, my heart demanded  to believe.

On the second date, he demanded monogamy despite my openness with my history as a sex addict. We hadn’t even slept together yet. “I’m going on a work trip for two weeks. If you fuck anybody else while I’m away, I will never call you again.” So I didn’t.

“I don’t sleep with people I don’t have an emotional connection with,” he added.

"I don't think I've every slept with anybody I had an emotional connection with," I replied bluntly, only half joking.

"Well, that's over now," he asserted.

I couldn't tell when he said it if he knew it was going to be true, or if it became true because he said it. Did he really know? Or was he demanding and manifesting?

Within two weeks, at his request, I had long red acrylic nails, was cooking for the first time in my life (well aside from dope), donning stockings and shutting up. I had the vague sense I was being abstractly controlled and being morphed into his ideal mother/whore archetype, but I enjoyed being more feminine and chalked it up to trying to please my new man.

He was a prolific drinker but hardly an alcoholic. He once poured a perfectly good glass of red wine down the drain.  

“What are you doing?” I asked horrified.  

“It’s crap,” he said.  

“Who cares? Chug it. It will still get you fucked up.”  

“Is there anything you don’t do like an addict?“ he asked.

“Yeah, work.” I answered.  

“That’s the only funny thing you’ve ever said.”

“Uhhh, I was a comic for five years, paid to do stand up, touring the country. Many people thought I was very funny.”

“Lemmings,” he muttered. 

Maybe he believed it. But in that super-creepy pick-up artist book The Game they call that “negging.” (A neg is a backhanded compliment, usually said by a man to a woman, to surprise and/or annoy her so she does a double take and tries to prove her value to the man.)

I must say I preferred him with a hearty dash of booze in him. It was then that he would look at me doe-eyed and say sentimental shit that seemed too perfectly orchestrated to make me swoon. “You’re the worst sober person," he said. “No,” I corrected, smiling devilishly. “I’m the best,” as I topped off his drink. 

My book collection about sex addiction (Out of the Shadows, Choke and the “SLAA” big book) was quickly replaced by Cooking for Dummies, The Joy of Cooking and How To Cook Everything. Grungy flat moccasins were swapped for sexy high heel boots. Ripped up t-shirts were supplanted by sheer blouses and slinky camisoles. What the fuck was happening to me? I witnessed myself slipping into an old pattern of thinking what I think many women are guilty of: This guy will fix me, save me, empower me, etc. And the even more universal: “I must please him. If I please him and become what he wants, he will love me." 

He came on hard and fast and said all the things an insecure divorcee would love to hear. I’m evidently more transparent than I thought. Once he got me hooked, he quickly pulled back. And as soon as I began to shut down, he’d throw me some more sugar and get me strung out again. “FYI, intermittent reinforcement is the basis of gambling addiction. I’m a coke and sex fiend. I like to know I’m going to win and get high every time,” I told him. However this did not change his modus operandi to a more consistent one. 

He was not fond of AA and he thought half the people in the rooms were there solely to network. “You become addicted to some label, some behavior and that’s your excuse for everything…..'I can’t help it. I’m an alcoholic. I’m a sex addict.' Addiction is just narcissism except that you hate yourself so you’re trying to escape yourself.” And: “There’s definitely a component of self-obsession to addiction but it’s not that simple. There’s a biochemical aspect too.”  

But how could somebody that had never done a single drug really understand? Some of his theories were interesting but I knew I didn’t have the luxury to indulge in them. When he began to undermine things my sponsor had said, I began to get genuinely worried. “That’s stupid and simplistic,“ he said. “Well it worked for me.” “Well good thing you were short sighted then.” “I wouldn’t undermine my recovery if I were you. I’m a fucking monster when I’m loaded. You might just end up with a knife in your stomach. I’ve got the paperwork to prove it.” 

What I did realize by dating a normie was how much I talked about addiction and the program. It was part and parcel of everything I spoke about which I found more than a little disturbing. Not only did he not share the common language or experience, but he was genuinely disinterested so I didn’t know what the fuck to talk about. I am in sober living. I write about addiction. I have struggled with it in its myriad forms for over 20 years. And many of my gifts…..my intensity, my fervor, my creativity, my persistence, my courage…come directly from being an addict. Sure I’d love to drink and smoke and fuck and drug and eat “normally.” But I’m an addict through and through and I’m okay with that. My addiction has given me self-awareness and humility. It’s showed me I’m a survivor and I can overcome huge obstacles, that I can change. In 2011 Johnny Depp told some dizzy reporter: "I don't trust anyone who hasn't been self-destructive in some way, who hasn't gone through some sort of bout of self-loathing. You've got to bang yourself around a bit to know yourself."

He admitted he was a sociopath and was oddly proud of it. I’m not sure what it is about me but genius sociopathic workaholics are drawn to me like coke head models to Sky Bar circa 1998. I used to think guys in recovery were crazy till I started dating a normie. With no moral framework to work from, nobody to be accountable to, normies can act like real assholes, not know it, blame you and never make amends. To be fair, I’ve also had that experience with men in AA. But if you’re working a decent program, you are constantly analyzing your behavior and motives. Normies, especially sociopathic normies, don’t tend to  do that. In fact, it’s possible they enjoy the fact that they’re manipulating you and you’re too stupid or gullible to realize it. “If I was manipulating you, why would I be telling you HOW I was doing it?” he asked. “Because you are the kind of sick fuck that would get off on knowing that you were telling me the exact manner you were playing me and I was still taking the bait.” 

No surprise, this tryst didn’t last. He demanded that I do and be everything he wanted but was unable to show up for me in the most basic of ways. I was willing to do this thing with him but I made clear that I wasn’t going to do it alone. For him it was a win win situation: get everything, change nothing. For me it was a lose-lose one: change everything, get nothing. I don’t have the best head for investment but it was obvious even to me that I was getting fucked…and not in a good way. 

The grief when it ended was intense. It was only a month but heavy terms like “love” and “marriage” and “forever” had been lobbed about. More than a sex addict, I’m a love addict and a romantic. And I don’t think we mourn what is or was. I think we cry over what could have been. It’s our idealism and hopes and optimism that really break our heart.

But he did ruin my sex addiction (at least for now) and for that I’m grateful. Once I slept with somebody solely because I wanted to be closer to them, once I experienced sexual arousal as a result of emotional intimacy, there was no going back to cheap anonymous sex. It just seemed detached, like masturbating on another person. After the split, I logged back onto Tinder. I felt a wave of nausea wash over me and quickly deleted the app again. He was incapable of giving me what I wanted but I had been transformed. I am softer now. I am sweeter.

I opened myself up and let myself be truly vulnerable. And yeah I got hurt. But I’ll get over it. I’m a survivor. And  boy, can I cook a mean Bolognese now.

Amy Dresner is a columnist at The Fix. She last wrote about women's safety in AA and about hating Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

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