If you look deep inside every woman, you will find a black box that records the wreckage of her past relationships. Internal recordings that can withstand the g-force impact of total obliteration that comes with a coupling’s end. “We’ve got bonding failure. Tell the world I’m sorry. We’re going down.”
It starts when we are babies.
Our black box records the looped attachment issues that play in our subconscious. A therapist tries to determine if it’s pilot error, unfavorable conditions, or faulty wiring. And we try to present as heroic a defense strategy as we can, explaining how we did all we could in light of the circumstances given.
My black box is horrific—even by black-box standards.
I’ve behaved terribly, predictably, and embarrassingly—and most shameless of all, I wrote about the journey in the New York Post and on xoJane with such an excruciating lack of self-awareness I finally had to reconcile the fact that there might be no one out there left for me at all.
I considered myself unwifeable. And I liked it.
Well, the vague empowerment narrative of it, anyway.
I wasn’t just a self-destructive exhibitionist whose crippling neuroses manifested in navel-gazing narcissism and random acts of implosion. Instead, I told myself I was a feminist. My warp-speed career in personal memoir I claimed to be the ultimate act: making myself as terrifying to men as possible.
I was a living don’t, and I was okay with that.
Instigating sexual chaos provided me with the perfect excuse for my inability to save myself or learn from past mistakes. I had plausible deniability that way. Massive backlog. An unrelenting influx of more pressing cases. All to avoid confronting the most devastating moments of original impact or having to assume personal responsibility for my failures along the way to correct course.
That’s the problem with any emotional investigation: You need an unwavering focus in the face of overwhelming shame and regret and distraction. No matter what unsettling evidence emerges as all the ugly secrets start inevitably spilling out, you must resolve to never give up.
It’s a tricky endeavor—even for the bravest among us.
Because do you know what humans will do to avoid the pain of personal discovery? Nearly any-fucking-thing.
It is early 2015, and my favorite escape-the-moment drug of choice is sex.
I am lying perfectly still on a hand-me-down bed in Manhattan, desiring nothing more than to please a mysterious 45-year-old man I barely know. He’s tall, dark-humored, and handsome, and I first begin seeing him after receiving $20,000 from an online dating site to meet as many men as possible—all while driving up website traffic.
Summoning my favorite seduction trick from my well-worn repertoire, I make my voice as breathy and helpless as possible, asking, “Do you want me to touch myself?”
We have been on a few dates before, but I can tell already, he isn’t like all the others. This guy stares daggers through my bullshit.
“I want you to cut it out,” he says. “What’s this thing you do, where it’s like you’re doing a show?”
“It’s just easier,” I say in my actual voice, not having intended to open up until I realize I am doing so. “Sometimes just pretending to be someone else feels safer.”
“The only thing that turns me on is seeing who you actually are,” the man says, moving his hand up my body.
“Tell me,” he asks. “Do you need me?”
“Yes,” I say, answering what I know to be true. “I do.”
“Because I love you,” I say without thinking, then quickly try to reel it back in.
“I didn’t mean it like, you know . . . It was just . . .”
“It’s okay,” he stops me. “I love you, too.”
Panic creeps in goose-bump inches up my body. This guy is different. I don’t know how yet, but he is very, very different.
“See how easy it is,” he says, “to just tell me what you’re thinking?”
Effortlessly, this man is breaking everything down to its most elemental form. Somehow, I have just let slip something I swore never to say to a man in the heat of the moment—especially without running it past an emergency preliminary hearing before a hand-picked Council of My Girlfriends and Peers.
I am terrified. My throat feels dry and the sheets beneath me are drenched in sweat and excitement. Against all logic and precaution, I feel like I can tell this man exactly where I’ve been in my past and how far down my sex and lies have taken me. I feel freedom from the cover-up, release from the conspiracy.
“I know you, Mandy,” he says. “You were bad, weren’t you?” I nod, eyes squeezed shut tight.
“Nothing is wrong,” he says, “unless it’s untrue.”
My God, how I ache to open that little black box inside of me. “Did you fuck a lot of guys?” the man asks. “You love sex, don’t you?”
“I have,” I say. “I do,” I say.
I can feel it now. Something changing inside me. And I make a promise to myself. I refuse to give up—until I can uncover the cause of the crash.
“Tell me everything,” the man whispers to me. My eyes flutter open.
Excerpted from Unwifeable (Simon & Schuster), copyright 2018 by Mandy Stadtmiller, and published with permission by Gallery Books, out today, and available from retailers everywhere.