We aren’t talking about “Eat, Pray, Love,” Elizabeth Gilbert’s megaselling memoir of her attempt to get over a failed marriage.
Laura Jane Williams found her own way to overcome the pain of heartbreak, or, as she would put it, being dumped. She decided to travel around the world shagging as many men as she could. (Since, Williams is British, the correct word for what she did is shagging… though the prudish Sun refuses to print the word in its entirety.) For the record, the Sun entitles the story: "Around the World in Eighty Lays."
A child of the therapy culture Williams believed that when a man accepted her offer of free love she had chalked up a new conquest. Memo to the young and naive: just because you call it a conquest doesn't mean that it's a conquest. It means you are confused.
Better yet, Williams persuaded herself that by tramping around the world she was now in control. In another context this is called gender dysphoria—believing that you are something other than what everyone knows, as an objective fact, that you are.
Her therapy—if you want to call it that—made her feel like she was a man—detached and emotionless about sex. To her mind, and to the popular mind in general, being a liberated woman means behaving like you are a man.
You’ve come a long way, baby!
I COULD not go to the pub, a party or a work event without looking at a man and saying to myself: “That one will be next.”
There always had to be somebody to take home, a conquest.
I felt like an emotionally detached and liberated woman.
My need for meaningless sex started after my long-term boyfriend dumped me and within a year had got engaged to my friend.
We had been dating for six years and I fell off the rails.
After he left that day I drank half a bottle of vodka and within 45 minutes had thrown it all back up again.
The heartache made me want to go and be someone else for a while.
One notes that we are not in the world of the zipless shag. We are not even in the world of the big bang. As it happened the sex was sometimes not very good. Laura describes it thusly:
I planned my next liaison via the internet — an obvious choice now, but unchartered territory for a booty call back in 2009. I chose dating website OK Cupid to meet Jay the DJ.
Thirty-five minutes after meeting at a bar, he was throwing me down on a Travelodge bed, hitching up my dress.
I pulled at zips, belts and buttons with frantic whispers and then, just like that, I was naked with a man who was not my ex-boyfriend.
Quite the conquest, quite the self-esteem boost-- being thrown down on a Travelodge bed by a man you met thirty minutes ago. And if she had been thrown against a brick wall….
And then for the climax:
Unfortunately, the action was all over in 60 seconds.
Turns out, there is no etiquette for such encounters. You have to, in my experience, have soul-crushingly mis-matched sex four times, until 6.30am brings with it a spate of new friction burns that will take a pot of Sudocrem to soothe, after which you can finally say: “I’ve got an early breakfast meeting to get to — I’ll text you.”
Where did the romance go? Well, for this male-identified liberated woman, there was none. And, she was happy there was none. Because she believed that if she had no feelings her feelings would never be hurt.
Being a free woman Williams was free to do as she pleased. But, any adult could have told her that she was engaging in highly risky behavior. And let’s not forget that, however much she believed that she was acting like a man, she was still a woman, and that as a woman she was degrading herself. Not that we want to shame her inordinately--she is trying to sell a book-- but still.
I will not leave you in more suspense. Williams does eventually come to her senses:
I started to pride myself on keeping everyone at a distance. I was a s*** because none of them was the answer. I didn’t want any of them to love me or treat me with respect because I didn’t respect myself. I was teaching English to Italian teenagers when I finally realised I was on a destructive path and decided to change my life.
How does she heal herself? By checking into a convent, which is more monastery than convent, and going cold turkey… embracing celibacy:
So I signed up to live in an Italian convent. I moved into Chiostro di Sant’Agostino, near the seaside town of Loano in the Riveria.
I thought it was a convent with nuns, but it was actually a monastery with elderly monks, who took me in and helped me recover.
I vowed to be celibate while I was there. It was amazing, the perfect place to heal and reflect.
After my wild years being in such a slow, easy place made me consider life. It was just what I needed. The doors were pretty much open to anybody who needed a bed. People would bring gifts for the monks and ask for help. I did too.
At least it was in a good neighborhood.
Naturally, the book has a happy ending. And it shows that religion is more therapeutic than many forms of therapy. You will note that she did not check herself into rehab for sex addiction, but got in touch with a more spiritual side of her sexuality. And she also learned to make small gestures of kindness toward other people. Fancy that!
Of course, the prototype of her book is Hephzibah Anderson’s memoir of her year of living sexlessly: Chastened: The Unexpected Story of My Year without Sex.