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Sunday, September 14, 2003

Girlfriends: Better to Rent or Own?

So here's a secret about me, which isn't really very secret, but people think it should be:

I rent girlfriends.

Think Pretty Woman.

Yep, I'm talking prostitutes.

It turns out that "prostitute" is a loaded word. To some people it means strung out girls hanging out on street corners turning tricks between beatings from their pimp. To others it means a hooker with a heart of gold: Julia Roberts waiting for a white knight in a limo to rescue her from a life of tawdry sex and unfulfilled dreams. And to some it's about high class Hollywood call girls who attend star-studded coke-orgies in pink stucco mansions in Beverly Hills.

Because of the mostly sensational interpretations, I don't like the word "prostitute." I prefer the word "provider" or "rented girlfriend." Why a different word? Because I have a different core definition of where I am focused:

A woman who will perform some subset of what an ideal girlfriend will do in return for money, with "no strings attached."

This definition covers some important points: Most people focus on the woman performing sexual acts. Many people focus on the notion that they perform for money. Others focus on the woman's condition (sad, oversexed, strung out, beaten.) Others focus on what they feel are deviant sexual acts. So people focus on different things when they form opinions about prostitution and those who practice or support it.

But ultimately the important points in my definition are: 1) A provider performs a subset of girlfriend (or maybe wifely) activities. This may be a social companion, a conversational companion, a great kisser, a relaxing massage therapist, an entertainer, a cook, a sadist, or an expert at oral sex. It is not always about sex. 2) A provider will leave you. There is an old adage that goes like this: "You don't pay a hooker to stay with you for sex, you pay her to leave after sex." The activities with a rented girlfriend are not about building a lasting commitment.

By way of explaining my interest in rented girlfriends, first some background: I travel an enormous amount. So much that I don't really have a home. I live in several places across the United States. Some of those places I own, others I rent, some I share with other people, and still others I merely rent by the day (hotels.) I leave bits of my stuff in all these different places, primarily New York and San Francisco, secondarily Seattle, Boston and D.C., although the balance changes frequently (Yes, I lose stuff all the time.)

In my line of work, the travel is fine. Everywhere I go, there is phone, email, fax, the Internet, FedEx and Kinkos. These are the tools of my trade. With these tools I can build and run companies, buy and sell them, and occasionally destroy them. Communications technology has made the world into my oyster.

But all this is quite difficult on relationships, as you might imagine. (There is another factor that interferes with my girlfriend relationships, but maybe I'll get into that in another entry.) So... I can't stick around in any one town, I frequently have long periods of time where I must do nothing but work, and nobody can travel with me all the time.

Possible solution? Women in every city I frequent, who can entertain me, or just hang out with me, or converse with me, or, yes, have sex with me, on my schedule and without getting jealous of the other women... well, it's ideal. In any given city, it doesn't have to be the same woman providing all that attention: one woman might be a great date to the ballet, and another a good choice for a quiet evening of discussion over dinner, and yet another for sex (and yet another for animal sex... Just kidding!) I haven't achieved all that, but I've tried it, and it seems to be the right path for me.

So now that I've talked about rented girlfriends, how about owned ones? When I say "owned", I don't mean some feudal concept like "woman as chattel" or that nonsense. I mean the traditional view of exclusive commitment, leading to pair bonding or marriage.

I think this is great also. I have had many girlfriends. Some of them have been great, and others have been hellacious experiences whose singular merit was that I learned to avoid that particular experience in the future. When the dopamine kicks in, and your body is flooded with endorphins (we call this love), well, there is nothing better. And when you crash, there is nothing worse. The few times I have ever contemplated suicide are after a relationship crash.

So to me, the owned girlfriend "track" is all about risk management. You want to do it, but you want to be careful about it. And my life, at least as it is now, has stacked the deck against success. So I don't do it. Someday I think I will. But not right now.

So the answer to the question above? For me, renting is better than owning.

Next chapter: What about "rent to own?"