Dear Antonia, Empress of the Night, The Woman Who Has Seen It All,
My GF and I have lived together for 4 years. Once a month my girlfriend strips at a great club in Portland, Oregon which she and I enjoy immensely. I enjoy watching her transform from my girlfriend into a public sex figure who slays rooms full of men & women. She seems to enjoy stripping more than most of the performers because she thrives on turning people on. Naturally, she’s developed a respectable group of regulars who come to see her (okay, that was a bad pun) whenever she passes through town.
We have a somewhat open relationship and she’s developed a limited side-thing with her best regular and has on a couple of occasions dropped by his house for nude photo sessions (he’s an accomplished amateur photographer). After the sessions she usually goes down on him in part because she gets so turned on by being photographed and partly because she likes him, all of which is fine by me. As with any open relationship, there is a certain chemical high we both get out of pushing boundaries and trying out new partners.
Last week, Mr. Side-Thing asked her to take it to a new level; to provide a ‘girlfriend experience’ (I’m guessing he saw the Soderberg film) for a night for which she could “name her price.” He’s a 40-ish IT guy, so I’m guessing he’s got some serious green. This ‘girlfriend experience’ would obviously entail her sleeping with him, so I’m torn: on the one hand I really dig dating a stripper and living a little dangerously and I’m cool with her having sex with him once. However, this does cross a certain line somewhere though because it is actually illegal (I know I know, not in Germany, but even in PDX it still is) and because it involves a pantomime of dating and intimacy that is riskier than just dancing and taking your clothes off. And it’s hard to see where this ends. No doubt he’s going to want this to be a regular occurrence and could theoretically imperil her work at her club, which she loves. She wants to do it for the experience and she’s always been very dominant with this guy so she thinks she can control the entire interaction.
My worry that this will change our otherwise ideal relationship. Her stripping has been a blast for the both of us, but it has still been a dalliance, a fun once-a-month excursion whereas this takes us into another arena of sex work that we’re both unfamiliar with. The emotional stakes seem way higher, too and I worry on some level that she will be angry with me for letting her do this, or think that I don’t love her because I’m willing to let her be with another guy, or that I’m enabling or her pimp or something.
What’s a broad-minded stripper-lover to do? Do I let her try this once with stipulations, or do we back off and stay away from the road less traveled?
Dear Main Squeeze, I’m writing you from New Orleans where I strip at two clubs on Bourbon. Like your girlfriend, I’m a dancer who usually digs my job. I adore being on stage, providing fleeting companionship and hit of sexual attention I get from customers. I’m here to work and I’ve built a decades-long career based on performing sexual prowess, but not tonight.
It’s raining on Bourbon; lightening fills the whole sky and it turns into lavender eye shadow. The street is empty except for a homeless guy playing guitar under an awning of an art gallery. The backdrop in the window behind him is a red and black painting: a skinny saxophone floats in a yellow cloud. I poke my head into The Bruiser where two girls lean against the dark bar, waiting for a customer to get drunk enough to part with his green. Once in the door, I’m paralyzed with dread. I’m scared it’s too empty and I won’t make any money. My thighs are tired and sore. I want to squirrel away my brain for other projects like writing this letter to you. It hits me in my frozen knees: I’m not enjoying this job and I want to leave. Business has been sad and slow on this trip and it’s freaking me out. There’s cement in my heels. I call my friend Laura. I tell her about my panic and dread. “Go hang out with your friends tonight, she said. “Tomorrow night will be better.”
I take her advice, head back into the rain towards Royal Street with my stripper bag heavy on one shoulder. I meet my friend Patrick halfway: past Toulouse. St. Anne and St. Peters. We stroll in the steamy night and talk about writers we love (Rob Roberge and Jennifer Egan) and short stories (“Swiss Engineering”) and I remember, over oysters Desire, that sometimes my sexual power is best spent walking away from Bourbon Street with my stripper bag on my shoulder, empty handed. Later, on the St. Charles streetcar, I thought about intimacy and open relationships and Mr. Side Thing. Mostly, I thought about the exchange of power that happens in complex and beautiful relationships.
My experience with GFE is limited, so I referred to my local expert, Laura, who had a GFE for a while. He wanted to retire her from stripping so she could get her aesthetician’s license.Here’s the deal: my friend Laura got a thousand bucks a week, but the client wanted more control. He was in her business. He wanted to monopolize her time and weasel his way into her life. He tried to control her with money, which he piece-mealed, and she was compliant- to a point. GFE guys are looking for companionship that mimics dating, and from what I’ve gathered, it doesn’t always include sex, but it always includes kissing and dinners and dates, which is why I’m not good at GFE. I’m bad at dating so I would suck at pretend dating.
The short answer is-Yes. Your girlfriend’s GFE weekend with Mr. Side Thing will alter your nearly ideal, somewhat open relationship. This can be awful or it can be great. Either way, it will require a lot of work and communication. Being in an open relationship means you share her sexually so why not share her GFE experience as well? Since you’re both titillated by pushing boundaries and having other sex partners, she could tell you all about it, how she dominates him, what she feels and sees etc. Also, she’ll resent you if you make a stink. So, you may as well trust her and let this happen.
But this is not her letter. It’s yours. Admit it: You’re scared and threatened. Why are you more bent out of shape about Mr. Side Thing than average Joe she picked up at Whole Foods for a quickie? Because as progressive as you are, Mr. Side Thing offers something you don’t: Money. Lots and lots of Money. Crazy-name-your-price-indecent-proposal, cash money and you’re afraid he’ll lure her away from you, not her job stripping. This is where trust comes in. Call me crazy, I believe in love. If you are the one she loves fiercely, no amount of cash will steal her away. Throw the rope of love and see if she catches it.
Talk to her about your heartfelt fears, not petty bullshit like him texting her or prostitution being illegal (smoking pot is illegal. Do you worry about her smoking pot?) She knows this client fairly well, so let’s assume he’s not vice. Moving on, no matter how pro-stripper or pro-open relationship you are, your letter suggests you’re scared and threatened and I want you to feel that in your bones until you’re nailed to the spot and your legs are stones and your heart feels like it’s being eaten by vultures-like I was when I walked into the Bruiser. Why? Because it’s perfectly reasonable that you feel that way, and you feel that way because you love another human being. You don’t have to allow that feeling enslave you and you don’t have to take it out on her or do anything about it except communicate that to your girlfriend. Then move on. Get a massage. Go for a hike. Flirt with the waitress.