My Couples Therapy Journey Ended at a Surprise Naked Pool Party in New Orleans

How unwittingly ending up at a pool full of nudists taught me to stop worrying and love the unexpected.
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Publish date:
June 11, 2015
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travel, love, therapy, nudists, couples counseling

I thought H. was my person. We’d been dating for three years, and I wanted to be with him until we were so old they had to replace all our parts with robot parts, then spend the rest of our lives in half-man-half-robot bliss.

But like a lot of fatally flawed couples before us, once we were headed toward the “next steps” part of our relationship, things started to unravel.

Really, at the start, I was not clear on why we needed to go to couples therapy, except that H. had an unshakeable worry that we hoped couples therapy would help us get to the bottom of. He didn't have an explanation for what he was feeling, except that if he couldn’t solve it we couldn’t stay together, and much to my dismay, I couldn’t fix it.

But I would’ve done anything (anything, I’d say, usually accompanied by some sort of arm flailing to articulate the impossibility of articulating the lengths to which I would go) to make it work, so when he mentioned therapy I jumped at the chance to do something that wasn’t “wait and hope he changes his mind.”

Now, I realize that this is not a thing you are supposed to think about couples therapy, but I was clearly WINNING couples therapy.

I had a lot of feelings. I shared them openly. I was awesome. H. had a harder time, and after each appointment we were no closer to figuring out our problem; perhaps, because, the problem was obvious and un-fixable—I just couldn’t see it yet.

And I was in love, so even when H. told our therapist that his ultimate goal was to “find a way to stay friends,” I held fast. We were on the Titanic, and I was bailing water.

In lieu of H. getting in touch with his nougat-y center, we constructed an extended metaphor to explain the state of our relationship, and why “wanting to be friends” did not mean that he was not trying. (Cue: our therapist’s look of concern.)

It went like this: Our relationship was like a train that we were both on. A train that was going to New Orleans—which was the geographic stand-in for “long-term commitment.” And I’d really thought about it a lot, and was certain that I really wanted beignets, so I was going to New Orleans. And even though H. really liked the train and the idea of New Orleans and enjoyed beignets, he might get off in St. Louis—he just couldn’t say why.

Eventually we both decided, after little more than a month of couples therapy, that it was time to get off the relationship train. And I decided that fuck it, I would go to New Orleans my damn self.

It was the first time I ever traveled alone and I was, honestly, a little embarrassed to be going on a solo vacation. I told work friends and my new roommates (and my mom—sorry mom!) that I had a friend who lived in New Orleans and that I would visit her.

It wasn’t a complete lie—I did once have a friend who had lived in New Orleans, but she wasn’t my friend anymore and I’m pretty sure she was in Chicago at the time. Fibbing about it didn’t feel like the strong single gal thing to do, but truth was I was ashamed I couldn’t save my relationship with H., and sometimes was embarrassed that I’d believed in it so much. I wanted to put some distance between myself my post-H. life, I just didn’t want to admit to everyone that I needed it.

It turns out that New Orleans is the perfect place for a mopey person to escape to, on account of the “drinking on the street is cool here, guys” thing.

The first thing I did upon arrival was hit the French Quarter for a po’ boy, and snatch a gin and tonic. After disabusing myself of the belief that there must be some limit to this drinking outside thing, I backed slowly out of a bar on Royal Street (because I was definitely going outside with this drink now, I mean—are you sure?—OK, cool, everything’s cool) and headed to a nearby park, where I sat in the grass, shoving-a-catfish-sandwich-my-face-the-pain-away.

Before I left, a friend had gifted me a small travel guide, and an index card on which she wrote restaurant suggestions and ideas for what to see. I spent my three days walking the neighborhoods, stopping in cafes and clubs and for beignets, oysters, alcohol, and the best fucking Sno-cone I’ve ever eaten in my whole life (seriously). I stumbled across a warehouse full of Mardi Gras float parts, explored creepy old graveyards, and bought taffy off a cart that was pulled by a horse.

It was great. Also, it was July, so it was hot and humid as shit. I did an incredible amount of sweating, and by the end of my first day felt pretty gross, so when I came across “The Country Club” in the guidebook my friend bought me, it sounded like a pretty fun way to get less gross.

Pool, cabana, daffodils—what’s not to love? I packed my bag with my bathing suit and a towel from my hotel room and got on the bus.

The fact that there was a bouncer and that I had to present my ID didn’t strike me as odd. The place had a bar; this was all very normal.

“You know our no picture rule, right? Not even selfies,” the guy said as he wrapped a wristband around my outstretched arm.

I agreed, thinking maybe this place was working up a kind of exclusive cachet; you don’t know what it looks like ‘til you get there, it’s super stylish and secret, etcetera. Then, I opened the door to the pool deck and quickly encountered a naked stranger and that naked stranger’s junk. The interdiction against pictures made sense.

Leaving immediately would’ve been admitting defeat, and I was there to win. Plus I was still super sweaty and the pool looked awesome. So, I changed into my bathing suit (in the bathroom), got a drink, and hid awkwardly in the corner behind a droopy palm. Around me, people in various stages of undress strutted and swam and frolicked in naked bliss.

I downed my first cocktail and worked up the courage to leave the safety of my hidey-tree, and moved my things out into the open pool deck. Then, I got a second drink, thumbed through the book I was pretending to read, and tried not to make prolonged eye contact with anyone.

You know what, I have great boobs, I thought, and there is no reason why I shouldn’t enjoy them, and this place, and get in the fucking pool. It might’ve been the influence of the two gin and tonics, but I did it. I took off my bathing suit top, hopped in the water, and kept trying not to make prolonged eye contact with anyone. I ate a shrimp po’ boy while still half-naked back at my chaise, where it dripped down my face and chest, and I soaked in the day’s last few rays of sun.

I felt good. It wasn’t like a sudden revelation; Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t drop down from the heavens to deliver me a high-five and a YOU GO GIRL sash to celebrate my independent lady-hood. And I didn’t stop feeling sad about H. right away.

But I did learn something about embracing the unexpected, about dealing with what—good, bad, suddenly naked—comes your way.

I thought I was going to be with H. forever and I wasn’t, but I would figure it out. The day after the surprise-naked pool, I sent him a postcard that read Wish you were here. It was, admittedly, the farthest I had ever traveled to say, “Hey, fuck you a little.”

But I wanted him to know I made it to New Orleans, that I knew New Orleans would still be there for me, even if he wasn’t ever going to make it.

I eventually stopped telling everyone (except my mom—sorry mom!) the lie about my trip, that I’d gone to see a friend who wasn’t really there at all. Being naked in public didn’t make me feel free, and I wasn’t a whole new person, but I felt less like my breakup with H. was a rainy cloud following me around all the time.

I’d gone and done things that were fun, and things that were awkward, and things that were somewhere in between, and they were all things that probably wouldn’t have happened had H. and I stayed together.

It wasn’t always easy to see things this way, but I thought, maybe, I could stop thinking of H. as something I’d lost and start seeing it as a chance for something—fun, awkward, or somewhere in between.

A few months later I met C., who I probably wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t had to move because of my breakup, if I’d never lived with my roommate who knew him.

I was surprised to like him as much as I did, at first, because I hadn’t expected to find or really been looking for anyone. I wasn’t surprised to love him—he’s good in all the ways I want a need a person to be—but I try not to worry about forever, not like I used to.

I’m just excited about what’s next, whatever that is. Maybe we'll go to New Orleans someday.