For most people, discovering a partner’s penchant for public masturbation is a deal-breaker. That wasn’t the case for me. The first time I met the man I would date, he was masturbating at a public swimming pool.
I saw him in the sauna. As the cedar room heated up, he unwrapped his white towel. I didn’t bat an eye. Everyone in the sauna was enjoying the pool’s clothing-optional policy to varying degrees. My friend Garrett and I were using the sauna as our own personal Bikram yoga studio, doing poses on the floor.
When I came out of Downward Facing Dog, the man was ladling water from a bucket. Instead of dousing the hot rocks, though, he dumped the water on his uncircumcised penis and started masturbating. He wasn’t going to town on it. This was kind of a mellow, thoughtful jerk-off session. Genteel, almost.
I retreated back to the floor, where Garrett was in pigeon pose, eyes closed.
“Garrett. Let’s get out of here.”
“But I’m so deep in this pose. The heat really does make you more flexible.”
His eyes landed on Public Masturbator. We made a hasty retreat to the hot tub.
I should back up. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, not quite. It’s not like the guy was jacking off at a family recreation center. We were at the Country Club in New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood, a destination that caters to the gay community and has an adults-only saltwater pool.
Housed in a yellow Victorian mansion, the Country Club is a palm-tree shaded, tiki-torch lit retreat that’s part neighborhood clubhouse, part restaurant and part bathhouse. You can find casual sex there, but you can also get a killer brunch and enjoy bottomless mimosas on the porch while wearing seersucker. In other words, it’s heaven on earth.
Garrett and I agreed that the masturbator’s behavior was a little askew. Most people have the decency to slip away to a shower stall or the pool for sexual congress. Still, we agreed the public masturbation was nothing to bother security about.
As I left the Country Club, I saw the masturbator sitting at the bar, towel once again around his waist. His hair hung to his shoulders in damp curls, and his broad back was speckled with brown spots. He reminded me of a leopard.
The masturbator turned out to be a Country Club regular, as I was at the time. When I next saw him, he was clothed by the pool, smoking alone. I detailed our interaction to my sister over Gchat the next day.
“I went to the Country Club. The public masturbator was there again,” I typed. “But this time he was wearing briefs and smoked me up. Anyway, we are dating now.”
“Oh,” Laura responded. “I wish I didn’t know that this guy masturbates in public.”
“I think that’s the most interesting part of our meeting.”
“But I sort of look down on that.”
In retrospect, my sister was extraordinarily open-minded, especially considering I would bring this man, who became known as PM (Public Masturbator was too cumbersome to type often) into her home. She didn’t chastise me or ask me what I was thinking.
What was I thinking? That his public masturbation wasn’t a big deal, given the context. And the dude was funny and smart — he was some kind of scientist who did research on dirt and spent his days mucking around in the swamps collecting samples. He had an Australian accent and good weed. I may also have been a little lonely.
But as I would come to find out over the next few months, almost none of the things he told me were true.
He had an extraordinarily short temper. On an early date, he flung his beer in the street over something World Cup-related. When a friend asked me to accompany her to the gym without inviting him along, he called her a bully and a bitch, went into break-dancing poses to illustrate the extent of her tyranny over me (“She says dance and you dance!”) and stormed out of my apartment. It would have been funny if he hadn’t been deadly serious.
A few weeks later he asked to have a threesome with her. She wasn’t the only female friend of mine to be propositioned in this way, without me knowing anything about it.
He had erectile dysfunction, which he said stemmed from childhood sexual abuse. In my mind, I linked that trauma to his sexual acting-out at the Country Club. I didn’t take his outbursts seriously or feel upset when he propositioned my friends, because I knew this wasn’t a long-term relationship.
PM was going back to Australia at the end of the year and I had no plans to leave New Orleans. But before that, he had field research to do in Boston.
Laura had recently moved to Boston, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and visit them both. PM picked me up from the airport and drove me to my sister’s house, but not before telling me I was being a bitch. He locked me in the car and circled her house for 20 minutes, refusing to stop and let me out until I apologized for my behavior. I was exhausted from my red-eye flight. It felt unreal.
Things got better after we had beers with my sister and her boyfriend. Later, PM and I walked the Freedom Trail together. It was a beautiful summer night and we had fun. I asked him if I could borrow his lighter, but he chided me for smoking cigarettes instead of complying. A passerby stepped in with a Bic. PM was furious; the passerby fled. I had to beg him not to beat the guy up.
On that trip, I also noticed PM had a Massachusetts driver’s license. He lived in a wooded area 20 minutes outside the city, in the basement of a comfortable cottage with a large stone fireplace. I found mail belonging to a woman who shared his last name. She could have been his wife, but my hunch is that she was his mother.
The research scientist from Australia was, by all indications, an unemployed guy from the suburbs living in his mom’s basement.
I cut things off after that trip, even though PM called and apologized for how he’d acted. “I’m not good at long-distance relationships,” he said.
“This is not a relationship,” I told him.
I thought that was the end, but 10 months later and without warning he showed up at my apartment. Luckily I was at a friend’s house watching Family Guy, not at home, when my phone showed someone calling from the apartment call box.
“Why are you calling me?” I asked.
“I want closure,” he said.
I hung up on him. “That was PM,” I told my friend.
“Call the cops if he does that again.”
That was five years ago and I haven’t heard from PM since. He makes a good party story, but sometimes I wonder just why I thought it was OK to date this guy. He was psycho—I knew that without exchanging a word, let alone bodily fluids—and his psychosis only revealed greater depths throughout our two? three? months of dating.
Why did I date a man who was technically a sex offender? I think it was because I felt a commonality with him. After all, I was doing naked yoga in a sauna. He was interesting and could be charming. And I’m a sucker for a funny how-we-met story.
I knew he was a public masturbator, but I didn’t know he also was a controlling, manipulative, physically violent liar. He taught me how easy it is to find yourself in an abusive relationship.
Like dating a public masturbator, it can happen to anyone.