Hachette | By Jesse Fink | Buy here
After ten years of marriage and a child together, sports journalist Jesse Fink is floored when his beloved wife Lara walks out on him and their marriage. What comes next? A bachelor pad in Sydney’s Darlinghurst (but of course) and women. Lots of women. Fink chronicles, with brutal honesty, his post-split journey, which swings from online dating sojourns to overseas hook-ups, brothels and short-lived love affairs. He writes about his quest for love. His attempts to become a better single dad. And his battles with chronic OCD. Some of this book is quite sad. Some of it will make you bristle. But it’s got a lot to say to dads who are suddenly single; to women in the dating trenches trying hard to sort the duds from the diamonds. Here’s my email chat with Jesse, and if you’ve read the book I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments.
Hi Jesse, thanks for talking to me. You write about how online dating turns some previously nice guys into cads browsing what amounts to a ‘vagina catalogue’. Do you really believe this is true of most men in the internet dating world?
I know a lot of guys who are in it for the right reasons and hear many success stories. And in Laid Bare I meet a girl online I fall in love with: Frankie. But even men with the best intentions are in danger of being corrupted by the supermarket-like nature of online dating. It gets back to that line from Douglas Coupland about option paralysis: when given so many choices you make none. It can be very easy to fall into the “player” life (no commitments, tons of casual sex) because of online dating. I did. The temptations are there. It takes a strong man to resist them. And for a period there I wasn’t that strong.
Could it be that it was more specific to your circumstances (ie, your divorce and your OCD)?
My experience is not unique. I’ve had a lot of letters from men and women since Laid Bare was released, all telling me that they escaped the pain of divorce, separation and the break-up of their families through casual sex. I’ve also met a number of people who’ve been struggling with OCD – an anxiety disorder – and they’ve chosen to ‘self-medicate’ in various ways, sex being one of them. So for me, I was looking to neutralise pain from two sources: emotional heartbreak and mental torment. I’m heartened that my decision to open up about my OCD has given other people the courage to reach out and talk about their own stories. OCD is a terrible thing to live with and unfortunately the media doesn’t help the public’s understanding of what OCD really involves for the person suffering from it. Obsessions can be completely debilitating. Anyone who says, “I’m so OCD” when they’re talking about cleaning the house needs a kick up the arse. It’s deeply offensive to anyone who knows what OCD is really about and how malevolent it is.
Bottom line: are women kidding themselves if they think they’re actually going to find someone decent online?
No, that decent guy is out there. But you’re kidding yourself if you think that the man who ticks every box on your checklist doesn’t have a whole bunch of options available to him and won’t be tempted exploring them, often at the same time. A female friend of mine recently said to me, after meeting her boyfriend on RSVP: “I wasn’t attracted to him initially. But he had a great manner about him. I kept feeling myself being pulled towards his personality and not his look. We have so much in common. As soon as I let go of what I thought was my ‘usual type’ (athletes, young guys, etc) and opened my mind I was rewarded with this amazing relationship.” So there you go. It can work.
What words of advice would you give women about online dating? How can we spot men who are just using it in this way?
The players are easy to spot. I know because I was one. Phrases such as “I’m finding it difficult to find the right girl for me” and “‘I’m seeking new experiences and new friends” should be red flags. The cheesy sincerity. The shirtless photos. The physical requirements they list for potential partners. If you stay on a dating site long enough the same faces will keep popping up and when a guy is handsome, smart, fit, independent, humorous, has a career and can’t find a girlfriend within a short timeframe after putting himself online there’s a very good reason. He’s a player. We all want to see the best in people and overlook warning signs when we feel attraction. You are going to make mistakes. That’s normal. But by the same token you can do a bit of research to minimise those mistakes and you should always trust your intuition.
As a reader I have to admit I was torn between thinking you were extremely shallow and feeling rather sorry for you. What’s been the response to the book (by men and women?)
I’ve received about 60 letters over the past few weeks from men and women around Australia; but mostly women. All incredibly supportive. In fact I got one about five minutes ago from a bloke who said he suffered from OCD and depression and was trying to keep his relationship together after a trial separation. He started by saying: “You are a brave man to open up and share those details of your life, something I know I can never do with my closest family and friends.” A single mother wrote and told me: “Thanks for putting some of my story into words. I hope it will help me move forward a bit smarter, if not quicker.” A single girl wrote to me this week and said: “It was so refreshing to read a book written about love and relationships by a man. I can’t tell you how many bullshit chick lit books there are out there, without any substance…” The book has obviously hit a nerve in some people.
What does your ex think of the book? Did you show it to her before it was published?
“Lara” hasn’t read it and I didn’t show it to her before it was published. However I took the precaution of having people close to her read it. They all said she came out of it well and that’s what I’d hoped. I wrote it with great affection for her. Only recently she told me she wanted a signed copy to take away with her on holidays. I hope she reads it and understands me a whole lot better and what I went through, not just during the separation and the divorce but even before we broke up.
Have you copped any serious flak from exes described in the book? Did they, and your ex-wife, agree with your portrayal of how things went down?
There was one woman in the book, “Phoebe”, who objected to the fact I’d slept with prostitutes and unloaded both barrels on me when she found out – even before the book was released. I’ve attempted to have a friendship with her but she’s not interested. “Frankie” has written several times to wish me luck, tell me “it’s going to be amazing” and most recently: “I want a copy so I can find out how much of a brothel creeper you were.” “Sunny” in San Francisco keeps badgering me for a copy and remains a good friend. “Marguerite” is supportive. I’ve patched up things with “Olivia”, who now lives in England and has a new boyfriend. So, no, the reactions from my exes have been positive.
There’s a real poignancy to how you write about the life and, in a sense, the plight of the single dad. How much were you writing this as a support for other single dads out there?
Very much so. As Peter Wilmoth wrote in the Herald Sun about Laid Bare: “The life of a newly single father has not been much explored in Australian literature. In many ways the separated man loses his old identity and needs to carve a new one. This man’s voice is not often heard, possibly because men aren’t good at talking about this, let alone writing about it.” That encapsulates what I was trying to do with Laid Bare. There was a need for it. I wanted other men out there who were going through the anguish of separation and divorce to know that they are never alone and we’re all human. We make mistakes. We fuck up. And eventually we learn and move on.
What would be your advice to newly single dads who are suddenly in that situation you were in?
Be patient. It’s a long road. Surround yourself with people who really know how separation and divorce feels. A lot of people don’t. There’s nothing like having someone to talk to who can empathise with the cycle of emotions you’re going through. Recovery takes a long time. There’s a journey of great pain but also great enlightenment ahead and the time will come when you’re going to look back on what you’re going through now and smile, even laugh. Chances are you’ll be in a much better place with a different life and new dreams for the future.
You’re obviously crazy about your daughter and she sounds like a wise little soul. Has she asked to read it when she’s older? Is there a part of you that cringes thinking she’ll read it and be a bit sickened by it (and your, ahem, rather disposable approach to women)?
She’s proud of me. I’m proud of her. It might sound corny, but we’re a team. We’ve been through a lot. I want her to know my story and why I was detached from her for a good part of her early life. One day she’ll be old enough to read it and process it. I have no problem with that. Ultimately my search was – and is – one for love. I can’t think of anything nobler, so why would I have a problem with her knowing about that? I want her to place love at a premium, take risks and live her life with some integrity, like I try to do. It’s the best lesson I can give her.
Has the book improved your love life? Are you still internet dating (has the book made that harder)?
I’m not online but I’m not short of offers; in fact I’ve had a lot of emails and friend requests from women who don’t seem to be put off by the story I put to paper or having laid myself as bare as I did. Honesty is a rare commodity, clearly. What’s improved my love life is me. Being happy, fit, centred, fulfilled. That makes me more attractive. Not the book.
Has writing it changed you and if so how? Are you still on a quest to find true love?
No one writes books for the money. It’s just something you do because you want to do it and have something to say. But Laid Bare is easily the best thing I’ve ever written. It’s opened up a whole bunch of opportunities for me. I’ve had interest from film producers in Australia and the United States. I’m talking about sex and relationships in magazines and on TV. I got a deal to write a new book, a rock music bio. That’ll be out the end of next year. I’m never going to stop wanting true love in my life or in having another “glimpse of eternity”. Why would anyone give up on that? It’s what living is all about.