Summary: What if for just one year you let desire call the shots?
The project was simple: Robin Rinaldi, a successful magazine journalist, would move into a San Francisco apartment, join a dating site, and get laid. Never mind that she already owned a beautiful flat a few blocks away, that she was forty-four, or that she was married to a man she’d been in love with for eighteen years. What followed—a year of abandon, heartbreak, and unexpected revelation—is the topic of this riveting memoir, The Wild Oats Project.
At a time when the bestseller lists are topped by books about eroticism and the shifting roles of women, this brave, brutally honest memoir explores how our sexuality defines us, how it relates to maternal longing, and how we must walk the line between loving others and staying true to ourselves. Like the most searing memoirs, The Wild Oats Project challenges our sensibilities, yielding truths that we all can recognize but that few would dare write down.
The Wild Oats Project, by Robin Rinaldi 8.0
You’re in your forties: statistically-speaking, half of your life is over. You feel like you’ve tentatively settled down when a part of you wishes that you had explored and expanded your sexuality more. You see the window for doing this closing rapidly and you’re faced with a dilemma: remaining in your stable, long-term relationship, which is sexually limited, or going out and sowing your wild oats.
‘The Wild Oats Project’, which is subtitled “One Woman’s Midlife Quest for Passion at Any Cost” is a memoir by Robin Rinaldi, a California writer who one day decided to follow her bliss, though she had been with the same partner for approximately two decades. This is an exploration of what led her on this journey, what she experienced and the impact that this journey had on her and her relationship.
The whole thing started with an affair. She had never had one before, but began to feel drawn to one of her co-workers, who had been flirting with her semi-regularly. One night, out with her friends, she gave in and went to his place instead of going back home to Scott, her husband. She not only had to face a certain amount of guilt, she also suddenly realized that she wanted more from her sex life.
Discussing her needs with Scott in therapy leads them to agree on some terms by which they can have an open relationship. It was not his idea, it was hers. He had been a wild cat before meeting Robin, and had quelled that completely to be in a monogamous relationship with her. For years, he had been a rock for her, through her various anxieties and illnesses, solidly by her side, providing her stability.
Now it was unraveling.
But they agreed to have other partners, so long as they played it safe and didn’t make out with each other’s friends. Bewilderingly, right from the onset she breaks those rules – she was breaking her partner’s trust and putting the relationship and his health at risk. For me, these were the first of many betrayals that I had a difficult time accepting, no matter how many justifications she had.
She eventually decided to try online dating, discovering that Craigslist can censor you if the content is considered objectionable by users. It was stunning how the CL community judged her desire for sex, arguing that her ad essentially facilitated her ability to cheat on her husband – even though she made it clear that it was an open relationship and that there were similar ads by men that went uncensored!
Grrr… double standards.
Rinaldi discusses the many encounters that she’s had, the new men she was meeting and what them appealing and distinctive; it’s like a dating journal. But she also delves into her childhood and familial relationships to try to make sense of the person she is, how it all led to this. She also goes into her relationship with Scott in great detail, how they met and what they’d built together over time.
Being in San Francisco, she not only had access to interesting men, she was surrounded by an openness to alternative sexuality. So she eventually went to a series of workshops at a centre called OneTaste, which is known for its orgasmic meditation sessions – which consists of rubbing a woman’s clitoris in gentle strokes at specific angle for 15 minutes daily, sometimes twice a day. Fascinating stuff.
I’d be into that. (Sadly, there’s nothing like this in my neck of the woods.)
Eventually she decides to move into the centre, spending her weekdays there and her weekends with Scott. The whole project puts her relationship in jeopardy, pushing her otherwise stoic husband to the edge. And she finds herself latching on to some of her lovers a bit more than expected, which also forces her to deal with loss as she refuses to commit to anyone new while she’s on this exploration.
Frankly, I had no issue whatsoever with Rinaldi’s journey. I think it’s probably something most of us should do early in our adult life, not just to have more experience, but to actually explore our sexuality in less conventional ways. I sincerely believe that what they do at OneTaste is more sexually, mentally and emotionally healthy than all the fetishistic and BDSM that our current model leads to.
But I did take offense to Rinaldi’s recklessness with respect to Scott: not only was she oblivious to his feelings, thinking that because he was stoic he didn’t have any, but she had plenty of unprotected sex, putting his health in jeopardy and risking pregnancy. Not only did they have a mutually agreed upon set of rules, but all relationships are based on various layers of trust, some much deeper than others.
She broke his trust, irrespective of whether he knew it or not. What she did was destructive.
She even looked at his cellphone messages at various instances (ex: while he was away paying for gas one day) to see if other women were texting him. She took more looks at his phone messages through the ensuing months, even tore open his Amex and phone bills and had a fit about him being romantic with one lover, or for making a call to her on their weekend time – even though she did the very same thing.
So, on top of being dishonest and untrustworthy, she had no sense of boundaries and didn’t hold herself to the same standards that she expected of him. I eventually felt contempt for her, and grudgingly continued reading about her journey. She just wasn’t fair with him one bit. She was selfish, self-absorbed and careless with his heart. Male or female, irrespective of background, there’s no reason for this.
And, you know what the worst of it is? Ultimately, she was being more honest with her readers than she was with Scott. She candidly recounted all of her significant experiences with us, but couldn’t be nearly as honest with him. I couldn’t help but wonder if the first he heard of most of this was in reading her book. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be. And, sadly, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
So, ultimately, while I found the experiences she opened herself up to fascinating and extremely noteworthy, I had little respect for Rinaldi herself. She should have done this outside the context of her relationship, or at least held up the terms on which their union was built. I have no patience or tolerance for infidelity, untrustworthiness and the reckless endangerment of another person’s health and heart.
I will not read anything else by Robin Rinaldi: she has little wisdom to share.
Experience, yes. Wisdom, no.