In war, enemy fighters are three or four hundred yards away, and the bullets they are shooting cover that distance in about half a second – roughly two thousand miles an hour. Sound doesn’t travel nearly that fast, though, so the gunshots themselves arrive a full second after they were fired. Because light is virtually instantaneous, illuminated rounds – tracers – can easily be perceived as they travel toward you. The brain required two-tenths of a second just to understand simple visual stimuli, and another two-tenths of a second to command muscles to react. That’s almost exactly the amount of time it takes a high-velocity round to cover 400 yards.

Reaction times have been studied extensively in controlled settings and have shown that men have faster reaction times than women and athletes have faster reaction times than non-athletes. Tests with soccer players have shown that the “point of no return” for a penalty kick – when the kicker can no longer change his mind about where to send the ball – is around a quarter of a second. In other words, if the goalkeeper waits until the kicker’s foot is less than a quarter second from the ball and then dives in one direction, the kicker doesn’t have enough time to adjust his kick. Give that quarter-second cutoff, the distance of which you literally might be able to “dodge a bullet” is around 800 yards. You’d need a quarter second to register the tracer coming towards you – at this point the bullet has traveled 200 yards – a quarter second to instruct your muscles to react – the bullet has now traveled 400 yards – and half a second to actually move out of the way. The bullet you dodge will pass you with a distinctive snap. That’s the sound of a small object breaking the sound barrier inches from your head.

Humans evolved in a world where nothing moved two thousand miles per hour, so there was no reason for the body to be able to counter that threat, but the brain still had to stay ahead of the game. Neurological processes in one of the most primitive parts of the brain, the amygdala, happen so fast that one could say they compete with a bullet. The amygdala can process an auditory signal in fifteen milliseconds – about the amount of time it takes the bullet to go thirty feet. The amygdala is fast but very limited; all it can do is trigger a reflex and wait for the conscious mind to catch up. That reaction is called the startle, and it is composed of protective moves that would be a good idea in almost any situation. When something scary and unexpected happens, every person does exactly the same thing: they blink, crouch, bend their arms, and clench their fists. The face also sets itself into what is known as a “fear grimace”: the pupils dilate, the eyes widen, the brow goes up, and the mouth pulls back and down. Make that expression in front of a mirror and see not only how instantly recognizable it is, but also how it seems to produce a sense of fear. It’s as if the neural pathways flow in both directions, so the expression triggers fear as well as being triggered by it.

In a battle, veteran combat soldiers drop into a crouch. They don’t do this in response to a loud sound – which presumably is what evolution has taught us – but in response to the quieter snap of the bullets going past. The amygdala requires only a single negative experience to decide that something is a threat, and after one firefight every man has learned to react to the snap of bullets and ignore the much louder sound of men near them returning fire. After a second or two, the soldiers straighten up, begin shouting and taking cover. In those moments their higher brain functions decide that the threat requires action rather than immobility and everything ramps up: pulse and blood pressure to heart-attack levels, epinephrine and norepinephrine levels through the roof, blood draining out of the organs and flooding the heart, brain, and major muscle groups.

Veteran combat infantrymen will tell you, “There’s nothing like it, nothing in the world. If it’s negative twenty degrees outside, you’re sweating. If it’s a hundred and twenty, you’re cold as shit. Ice cold. It’s an adrenaline rush like you can’t imagine.”

The problem is that it’s hard to aim a rifle when your heart is pounding, which points to an irony of modern combat: it does extraordinarily violent things to the human body but requires almost dead calm to execute well. Complex motor skills start to diminish at 145 beats per minute, which wouldn’t matter much in a sword fight but could definitely ruin your aim with a rifle. At 170 beats per minute you start to experience tunnel vision, loss of depth perception, and restricted hearing. And at 180 beats per minute you enter a nether world where rational thought decays, bowel and bladder control are lost, and you start to exhibit the crudest sorts of survival behavior: freezing, fleeing and submission.

To function effectively, the soldier must allow his vital signs to get fully ramped up without ruining his concentration and control. A study conducted by the Navy during the Vietnam War found that F-4 Phantom fighter pilots landing on aircraft carriers pegged higher heart rates than soldiers in combat and yet virtually never made mistakes (which tended to be fatal.) To give an idea of the delicacy of the task, at one mile out the aircraft carrier is the size of a pencil eraser held at arm’s length. The plane covers that distance in thirty six seconds and must land on a portion of the flight deck measuring seven yards wide and forty-five yards long. The Navy study compared stress levels of the pilots to that of their radar intercept officers, who sat immediately behind them but had no control over the two-man aircraft. The experiment involved taking blood and urine samples of both men on no-mission days as well as immediately after carrier landings. The blood and urine were tested for a hormone called cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal gland during times of stress to sharpen the mind and increase concentration. Radar intercept officers lived day-to-day with higher levels of stress – possibly due to the fact that their fate was in someone else’s hands – but on mission days the pilots’ stress levels were far higher. The huge responsibility borne by the pilots gave them an ease of mind on their days off that they paid for when actually landing the plane.

The study was duplicated in 1966 with a twelve-man Special Forces team in an isolated camp near the Cambodian border in South Vietnam. The camp was deep in enemy territory and situated to disrupt the flow of arms along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. An Army researcher took daily blood and urine samples from the men while they braced for an expected attack by an overwhelming force of Vietcong. There was a serious possibility that the base would be overrun, in which case it was generally accepted that it would be “every man for himself.”

The two officers saw their cortisol levels climb steadily until the day of the expected attack and then diminish as it failed to materialize. Among the enlisted men, however, stress levels were exactly the opposite: their cortisol levels dropped as the attack drew near, and then started to rise when it became clear that they weren’t going to get hit. The only explanation the researchers could come up with was that the soldiers had such strong psychological defenses that the attack created a sense of “euphoric expectancy” among them. “The members of this Special Forces team demonstrated an overwhelming emphasis on self-reliance, often to the point of omnipotence,” they wrote. “These subjects were action-orientated individuals who characteristically spent little time in introspection. Their response to any environmental threat was to engage in a furor of activity which rapidly dissipated the developing tension.”

Specifically, the men strung concertina wire and laid additional mines around the perimeter of the base. It was something they knew how to do and were good at it, and the very act of doing it calmed their nerves. In a way that few civilians could understand, they were more at ease facing a known threat than languishing in the tropical heat facing an unknown one.

What does all this have to do with Ceara Lynch?

The primitive amygdala driven adrenaline rush. Euphoric expectancy and fear of the unknown. The similarity between the bodies response to combat stress and a Dominant’s skilled manipulation of a submissive’s fear is striking,  even if to a lesser degree.


(Inspired by, and adopted from, the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft)

It was a simple icon on a computer screen that, once opened, would play a ten minute hypnosis video.

And it was the promise that compelled him to watch. Because he knew that he only wished to cross the barrier to the untrammeled land of his dreams and the gulfs where the dimensions dissolve in the absolute.

So he opened the file. And watched.

What happened then is scarcely to be described in words. It is full of those paradoxes, contradictions, and anomalies which have no place in waking life, but which fill our more fantastic dreams, and are taken as matters of course till we return to our narrow, rigid, objective world of limited causation and tri-dimensional logic.

From the first gestures and syllables spoken on the screen an aura of strange, awesome mutation was apparent – a sense of incalculable disturbance and confusion in time and space, yet one which held no hint of what we recognize as motion or duration. Imperceptibly, such things as age and location ceased to have any significance whatever. A moment before, there had been a computer screen with vague suggestions. Now there was neither screen nor absence of screen. There was only a flux of impressions not so much visual as cerebral, amidst which the entity that was Frank experienced perceptions or registrations of all that his mind revolved on, yet without any clear consciousness of the way in which he received them.

Frank knew that he was in no region whose place could be told by earth’s geographers, and in no age whose date history could fix. A gate had been unlocked – a gate leading from earth and time to that extension of earth which is outside time. There would be a guide. And Frank recalled what was written in his dreams. “And while there are those who have dared to seek glimpses beyond, and to accept Her as a guide; they would have been more prudent had they avoided commerce with HER; for it is written how terrible is the price of a single glimpse. Nor may those who pass ever return, for in the vastness transcending our world are blacknesses that seize and bind. And She will guide the rash one beyond all worlds into the abyss of unnamable devourers. For She is the Guide, Ceara, the Prolonged of Life.”

Memory and imagination shaped dim half-pictures with uncertain outlines amidst the seething chaos, but Frank knew they were of memory and imagination only. Yet he felt that it was not chance which built these things in his consciousness, but rather some vast reality, ineffable and undimensioned, which surrounded him and strove to translate itself into the only symbols he was capable of grasping.

There floated before Frank a cloudy pageantry of shapes and scenes which he somehow linked with earth’s primal, aeon-forgotten past. Monstrous beautiful things moved deliberately through vistas of fantastic handiwork that no sane dream ever held. The images bore no fixed relation to one another or to him. He himself had no stable form or position, but only such shifting hints of form and position as his whirling fancy supplied.

He had wished to find the enchanted regions of his dreams. Now, intoxicated with wider visions, he scarcely knew what he sought. Thoughts of infinite and blasphemous daring rose in his mind, and he knew he would face the Guide Ceara without fear, though She would ask monstrous and terrible things of him.

All at once the pageant of impressions seemed to achieve a vague kind of stabilization. Light filtered down from everywhere at once in no assignable color and from baffling, contradictory directions. There was a Shape which seemed to glide across the congested void. It was not exactly permanent in outline, but held transient suggestions of something remotely paralleling the human form. It seemed to be heavily cloaked with some neutral colored fabric and it seemed to belong to an order of being far outside the merely physical.

A moment later, Frank knew this was so, for the Shape had spoken to his mind without sound or language. And the Shape was nothing less that that which all the world has feared and revered. It was indeed the frightful guide, Ceara. The Guide knew, as she knew all things, of Frank’s quest and coming, and that this seeker of dreams and secrets stood before Her unafraid. There was no horror or malignity in what She radiated, and Frank wondered for a moment whether the Guide reserved Her horror for those who feared. As the radiation continued, Frank mentally interpreted them in the form of words.

“I am indeed the Prolonged of Life,” said the Guide, “of whom you know. I have awaited you. You are welcome, even though long delayed. You have passed though the first gate of consciousness, and are ready for your trial. If you fear, you need not advance. You may still go back unharmed the way you came. But if you choose to advance …”

The pause was ominous, but the radiation continued to be friendly. Frank hesitated not a moment, for a burning curiosity drove him on.

“I will advance,” he radiated back, “and I accept You as my Guide.”

At this reply the Guide seemed to make a sign by certain motions of Her robe which may or may not have involved the lifting of an arm or some homologous member. A second sign followed, and Frank knew he was at last close to the final test. The light now changed to another inexplicable color, and Frank remained content, for he knew soon he was to learn all. Damnation, he reflected, is but a word bandied about by those whose blindness leads them to condemn all who can see. He wondered at the vast conceit of those who had babbled of the malignant Ceara , as if She could pause Her very essence to wreak havoc upon mankind. As well, he thought, might a mammoth pause to visit frantic vengeance on an angleworm. And She radiated a message which he understood.

“I accept you, frank, whose daring has made you part of My world.”

Frank saw then two vacant pedestals, a gesture of the Guide told him one was reserved for him. The other taller pedestal, ornate and centered in the ethereal mistiness, was the Guide’s own throne. Moving and rising in a manner hardly definable, Frank took his seat; and as he did so he saw Ceara the Guide likewise seated Herself above him.

Gradually and mistily it became apparent that Ceara was holding something – some object clutched in the outflung folds of Her robe. It was a large sphere or apparent sphere of some obscurely iridescent metal, and as the Guide put it forward a low, pervasive half-impression of sound began to rise and fall in intervals which seemed to be rhythmic even though they followed no rhythm on earth. There was a suggestion of chanting – or what human imagination might interpret as chanting. Presently the quasi-sphere began to grow luminous, and as it gleamed up into a cold, pulsating light of unassigned color Frank saw that its flickering conformed to the alien rhythm of the chant.

At last, the suggestion of chanting ceased. The quasi-sphere, however, continued to pulsate with inexplicable light. Slowly there filtered into his mind the truth that this strange chanting ritual had been one of instruction which led to contemplation of the unplumbed vastness of utter and absolute Outsideness with which the earth had nothing to do, and of which his presence had demanded.

Just what would happen next, and how it would pass, Frank could not be certain; but a feeling of tense expectancy surged over him. He was conscious of having a body, but that was all. For the first time, Frank realized how terrific utter silence, mental and physical, may be. The earlier moments had never failed to contain some perceptible rhythm, if only the faint, cryptical pulse of the earth’s dimensional extension, but now the hush of the abyss seemed to fall upon everything.

Despite his intimations of body, he had no audible breath, and the glow of the quasi-sphere had grown petrifiedly fixed and unpulsating. A potent nimbus, brighter than all things, blazed frozenly over the shrouded head of the Guide.

A dizziness assailed Frank, and his sense of lost orientation waxed a thousand fold. The strange lights seemed to hold the quality of the impenetrable blacknesses heaped upon blacknesses, while there hovered everywhere an air of stupefying remoteness. Then he felt himself wafted into immeasurable depths, with waves of perfumed warmth lapping against his face. It was as if he floated in a torrid, rose-tinctured sea; a sea of drugged wine whose waves broke foaming against shores of brazen fire. A great fear clutched him as he half saw that vast expanse of surging sea lapping against its far-off coast. But the moment of silence was broken – the surgings were speaking to him in a language that was not of physical sounds or articulate words.

“The man has found Truth. And Truth is beyond good and evil,” intoned a voice that was not a voice. “The man of Truth has ridden far and learnt that Illusion is the only reality, and that substance is an impostor.”

And then he floated forward. Beyond reality. Into the existence of the All-in-One.  Into the Truth that is Ceara.

Is Ceara Lynch A Home Wrecker?

An essay in which I discuss pornography, marital infidelity, and Ceara Lynch.

Where’s the line?

In 2006, the marriage of Christie Brinkley and Peter Cook collapsed the old-fashioned way when she discovered that he was sleeping with his 18-year-old assistant. But their divorce trial that summer was a distinctly internet-age affair. Having insisted on keeping the proceedings open to the media, Brinkley and her lawyers served up a long list of allegations about Cook’s taste in online porn: the $3,000 a month he dropped on adult web sites, the nude photos he posted online, the swinger sites he visited, and even the videos he made of himself masturbating. As juicy as these porn-related revelations were, the most interesting thing about them was the ambiguity about what line, precisely, Cook had crossed.   The notion that pornography has something to do with marital infidelity has been floating around the edges of the American conversation for a while. But the attention paid to the connection between porn and infidelity didn’t really translate into anything like a consensus on what that connection is.

Increasing usage of porn or marriage instability – which came first?

During the past few decades, a number of academic studies have examined the qualitative relationship between pornography use and marriage. With few exceptions, however, these studies lack both objective measurements and sufficiently robust data samples to establish a generalized connection between pornography usage and marital stability. In fact, less than a handful of studies explored any empirical connection between pornography use and divorce at all, and those that did were unable to discern whether divorce occurred because of porn use or vice versa.

Perhaps the most scientifically rigorous of these studies was conducted in 2017 by Samuel Perry and Cyrus Schleifer of the University of Oklahoma. Their study, “Till Porn Do Us Part? Longitudinal Effects of Pornography Use on Divorce” (published in the Journal of Sex Research, Vol 55:3) found that under certain social conditions, pornography usage has a negative effect on marital stability. Specifically, their analysis showed that increased pornography viewership habits during marriage increased the probability of divorce (from 6 to 11 percent for men, and nearly tripled from 6 percent to 16 percent for women.) This was particularly true for the internet generations in which the study found that the younger an adult was when he or she began watching pornography, the higher his or her probability of getting divorced. Religiosity also seemed to played a role. For those married persons who did not attend religious services regularly, increased pornography use was associated with an increase in probability of divorce (from 6 percent to 12 percent.) By contrast, those who attended religious services at least weekly saw virtually no increase in the probability of divorce despite increased viewing of pornographic material. Whether couples perceived their marriage as happy also seemed to play a role; an increase in pornography viewership seemed to rock an otherwise happy marriage to the point of divorce, though it didn’t seem to make an unhappy marriage any worse than it already was. Interestingly, Perry and Schleifer also found that women who discontinued the use of pornography reduced their risk of divorce (from 18 to 6 percent), whereas porn discontinuance by men made no appreciable difference in their probability of divorce.

So what does this all mean? The Perry and Schleifer study, like most others, is correlative. That is, none of the studies clearly indicate that porn use causes marriages to break up. Despite exceptions where erotic media are used as a part of love-making and thus may yield positive returns, their study suggests that pornography use is an indicator of marital problems and that, taken together with prior research, increased pornography use has at least some direct negative impact on marital stability. What it doesn’t show is whether increased porn use causes, or is a result of, marital problems. Nor does it address what thresholds of pornography usage or what type of pornography being used pose the greatest risk to marriages. And it’s the last issue – what type of pornographic material is being used – that may be most relevant.

It’s not your grandfather’s porn

The days of purchasing magazines and videos from an adult book store are long gone. Over the past three decades, the internet has completely changed the way in which people interact with porn. The porn we see is weirder, wilder, and more particular than what most of us will ever have – or want – in our own lives. Online porn has become a laboratory of the sexual imagination. Pornographic scene-setting, erotic situations, and role-playing are being reinvented to accommodate ever-expanding imaginations. Some of the porn is pedestrian and conventional, some contrived and unbelievable, and some only acceptable when they are taboo. Technological innovation has piled on technological innovation, making modern pornography a more immediate, visceral, and personalized experience than ever before. Undoubtedly the internet has changed the very nature of pornography.

The vast majority of people no longer pay to watch porn. The content consumers watch is being paid for by advertisements or, for subscription porn sites, by a slim minority whose spending is lucrative enough to keep the site afloat. That minority skews to the niche, fringe, and extreme. And the handful of people willing to pay for that kind of porn are really into it. Niche audiences have a harder time finding their thing at volumes great enough to titillate and surprise on a regular basis. So niche porn producers oblige them by customizing content to those highly specific tastes. Designing specific experiences for fans through private webcam shows, personalized video clips, and social media interactions can be highly lucrative. And for those niche porn consumers, they are no longer merely witnessing sex acts, they are actively participating in the fantasy being produced. And it’s here that the barrier between online pornographic fantasy play and marital infidelity becomes less and less solid. If you approach infidelity as a continuum of betrayal rather than an either/or proposition, then the Internet era has ratcheted the experience of pornography much closer to adultery than I suspect most porn users would care to admit.

But before I go deeper down that rabbit hole, I need to say a few words about infidelity.


Though a large majority of people in the United States do not believe that porn use is a form of adultery, porn use comes up in divorce proceedings more often than you’d expect. An informal survey of 350 lawyers attending the annual meeting o f the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in 2002 claimed that “an obsessive interest in internet pornography” was a significant factor in 56% of their divorce cases the prior year. And porn usage is the most cited cause of ‘Constructive Desertion’ — meaning the spouse is at fault for emotionally abandoning their partner and withdrawing from sexual intimacy.

Undoubtedly increasing pornography usage will often lead to withdrawal of sexual intimacy, but in these cases the root cause for the breakdown in marriage is less about pornography and more about a betrayal of trust. If you posit that adultery lies on a continuum of betrayal and that there are many different levels and ways to betray your partner’s trust, some more onerous than others, then where the use of pornography lies on that continuum depends on how much secrecy is connected with a spouse’s porn viewing habits. Fact is, there are few things that will tear apart a relationship as much as snooping around and keeping secrets.

So the argument about porn breaking up marriages goes something like this. When the secret is that one half of the relationship is not only imagining but actively soliciting and paying for sexually stimulating play with another person over the internet, the other half in the relationship feels betrayed. After all, sex can be one of the better parts of being in a committed relationship. It can connect partners and provide a way to express the deepest emotions of love and intimacy. When one half of a relationship views and masturbates to customized porn, they aren’t sharing intimate moments with their partner, but instead are having those moments on a computer screen with a persona who is delivering customized erotic fantasy play using internet-enabled technology. It’s not just constructive abandonment. It’s virtual adultery.

But it may not be quite so simple. The larger truth is, generally speaking, men and women view sex differently. While there are plenty of women who can compartmentalize and separate sex from love, there are far more men who can. Married men who have a one-time fling are often telling the truth when they say, “She meant nothing to me.” And so it is with customized pornography. It really is just sex. But for most women (and a number of men), sex cannot be so transactional. It is bound up with emotional need – to feel we excite our partner above all others, to believe that we have primacy in their lives. So the question is whether it’s possible to act on our desires sensibly while maintaining the special equilibrium we trust our marriages to preserve. Do we know our relationships well enough to allow our partner to go outside them?

Relationship and sex advice journalist, Dan Savage, thinks we probably don’t. Sexual fulfillment matters in its own right, but mainly it matters because without it, relationships are more likely to break apart. It is for the sake of staying together – not merely for the sake of orgasms – that Savage coined his famous acronym, G.G.G. — lovers ought to be ‘good, giving, and game’ (put another way, skilled, generous, and up for anything.) And if they cannot fulfill all of each other’s desires, then it may be advisable to decide to go outside the bounds of marriage if that is what it takes to make a marriage work. Savage says a more realistic sexual ethic would prize honesty, a little flexibility, and when necessary forgiveness. In short, he things the youth-filled assumption that “all relationships are monogamous and between two people, that love means nothing can come between you” is unrealistic. It’s not about an open-relationship as much as it’s about acknowledging that your partner may have different tastes. And that if you’re not G.G.G. with those tastes, then you have to give your partner the out.

Savage’s honesty ethic gives couples permission to find happiness in unusual places, including pornography. And according to Savage there’s another, more realistic, factor that needs to be taken into account when discussing pornography in marriage — all men look at porn. So it’s pointless to moralize about porn because men are going to use it anyway. While men shouldn’t rub their female partners noses in the fact that they look at porn – that’s just inconsiderate – telling women that the porn ‘problem’ can be resolved through good communication, couples counseling, or a chat with your pastor is neither helpful or realistic. Given the choice between men using porn or abandoning a marriage, Savage things porn use should be tolerated. Marriage is just too important to let a secret internet-enabled virtual pornographic dalliance destroy it.

Most people, however, aren’t so enlightened. Since the beginning of the 20th Century, Americans have evolved an understanding of marriage in which partners must meet all of each other’s needs — sexual, emotional, material. When we rely on our partners for everything, any hint of betrayal is terrifying. So as good as Savage’s ‘good, giving, and game’ advice may be, most couples are afraid to take it. If you expect to have only one person be all things sexually for you, then you have to be whores for each other. You have to be up for anything. But rather than broach the subject of our fetishes or wildest fantasies with our mates, we opt for a tacit code of reticence. Because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of not being everything to our partner. We’re afraid that they might find someone worthier. We’re afraid of being alone.

And so we keep our secrets. And turn to the privacy and comfort of the internet to satisfy our desires.

It’s just fantasy, right?

Porn has always been a place for indulging irrational, secret, socially unacceptable desires. It’s a place where people feel free to let their fantasies run wild, a place where fetishes and eroticized taboos can be indulged if only in fantasy and not real life. One such online fantasy play space place is the porn genre inhabited by Ceara Lynch — erotic humiliation.

As fetishes go, erotic humiliation is an extremely small niche in the porn industry. Less than 1% of all the videos available for viewing on the world’s largest porn web site, Pornhub, are erotic humiliation and related videos. On that same site Ceara Lynch’s public account has barely 1.5% the number of followers as that of the most popular porn stars. Yet, Ceara’s popularity within the genre can’t be overstated. Her business model is built around providing a fantasy fetish experience that is personalized and more accessible than that of a mainstream porn star. The video clips she produces are custom-made to meet customers’ specific requests. The infrequent webcam sessions she has are one-on-one and personal. In short, nothing is mass-produced. Everything is personalized.

It’s not uncommon for online cam girls to develop a personal video-based friendship with their more devoted customers; to evolve a relationship that goes beyond masturbation into something more intimate and familiar. Perhaps what makes Ceara most successful is her ability to compartmentalize her job’s fantasy play from reality; to construct boundaries and maintain a professional relationship with her customers without alienating them. During a recent interview with Holly Rand on 8 Dec 2018, Ceara discussed her interactions with her customers. With few exceptions, aside from their fetish preferences, Ceara knows very little about the lives of her customers. She respects their desire to remain anonymous and detached. She strives to keep the relationship professional, discrete, impersonal and harmless (particularly to people who have not consented to be involved in the play.) She’s a professional sex worker so to her it’s just about sex and masturbation. There’s no emotional investment. It doesn’t really mean anything. Except it’s erotic humiliation. Which, from a genuinely submissive male’s perspective, might lend itself to being about a bit more.

The most common feedback Ceara receives from the myriad of customers who purchase her videos is “I felt like you were talking directly to me.” Even though the dialogue in the video is one-way, that feedback hints at the effectiveness of both the emotional and psychological impact she has on her viewers. And viewers can watch a purchased video clip over and over again, so that impact endures. For men who are conditioned by society to be ashamed of their submissiveness and of their erotic desire to be verbally and emotionally humiliated, having a beautiful woman speak directly to you about your most secret and taboo fetishes can be powerfully seductive.

Ceara makes no effort to conceal that her clips are fantasy based. Acknowledging that artifice excuses most viewers who might feel uneasy with the fantasy or need reassurance that no real coercion or humiliation is taking place. And most men are quite able to distinguish the difference between reality and fantasy. But the wall between fantasy and delusion is wafer thin, particularly in an environment like the internet where technology and virtual social networks tend to subvert the fantasy-reality dichotomy. When fantasy is augmented by clips that ‘speak directly’ to the viewer and more than encourage that viewer to become addicted to stroking for her, to forgo your marriage and become her virtual slave, to encourage home wrecking .. well, it’s not hard to imagine that some men might obsess and delude themselves into believing that their darkest desires are within reach, and in a way that can be done harmlessly – compartmented off from wife, family, and a vanilla life. And so they take the plunge and commit emotional infidelity and constructive abandonment. But does that man really exist, or it is just conjecture? A hypothetical?

In that same interview with Holly Rand, Ceara said she has never received any feedback from wives girlfriends, or partners that her clips or online play had caused harm to a relationship. No phone calls. No emails. She’s not aware of any real or anecdotal evidence that her work has ever ruined the lives of her customers or their families. Yet, when I run the statistics and crunch the numbers*, there’s a good probability that the deluded submissive male hypothesized in the preceding paragraph does exist.

So is Ceara Lynch a home wrecker?

As mentioned previously, the relationship between porn and marriage stability is still largely unknown. It’s not clear if excessive pornography use causes increased risk of divorce, of if increased risk of divorce causes excessive pornography use by men inside their marriage. I suspect, however, that the unique features and attributes of Ceara Lynch’s online erotic humiliation videos lend themselves to ‘obsessive use’ in a way mainstream pornography doesn’t.

Ceara Lynch is no intentional home wrecker. In that regard, however, her porn is more dangerous than most. Though she bears no direct culpability for any divorce which may be attributed to obsessive use of her pornography, for those instances in which men may have delude themselves into believing that her clips are more than just fantasy, it’s not a stretch to suggest she has abetted emotional infidelity and constructive abandonment, and contributed to the conditions that lead to divorce.

* From the CDC, there were 825, 000 divorces in the US last year. Assuming that the percentage of divorces in which porn usage was a factor remained at 56% then the number of porn-related divorces in the US last year was approximately 462,000. I then used Pornhub video views for Ceara Lynch (1.9M) and those of their most popular porn star (827M) to estimate Ceara Lynch’s percentage of the total porn viewership (0.22%.) Applying this percentage to porn-related divorces last year provides an estimate as to how many divorces may have been due to ‘an obsessive interest in Ceara Lynch pornography’ (1016).

Ceara Lynch: Full of Grace

grace noun \ˈgrās \ 1.a. unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification. b. a virtue coming from God. c. a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance. 2. a. a charming or attractive trait or characteristic. b. a pleasing appearance or effect.

In his book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” Philip Yancey describes a conference on comparative religions where experts from around the world debated which belief, if any, was unique to the Christian faith. C.S. Lewis happened to enter the room during the discussion. When he was told the topic was Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions, Lewis responded: “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”  Lewis was right. No other religion places grace at its theological center. It was a revolutionary idea; as Mr. Yancey puts it, grace “seems to go against every instinct of humanity.”

We are naturally drawn to covenants and karma, to cause and effect, to earning what we receive. Grace is different. It is the unmerited favor of God, unconditional love given to the undeserving. It’s a difficult concept to understand because it isn’t entirely rational. There’s a radical equality at the core of grace. None of us are deserving of God’s grace, so it’s not dependent on social status, wealth or intelligence. There is equality between kings and peasants, the prominent and the unheralded, rule followers and rule breakers.

If you find yourself in the company of people whose hearts have been captured by grace, count yourself lucky. They love us despite our messy lives, stay connected to us through our struggles, always holding out the hope of redemption. When relationships are broken, it’s grace that causes people not to give up, to extend the invitation to reconnect, to work through misunderstandings with sensitivity and transparency.

You don’t sense hard edges, dogmatism or self-righteous judgment from gracious people. There’s a tenderness about them that opens doors that had previously been bolted shut. People who have been transformed by grace have a special place in their hearts for those living in the shadows of society. They’re easily moved by stories of suffering and step into the breach to heal. And grace properly understood always produces gratitude.
Living a grace-filled life is hard. Most of us, when we feel wronged, want payback. Our first impulse, when hurt or offended, is to strike out, justifying our anger in the name of fairness.

When Mr. Yancey was young, he rejected the church for a time because he found so little grace there. There is a tendency among many people of faith to come across as holier than thou, more eager to judge than to forgive. Jesus encountered this throughout his entire ministry, which helps explain why he was more comfortable in the company of the unclean and reviled, the lowly and the outcast, than religious authorities. The odds are that you know people who have had scars of ungrace inflicted upon them by the Christian church. Yet when we see grace in action — whether in acts of extravagant, indiscriminate love, in radical self-giving, or in showing equanimity in the face of death — it can move us unlike anything else.

In 2014, a friend of mine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Upon learning it had spread, he wrote, “In all probability, the remainder of my life on this earth is now to be counted in weeks and months.” (He died in January 2015.) My friend acknowledged that pain and death are reminders of the nature of our broken world. Yet he went on to say: “There is a much bigger story of which this is only a tiny part. And it is God’s story of love, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and joy. We went into this journey choosing to trust God and to offer our fears to God. We’ve been so grateful for the freedom from fear and the abundance of peace that we have experienced.” He added, “There are, of course, times of discouragement, grief, pain, and wonder. After all, there are a lot of unknowns ahead of us.”

I sent my friend’s reflections to my brother, who responded, “It’s letters like this — the wisdom, the grace — that make me wish I weren’t an atheist.”  When I recently asked my brother how, as a nonbeliever, he understood grace and why it inspires us when we see it in others, he told me that grace is “some combination of generosity and magnanimity, kindness and forgiveness, and empathy — all above the ordinary call of duty, and bestowed even (or especially?) when not particularly earned.” We see it demonstrated in heroic ways and in small, everyday contexts, he said. “But I guess, regardless of the context, it’s always at least a little unexpected and out of the ordinary.”

I think I’ve listened to every Ceara Lynch interview and podcast she’s done.  It’s clear to me that she accepts people without judgment; that she lives deliberately with an  unwillingness to harbor animosity and ill-will. If one were to solely believe her humiliatrix persona, the empathy, kindness and equanimity revealed in her podcasts would be unexpected, surprising, and unearned. Yet, in stark contrast to that fantasized persona, it’s in those podcasts and interviews – in those unguarded moments – that the real Ceara Lynch  reveals the grace that lies within.

Feminism, Pornography, and Sex Wars

A Collective Culpability

A few months ago, Meghan Murphy (founder and editor of Canada’s leading feminist website, “Feminist Current”) wrote an editorial for Al Jazeera Online in which she criticized ‘feminist’ politicians for not backing up their words with political action. Though most of Murphy’s arguments targeted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his position on Canada’s current prostitution laws, at one point she opened her sights and blasted all male feminists who watched pornography as being culpable for a culture of misogyny, rampant sexual harassment, and sexual abuse.

Setting aside the remarkable notion of wholesale male culpability, lets assume, for the sake of argument, that Murphy’s conclusion is correct and that pornography is partly responsible for rampant misogyny in today’s culture. What then does that imply about women working in the porn industry? Are women like Ceara Lynch just as culpable for enabling a culture of sin against women?

Since Murphy is a unapologetic dyed-in-the-wool feminist, I felt confident that modern day feminism would offer some insight on the matter. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that feminist arguments against pornography revolve around the notion of objectification. What was surprising is how messy the arguments became when the notion of female sexuality was introduced. It turns out that pornography has been one of the most divisive issues in all of feminism, pitting open expression of female sexuality against its concomitant sexual objectification.

The Sex Wars

In the late 1970’s, feminist theory was being developed as part of the emerging gender studies programs then being created at universities and colleges throughout the country. During that time, much of the internal academic debate centered around female sexuality and a number of other sexuality related-issues (including pornography, erotica, prostitution, lesbianism, the role of trans-women in the lesbian community, and sadomasochism.) But pornography took center stage in 1980 when the National Organization for Women declared that pornography was about exploitation and violence and not about sexual expression. With that declaration, battle lines between sex-positive feminists and their anti-porn counterparts were drawn.

Two years later full fledged war broke out at the Barnard Conference on Sexuality. The Conference, held 24 April 1982 at Barnard College in New York City, intended to advance feminist thought “beyond debates about violence and pornography and to focus on sexuality apart from reproduction.” Anti-pornography feminists were excluded from the events planning committee, so they staged rallies outside the Conference to voice their disapproval of the agenda. During and following those rallies, anti-porn feminists made some salacious accusations about the sexual practices of individual sex-positive women involved in the conference. Academic arguments had given way to personal attacks and the publicity surrounding the event took on a far more titillating aspect. The internal feminist debate about female sexuality and porn had moved out of the academic lecture halls and onto the front page of the national press.

Following the Barnard Conference, the two sides continued to clash over a number of issues, resulting in intense debates held both in person and in various media. The feminist movement was deeply divided as a result of these debates. At their core, the arguments for and against pornography were (and still are) about sexual objectification versus a free and open expression of female sexuality.

Pornography And Objectification

By most standards, pornography is defined as the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the exclusive purpose of sexual arousal. However, noted anti-pornography feminist academic Catherine MacKinnon defined pornography quite differently, and in so doing, argued why pornography consumption is, in fact, an act of female sexual objectification.

According to MacKinnon, pornography is “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women though pictures or words” and that pornography defines women’s role as sexual objects available for men’s consumption. Within this definition and framework, feminist opponents of pornography argue that pornography is harmful to women, and constitutes strong causality or facilitation of violence against women (most famously described as “pornography is the theory, and rape is the practice” by radical feminist Robin Morgan.)

But when it comes to feminism and pornography, things aren’t quite that simple. For example, the view that pornography has this amount of influence over men and plays such a central role in women’s objectification received criticism. In their book, “The Lust to Kill: A Feminist Investigation of Sexual Murder”, Deborah Cameron and Elizabeth Frazer question the idea that men are conditioned to behave in certain ways as a consequence of pornography consumption. What is problematic with this idea, according to them, is that men are presented as incapable of critically interpreting pornographic materials, and as simply imitating what they see in pornography.

As feminist theorists grappled with the pornography versus sexuality issue, another unexpected but important disagreement emerged. Feminism had difficulty defining what constitutes objectification.

Objectification is the central notion of feminist theory. Feminist theory identifies sexual objectification of women as a driving and perpetuating component of gender oppression, systemic sexism, sexual harassment, and violence against women. However, what constitutes sexual objectification is hardly a settled question within feminist academia. All agree that, depending on context and to varying degrees, the objectified person is identified with their body and appearance, and is treated less as a human being and more as a tool lacking autonomy, agency, and self-determination. Where disagreement occurs is whether sexual objectification includes both how a person is seen and treated, or something less broad in which only behavior is considered.

In the case of pornography consumption, the nuance between these two definitions is important. Given the broader definition as including both thought and deed, MacKinnon argues that pornography consumption constitutes objectification. Her argument goes as follows: pornography involves sex between people and things, human beings and pieces of paper, real men and unreal women. As a result, in the consumers mind, the woman becomes a thing and a man’s consumption of pornography therefore constitutes female objectification. However, if objectification is considered exclusively a behavior, then pornography consumption is not objectification but rather anthropomorphism in which pornographic objects are treated as sexual partners. In a paper published in the journal Hypatia in 2006, Jennifer M. Saul examined these conflicting views. The article, entitled “On Treating Things as People: Objectification, Pornography, and the History of the Vibrator” did little to reconcile the two perspectives, however it is worth reading nonetheless if only for the historical case study presented.

Anyway, at the core of their argument, anti-porn feminists charge that the production of pornography entails physical, psychological, and/or economic coercion of the women who perform and model in it; and that much of what is shown in pornography is abusive by its very nature. They also argue that the consumption of pornography is an enticement to sexual violence against women, provides a distorted view of the human body and sexuality, and fosters hatred of women. In short, feminist theory links gender inequality to the objectification of women, which is created and sustained by men’s consumption of pornography. Thus Meaghan Murphy’s collective culpability pronouncement in the opening paragraph of this essay.

Overlooking that pornography is being defined to conform to a particular brand of feminist theory, what can be made of these arguments? Are the consequences of pornographic consumption as dire as feminist argue? Does pornography consumption promote violence and/or foster hatred against women? Is pornography a tool for promoting male sexuality at the expense of female sexuality expression? Does the consumption of pornography create, promote and sustain gender inequality? These questions have been studied and to a certain extent answered. And, as you might expect, some study results are quite definitive; in others, results are mixed and inconclusive.

Pornography And Violence Against Women

With regards to the most serious accusation against pornography – that it incites sexual aggression – rape statistics and controlled studies suggest otherwise.

US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics data show the rates of reported rapes and sexual assault in the U.S. are at their lowest levels since the 1960s. This same goes for other countries. As access to pornography grew in once restrictive Japan, China and Denmark in the past 40 years, rape statistics plummeted. Within the U.S., the states with the least Internet access between 1980 and 2000—and therefore the least access to Internet pornography—experienced a 53 percent increase in reported rape incidence, whereas the states with the most access experienced a 27 percent drop in the number of reported rapes. It is important to note that these associations are just that—associations. They do not prove that pornography is the cause of the observed crime reductions. Nevertheless, the trends just don’t fit with the theory that rape and sexual assault are in part influenced by pornography.

A 2014 controlled study by Jae Woong Shim of Sookmyung Women’s University and Bryant M. Paul of Indiana University did show that exposure to sexually explicit material, coupled with feelings of anonymity, could lead male participants’ to harsher sexist attitudes toward women. But the study did not show that these same participants are more likely to act out those desires and attitudes toward women. And there’s the rub. The study implies that, at least when it comes to pornography-inspired sexist attitudes, how you view women may not be linked to how you treat women.

Repression also seems to figure prominently into the puzzle of pornography. In 2009 Michael P. Twohig, a psychologist at Utah State University, asked 299 undergraduate students whether they considered their pornography consumption problematic; for example, causing intrusive sexual thoughts or difficulty finding like-minded sex partners. Then he assessed the students with an eye to understanding the root causes of their issues. It turns out that among porn viewers, the amount of porn each subject consumed had nothing to do with his or her mental state. What mattered most was whether the subjects tried to control their sexual thoughts and desires. The more they tried to clamp down on their urge for sex or porn, the more likely they were to consider their own pornography use a problem. The findings suggest that suppressing the desire to view pornography, for example, for moral or religious reasons, might actually strengthen the urge for it and exacerbate sexual problems. It’s all about “personal views and personal values,” Twohig says. In other words, the effects of pornography have little to do with the medium itself and everything to do with the person viewing it.

Sex-Positive Feminist Views on Pornography

For sex-positive feminists, pornography is seen as a medium for women’s sexual expression. Sex-positive feminists see many anti-pornography feminist views on sexuality and pornography as being equally oppressive as those of patriarchal religions and ideologies, and argue that anti-pornography feminist discourse ignores and trivializes women’s sexual agency. Ellen Willis (who coined the term “pro-sex feminism”) states “As we saw it, the claim that ‘pornography is violence against women’ was code for the neo-Victorian idea that men want sex and women endure it.”

Sex-positive feminists take a variety of views towards existing pornography. Many of these feminists see pornography as subverting many traditional ideas about women that they oppose, such as ideas that women do not like sex generally, only enjoy sex in a relational context, or that women only enjoy vanilla sex. They also argue that pornography sometimes shows women in sexually dominant roles and presents women with a greater variety of body types than are typical of mainstream entertainment and fashion, and that women’s participation in these roles allows for a fulfillment of their sexual identity and free expression.

Feminist Pornography

Pornography produced by and with feminist women is a small, but growing segment of the porn industry. According to Tristan Taormino, “Feminist porn both responds to typical images with alternative ones and creates its own iconography.”

In 2002, Becky Goldberg produced the documentary “Hot and Bothered: Feminist Pornography,” a look at women who direct, produce, and sell feminist porn. According to Goldberg, feminist pornography is whenever the women is in control of the sexual situation, and as such, she is in control of what is being done to her. As Goldberg explains, feminist pornography is about women enjoying sex.

Some pornographic producers such as Nina Hartley, Ovidie, Madison Young, and Sasha Grey are self-described sex-positive feminists. They do not see themselves as victims of sexism, but rather defend their decision to work in pornography as freely chosen and argue that much of what they do on and behind the camera is an expression of their sexuality. It has also been pointed out that in pornography, women generally earn more than their male counterparts

Erotica versus Pornography

Seeking to find a middle ground, a number of anti-pornography feminists such as Gloria Steinem and Page Mellish make a distinction between “pornography” and “erotica”, the former emphasizing dominance and the latter emphasizing mutuality. Steinem holds that, “These two sorts of images are as different as love is from rape, as dignity is from humiliation, as partnership is from slavery, as pleasure is from pain.” Feminists who subscribe to this view hold that erotica promotes positive and pro-woman sexual values and does not carry the harmful effects of pornography. However, more ardent anti-pornography feminists are skeptical about this distinction, holding that all sexual materials produced in a patriarchal system are expressions of male dominance. Andrea Dworkin wrote, “erotica is simply high-class pornography: better produced, better conceived, better executed, better packaged, designed for a better class of consumer.”

Still others find the distinction manufactured and thus problematic. Ellen Willis holds that the term ‘erotica’ is needlessly vague and euphemistic, and appeals to an idealized version of what kind of sex people should want rather than what arouses the sexual feelings people actually have. She also emphasizes the subjectivity of the distinction, stating, “In practice, attempts to sort out good erotica from bad porn inevitably comes down to ‘What turns me on is erotica; what turns you on is pornographic.'”

The Sex Wars and Third Wave Feminism

Third wave feminism promotes personal, individualized views on those gender-related issues (such as prostitution, pornography and sadomasochism) that drove the second wave sex wars. In particular, the third-wave view of pornography is that there is no greater meaning other than which the actor or consumer gives it. Items such as sex objects and porn, identified by some second-wave feminists as instruments of oppression are now no longer being exclusively used by men but also by women. Feminist critic Teresa de Lauretis sees the sex wars not in terms of polarized sides but as reflecting a feminism that inherently embodying difference, which may include conflicting and competing drives.

Meanwhile, critic Jana Sawicki rejects both the polarized positions, seeking a third way that is neither morally dogmatic or uncritically libertarian. She offers the idea that what is needed is a theory of sexuality separate from feminism. And it is in that intellectual space where sexuality is divorced from feminism that Ceara Lynch thrives.  Whether as an example of emerging feminist theory or just as a matter of practicality, Ceara Lynch seems to have found an unambiguous ease with her sexuality independent of those feminist issues most important to her.

Ceara Lynch: Dreadful Tales

“… the true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain – a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assault of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”

– H. P. Lovecraft (Supernatural Horror in Literature, 1927)

Tales of supernatural horror – weird tales – have a long and rich history in American literature. Starting with Charles Brockden Brown’s novel Wieland (1798), the American literary tradition is filled with authors, such as Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, who turned their pens to dark tales of supernatural and preternatural dread. Featuring castles, dark subterranean passages, secret societies, madmen, graveyards, hidden manuscripts, and ghosts, these tales were largely explorations of how humans are torn between good and evil – between God and the Devil – and how frequently they choose the latter.

These tales do much more than simply entertain. They induce a chill and connect with primal emotions at the very core of human nature. Fear of the unknown is genetically hardwired into every human being. Even if the conscious mind were purged of all sources of wonder, the instinctual, genetic drives written into our nervous systems would still compel us to shiver with dread at the dark and shadowy mysteries at the heart of all weird tales.

Weird tales also serve as a reminder that our knowledge of the world in we live is incomplete. There are wonders of the cosmos that exist outside of our comprehension, and horror fiction forces us to confront what lies beyond and within. Thus, the weird tale is often a symbolic form in which the human condition is revealed to be precarious at best. The narrowness of our understanding of things gives us a false sense of security. Ignorance is our only true comfort, for when the veil is dropped and the universe is revealed to us, we are forced to come to terms with our insignificance. The decorum of modern civilization provides only a thin barrier against the cosmos and ever-present pressures ensuring our eventual destruction. The ‘monsters’ in supernatural horror literature are symbolic renderings of these unseen and unknown threats that violate the manners and values of normative society.

The above discussion then serves as a useful entry into Ceara Lynch’s own works of fiction … her video clips. Like Poe and Lovecraft, Ceara does not locate the center of her fiction in gruesome images of monstrosities, but in the atmosphere she creates – in other words, the effect the video clip has on the viewer. Her aim is to bring viewers gradually and carefully to the realization that the world that surrounds us may not be the full portion of the real. The one true test of the really weird is whether or not there is excited in the viewer a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers, a subtle attitude of “awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.” Dread – that strange mixture of terror, horror, and mystery – is the purest response one can feel at the full recognition of our own inconsequence and the marginal meaningfulness of our lives.  And it is with an anticipatory dread that we watch her clips.

Ceara recognized that there is a tension at the core of every thinking person. We are on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of the black seas of infinity. It is not meant that we should voyage far, but we are driven into unknown territories by our desires. Through her video clips, Ceara Lynch drives us willingly further and deeper into those dark and unknown places.  Dreading that what we may discover, in those places deep within our psyche, monsters waiting to devour us.

And the genius of Ceara is that we willfully embrace that same dread, not knowing if the monsters that lie within will treat us as mere annoyances or playthings if we’re lucky, or food if we’re not.

A Love Story

I’ve spent my entire adult life in love with only one person. What follows is the story of that love. Despite the title of this blog, it’s not a love story. Far from it. It’s more a story of delusion, heartache, forgiveness, and redemption.

The events of this story occurred across a span of over 40 years. Most of the details of knowing have long faded away into the past. What remains are just my memories of what I believed happened. Those memories are this story.

It’s not a fairy-tale-Hollywood love story. But I want to tell it. Because it’s mine. And maybe you’ll find it interesting. And maybe by telling my story, I can figure out how I managed to take such an awkward journey and still end up in a such a good place.


I met Diana during those pointless years between college and the Navy. I was 23 years old and working second shift at a south Chicago steel mill. Between the steel mill and the hours I spent hanging out in the tavern after work, there really wasn’t much else. No girlfriend. No ambition. No life. As I said, it was the pointless years.

Diana tended bar at the tavern. She had gotten married at 17, moved with her husband to Chicago, had two kids, got divorced, and at the age of 24 had already made her fair share of bad decisions. But all that shit didn’t bother me. Because she was also the most attractive woman I had ever seen. And between my lust and the beer, it turns out she didn’t have a monopoly on bad decisions. Fact is, bad decisions were pretty easy to come by back then.

One early morning after the tavern had closed, Diana and I went for breakfast. 4 AM. Me mostly drunk. Her mostly tired. I’ll always remember that conversation. If only there was just lust. Then the conversation might have been something like “Do you want to fuck?” But I had zoomed right passed lust weeks ago. I was full of smitten. And smitten is a pretty bad place to be by yourself. So the conversation went sideways and came crashing to an end when Diana uttered those seven dreaded words, “I like you. But not that way.” No confusing that signal. Even my booze-soaked brain knew what that meant. Hopes dashed. Time to move on. But that wasn’t the end of the conversation. If only it had been. Though I couldn’t have know it at the time, her next comment turned out to be unintended cruel. She said, ‘If ever I get married again, it’ll be to someone like you.”

I should have ignored that last comment and focused on the first. But I was a boy, inexperienced, and an incipient alcoholic. My hearing was selective. My imagination overruled reality. Crush became delusion. Delusion fucked me up.

She worked at ‘my’ tavern. I saw her almost every night after work. I found myself in that really awkward place between platonic friend and serious fuck buddy. Maybe I drank too much. Or maybe Diana was just more emotionally mature than me. For whatever reason, Diana had a better handle on being in that place than I did. So being there didn’t seem to bother her. But it bothered me. A lot. Emotional stability vanished from my life. When I wasn’t elated, I was depressed. There was no in-between. I was confused, insecure, and horny. I started driving by her apartment late at night. And then on the weekends. Just to catch a glimpse of her. Just to see if she was there. I was stalking her, but I didn’t know it. All I knew was that when it came to getting from Diana what I wanted most – love – I was pretty much dead meat.

I was pathetic, but I wasn’t hopeless. I knew my life’s situation had become the perfect storm of shit. Job sucked. Love life sucked. Too much booze. Too little common sense. I had to do something or I would end up like that guy sitting down at the end of the bar. Sitting on the same stool every night. Staring into that same half-empty glass of beer. No hope. No way to live. So at 24 years of age, I joined the Navy.

Turns out joining the Navy and living on the other side of the world from Diana didn’t help as much as I thought it would. My hope for a life with her just wouldn’t vanish, just wouldn’t die. And I fucked up. In my loneliness, instead of killing that hope, I nurtured it. When it came to Diana, my heart, not my head, was in control. Also turns out that smitten is a tough place for the heart to leave.

We stayed in contact, wrote each other short letters, occasionally talked on the phone. My life was fitfully gaining traction in the right direction, but hers … well, not so much. Despite finding a job as an accountant, she lost custody of her kids to her ex-husband. That was a real emotional punch in the gut for her. She still worked part time tending bar on the weekends; unfortunately, taverns on the south side of Chicago aren’t exactly known for their higher class clientele. Drugs were easy to get. When she lost custody of her children, she took solace by losing herself in coke. Long story short, she got in debt with some unforgiving people. So I helped her out and sent her money. Which for any other person, would have only been an act of charity or kindness. For me, however, it was that … and a bit more. Because during those years the mental linkage between sex and money was becoming firmly imprinted in my brain.

There’s a line in a Beatles song, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Back then, I often mistook song lyrics for wisdom. So I believed reciprocity would lead to equality; I thought the love I gave would be reciprocated and equally returned. And I believed, given her situation, sending Diana money was the best way to demonstrate my love for her. So I continued to send her hundred of dollars each month. I was delusional, but I didn’t know it. Worse, I didn’t listen to my friends. When it came to Diana, the casual sex-money mental linkage had morphed into something more intimate, something infinitely more capable of being hurtful. So when I received a short note in the mail saying she was getting married, I was devastated. That night was 35 years ago, and it still remains the most painful of my life. I got drunk. Stinking shit-faced drunk. And then I cried. Not the sort of cry a person has when their dog dies. But a cry of misery, anguish, and deep mental pain. It was an end-of-innocence sort of cry.

Then I passed out.

They say time heals all wounds. Which is true. But that time of healing can be very painful. And there are scars. There’s always scars. A few month later, I flew home to spend Christmas with my family. And to see Diana.

Turns out, she had actually done some good with the money I was sending each month. She quit the coke and the lifestyle. She moved into a better apartment and was seeing her kids regularly. She had met a Christian man and found Jesus. She had also gotten pregnant. And that’s why she was getting married.

I was genuinely happy for her. And I surprised myself when I found I wasn’t angry, just deeply saddened that things didn’t work out the way I hoped. Still, she had come through some really rough patches. She was a survivor. And I loved her even more for that. It was a different sort of love – elevated yet deeper. I admired her for turning her life around. And it felt good that I had helped. I was a little proud. A little happy. And more than a little aroused. We kissed goodbye. But my Navy leave was up, and once again I left. Once again I was using distance to help me cope. Only this time, I hoped I would cope better than before. This time, I hoped I would think more clearly and be able to put Diana safely behind me.

Which I tried doing for the next year or two in a semi-stilted reluctant sort of way. And it helped that I was at sea a lot. We still wrote each other, exchanged cards on birthdays and Christmas. Stuff like that. My passions hadn’t subsided, but I understood them a bit better. And I had learned, for the most part, to keep them in check. Until I received a card from her saying she had gotten divorced again.

The thing about passion is that however hard you try to drive it away, it always seems to be just around the corner. Ready to be embraced. Passion has an incredible power to override a person’s logic. It cajoles us into making less-than-stellar statements and decisions. It disguises reality and misleads us into justifying bad behavior. There’s a reason “crimes of passion” is a real thing. I wasn’t gong to commit any crimes, but I was going to do harm. Not physical harm. Just hurtful harm. Unintended harm. Relationship damaging harm. And I was too stupid to see it.

It had been five years since that early morning drunk breakfast with Diana in the diner. That breakfast in which she said if ever she’d remarry, it would be to someone like me. Well that turned out be an untruth. But that didn’t deter me from pursuing my passion. With her note, I was suddenly back in the game. And she wanted me in the game, right? I mean, why else would she send me that note? Yeap. I was still delusional. Still selectively interpreting signals. Truth was, she was in the friend zone and I wasn’t. But I told myself I was trying to be. It was a bold face lie to myself, of course. I knew my feelings. I was all confused and fucked up. So, sure, I chose to be her friend. But I also chose to make her the object of my affection.

And that was the problem, wasn’t it? Over the years and across the distance she had become an object. A trophy. Something to win. And this time I was determined not to let the trophy slip away. I was going to win her. And we were going to live happily ever after. I was 32 years old and, in many ways, still just a fucking man-child.

As luck would have it, a three year duty assignment had become available back home near Chicago. I took it. It would be good to be back home to reconnect with family. And it would be better to be back home to reconnect with Diana. It was my opportunity to win her love.

Those three years were the worse of it. Diana had given up her accounting job to raise her infant child, and was trying to make ends meet by waiting tables. The more I saw her in that situation, the more I wanted to rescue her. So I gave her even more money. I knew what I was doing. She was vulnerable and I was taking advantage. But I lied to myself and convinced myself I was doing more good than harm. It was my unacknowledged strategy to win her love. And, of course, it wasn’t going to work. Because people aren’t objects. And you can’t try to manipulate them like that and expect them to love you in return. But, as I said, I was fucked up and stupid.

The rest of the details for those next three years aren’t important. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then I was insane. I was too stubborn to accept the fact she didn’t want what I was offering. I gave her more money; tried to make her dependent upon me. And she’d reluctantly take it, because she had no choice. She needed it. And I was too blind to see how much she hated herself for taking it. I only saw what I wanted to see. My behavior was destroying whatever relationship we had, but I didn’t want to see that. So I didn’t. Eventually she started avoiding me. In my pursuit, I was driving her away.

Diana eventually moved back to her childhood home in New England. Back to the comforts of familiar surroundings and family. To be clear, she didn’t move back just because of me. There were other larger, harsher, issues in her life. Her two ex-husbands. Her infant child. Her unsuccessful attempts to regain custody of her two older children. Her just barely getting by financially. A lot of her life had turned to shit. But instead of helping her, I had made it worse. Some fucking friend I turned out to be.

And so it finally sunk in. I had fucked things up. I don’t know if they were repairable, and for the moment I didn’t care. Because I had to take care of myself first. I had gotten so deep down the rabbit hole of selfish love that I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to get back out. I was sick mentally and emotionally, and I knew if I was ever going to get my head and heart right, I needed to get away from the situation I had created. So I got involved with another woman. I guess you could say it was my rebound relationship. It was a semi-serious sort of thing; serious for her, not quite so serious for me. Something to distract my heart from where it really wanted to be. It eventually became clear to me that I could never give this other woman what she wanted. If the whole Diana thing had taught me anything, it was that emotional pain hurts. And I liked this other woman too much to inflict that sort of pain on her. So we broke up. I may have been a shit, but I wasn’t an asshole.

Shortly thereafter the needs of the Navy thankfully intervened. My three years near Chicago were up and I was ordered back to sea.

Life aboard a warship is best described as routine. Everything is a routine. A routine of mostly work, sleep, and more work. There aren’t a lot of things to distract you from the routine. No sex. No alcohol. No drugs. It’s a good place to regroup and get your shit together. For the next two years I lived the routine. And slowly I figured things out. I didn’t give a lot of conscious thought to what happened in Chicago; mostly I just let the boys in the back of my brain do their thing and mull over what I did wrong. And what I should have done right. There were no epiphany moments. But there were gentler moments of clarity. And usually on some quiet mid-watch alone on the ship’s bridge, staring out into the dark nothingness of open ocean with only the stars and silence inviting my thoughts, that’s usually when those boys in the back would let me know what they had figured out.

What they let me know is that I loved Diana. The foundation chemistry may have been soured, but it was still was there. It wasn’t the same sort of love or chemistry of that first year or so, a love mostly fenced in by lust and passion. The past three years had been a crucible of sorts; that old romantic love had become more realistic. It was deeper, wiser, more sublime. So I started with that. And I reluctantly let go of my expectations. That was hard. But I knew I had no right to them. They had been driving the love train for a long time. And that love train had gotten way off the tracks. Letting go of an old way of thinking and of a decade long dream was hard work. But I put in that work. And rebuild my thoughts and notions of love. And eventually I came to accept that love wasn’t about me or my wants, but something different. What had been unrequited was transforming into unconditional.

Those should have been rebuilding years for Diana too, but life continued to throw shit in her direction. Her aging parents were both disabled, so when she returned home she became their primary care giver. She was a single mother, living in rural New England, raising a young daughter, with just a high school diploma and a bachelors’ degree from the school of hard knocks. Money was tough for her, so I helped the best I could. I set up a monthly direct deposit of cash into her bank account, and even had a second credit card issued from my American Express account in her name.

My belief and trust in her wasn’t misplaced. Eventually she got an associates degree in accounting from the local community college, found a job, and remarried.

That marriage didn’t last long. Maybe a couple years. Maybe less. I can’t remember. Probably because I was trying not to care.

The next years, I pretty much threw myself into the job. Though Diana was never far from my thoughts, back-to-back duty assignments in Monterey, California and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii helped push those thoughts into the background. I dated a bit. But being nearly 40 years old and never married turned out to be a “red flag” for a lot of women that age.

I still spoke with Diana on the phone once a week or so, but those calls were mostly just the keep-in-touch variety. And she became a sort of sanity touchstone for me; someone I took comfort in talking with. She was that person I turned to when I wanted honest advice, or when I needed to hear a kind word. So we settled into a comfortable long-distance friend zone relationship. Until 1993. When my next assignment was in Washington DC.

Washington DC is within sort of weekend commuting distance of New England. So I started making the drive up to visit with her. What started as a visit once or twice every couple months gradually became a once-a-week routine. My passion was inflamed again, only this time the faulty expectations of my youth had been replaced by a more realistic and unselfish respect for love and sharing. We were living in the moment and enjoying each other’s company. Then one evening while out to dinner, Diana said we should get married.

“Are you sure this is what you want?” I answered. Because I wasn’t sure getting married to Diana was the best decision for either of us just then. My tour of duty in Washington DC was winding down and I was being re-assigned back to Hawaii in two months. I had just passed my 17th anniversary of joining the Navy and was within 3 years of retirement and a nice government pension. So unless she was willing to give up her life in New England, unless she was willing to uproot her daughter from school and move to Hawaii with me, unless she was willing to make the same commitment to marriage that I was willing to make, then getting married didn’t seem right. And she didn’t want to move.

So this time I didn’t follow my heart. And I moved on to Hawaii. A few months later, she called. She told me she had “met some else.” Years earlier I would have devastated by those words. This time, I was almost relieved. We were back in that place I had grown comfortable with. Back in that place I had come to appreciate for it’s rarity and value. We were now the best of friends. Our lives were interwoven, our friendship was a priority. Through our friendship, our lives were unencumbered and enriched. And so we continued to stay in touch. Weekly phone calls just like before. We exchanged gifts just like before. Sometimes for birthdays and Christmas. Sometimes for no reason at all.

Diana re-married and I continued focusing on my work. Continued to follow the ‘gypsy gene’ and pull up whatever shallow roots I had put down when each new re-assignment came along. Diana and I continued to stay in touch. Once or twice a week we’d chat over the phone. I’d tell her about my week, she’d tell me about hers. And hearing her voice would brighten my day; hearing her laugh infuse joy into my life.

I eventually retiring on 2004 and bought a house near Chicago where I’ve lived for the past 13 years or so. I’m now 65 years old. Too old and too comfortable in my single lifestyle to try and find a woman to live with. And it would never work out anyway. Because I love Diana. The sort of rare deep love defined by unconditional commitment. And if I’m sure of anything, it’s that I could never give that sort of love to anyone else.

Diana has been married now for over 15 years. She still lives in New England. The hard days of single near-poverty motherhood are well behind her. She’s a grandmother and relishing that role. She’s happy and I’m happy for her. We still talk on the phone once a week. And we see each other once every few years or so.

In some ways she’s been the worse part of my life. In all other ways, she’s been the best. And when I look back, I have few regrets. Diana and I are in a good place. I love Diana. Because knowing her is a joy.  Because she’s still making my life better.  Because she’s my best and truest friend.