"I realized he had forgotten that he was talking to his family…"
I know a man who's been married for less than five months and has already slept with at least seven other women. Two of them were ex-girlfriends. Another few were also married, or mothers. Two women have claimed that he fathered their children, and countless anonymous women — literally, I cannot fathom the count — filter through his bedroom. Before he got hitched, he rarely maintained long-term relationships, and when he did, even if he was living with his partner, he was prolifically unfaithful. I should add that he only knew his wife, who lives separately from him in a foreign country, for two months before their snap-judgment nuptials.
This man's unapologetic hypersexuality, compulsive need for novel and high-risk sexual encounters, disregard for the emotional and physical health of others, and failure to participate in lasting emotional intimacy are tell-tale signs of sex addiction. I have trouble saying that, because this man is my brother.
My older brother, sister, and I formed the kind of tight kinship only lonely children of a single mother can. We were each other's parents when there was nobody else around. They fed me dinner when my mom was working late nights. My brother shielded me from bullies on elementary-school busses. He taught me how to double-knot my off-brand Adidas look-alikes. His boldness, confidence, and stubborn streak were the perfect brotherly accompaniment to my soft-spoken shyness.
But by the time my brother graduated from high school, I knew he was troubled. He never quite seemed to hang onto girlfriends for very long; he'd been arrested for dealing, and my mom kicked him out of the house. Still, he was never without a birthday present, a kind word for my school work, or an ear to listen.
When I first moved to New York, I lived in a tiny apartment for two months on an air mattress with a near stranger. I was doing some freelance work, but barely had enough money to make rent. I sometimes ate full meals. My brother visited me on a cold January evening and we decided to get some sushi in Manhattan. Over the noise of clubby music and conversation, as I munched gratefully on edamame, my brother suggested I do something I really wanted to do. "Find your passion and go to it," he declared, a Thoreau-nouveau in a hooded sweatshirt. "Find any job that will lead you to what you really want, and even if it doesn't pay rent, if you can prove to me that you're doing what you want, I will float you."
I was stunned by his generosity. He was becoming the father figure who had never fully formed before me, and he was using what he'd learned through his missteps to ensure I made better choices. I slept better that night in my cramped room, feeling closer to my brother than I ever had.
Three years ago, that changed. At dinner with my mother and sister, my brother announced, "If you guys" — my sister and me — "ever have kids, don't bother even telling me their names. I don't really care. I don't like kids." He then sped away and met us at our second location, a small concert venue. By the time we arrived, he was already swathed in a curtain of blondes in tight dresses. My mother was still present.
My brother was unapologetic and unalarmed as he grinded with multiple women in front of his three closest female family members, all of whom he had just insulted at dinner. We wanted to leave. We told him we were going to leave. At first he stayed behind, but to my surprise, he called as we were driving back home and met us in a parking lot. Luckily, my mother had left separately; her ears and dignity were spared when he got out of his car and bawled at us for wanting to leave early, because "back there, there was some quality pussy." I realized he had forgotten that he was talking to his family.
After that summer, I went back to New York and tried to ignore the entire issue. I had work and my own life to attend to, and my brother began seeing a gorgeous, artistic, sharp, and generous woman who was one year older than me, Sara. They were a perfect couple. They charcoaled a drawing together for my graduation. Sara gave me a copper ring for Christmas because it "looked like me." Sara and I worked for a massage therapist for one day together, a comically terrible gig she picked up for us. Dancing with my sister and Sara at one of my brother's DJ nights, I knew I was looking at my future sister-in-law, and I was ecstatic about it.
On my brother's next trip to the city, the brother-sister visit consisted of a quick meal that he paid for, followed by his demand that I show him a New York "wild time." I took him to a club, but when I took a break from dancing and looked around, I realized he had disappeared. This became a pattern. When he visited, he would never come home with me, and only at five a.m. would I wake up to him banging on my door, drugged out of his mind, in a post-coital daze. In the morning, over coffee, he wouldn't much mention the night before, and talk about the day ahead as if it wouldn't also inevitably lead to a stranger's queen-sized mattress in some remote corner of Bushwick, the Bronx, or even Staten Island. But then he'd go back home to his live-in girlfriend, and I would go back to thinking he could somehow maintain the relationship.
Until, one day, when he was on vacation in the Caribbean, the phone rang. My brother's voice, ecstatic and breathy, greeted me. "Congratulations! You're an aunt."
"No, someone else. But this baby is beautiful."
For a month, I believed I had a newborn nephew in a foreign country — a feeling both exciting and conflicted, and, as it turns out, completely wasted. A DNA test revealed that this latest emotional roller coaster, like most of my brother's romantic engagements, was far from reality. But there were other realities to contend with.
Sara called me immediately, as she would many times that month, always barely audible through her sobbing. I remember the final call between us, in which I told her to become angry, because finally, I really was. It was one of those calls you make on the way to the grocery store, and then two hours later, you realize you're still standing outside the entrance, and the store's about to close. "What's wrong with him?" she cried. "How could he have another woman's child?" And finally, "Does he still love me?"
I couldn't answer those questions without excusing or justifying his behavior. Things I couldn't do. And things, from then on, I decided I wouldn't attempt to do.
After my brother's recent wedding (which I didn't attend — it was outside the country), my mother was flipping through the wedding album, and scolded me for the contempt she saw in my face. But what my mother doesn't see is that my outward apathy is my emotional safety net. I once supported my siblings' romantic lives with the hope and naiveté of any little sister. I've had to force myself to stop.
How is a sex addict made? Usually they endure some sort of trauma or stress that manifests in a monstrous sense of boundlessness. We had a rough childhood with split-up parents, but I can't think of anything that shook my brother's formative bones enough to create such a need for constant sexual gratification. It must come from some emptiness even I don't know about, and frankly, I'm scared to.
My brother owns his own business, is respected in his community, maintains my mother's yard, and keeps up with his independent art pursuits — including pot throwing and collaging. He isn't soulless, unkind, or inherently repulsive. In fact, he tells me he loves me dearly all the time. This is the person who bragged to an entire school bus that I could spell "caterpillar" on my first day of kindergarten. But in the "episodes" I've witnessed, my brother seems to experience a complete loss of contact with reality. When I'm speaking to my brother at a club, and he says something about the ridiculous ass on a woman, I truly and thoroughly believe he forgets I am his sister. He's not my brother; he is in the full haze of his preoccupation.
To my brother, women he might sleep with aren't multidimensional individuals. They're only "quality pussy." But his sister, a non-sexualized human being, can be a recipient of his unconditional love, attention, and respect. To wit: that same summer, I was approached by a thin middle-aged woman at a local bar. She had watched me with my brother. To her, I was doting over him, and she felt competitive. "He's my brother," I clarified. After taking another sip of her vodka tonic, she leaned over and whispered to me, "He would have fucked you by now if you weren't his sister." Disgusting, insulting, and outrageous? Of course. But unfounded? Maybe not.
How do I help him? His little sister doesn't seem like the person who should address this specific addiction, but then again, who could be? Every time I conjure my brother in a social setting in my head, he is an indomitable force of confidence — not someone I can debate. A steam-powered, coke-fueled, one-track mind.
But this will come to a head somehow. As his wife asks if I want more salad at the latest family gathering, I turn my eyes up and quietly decline. I can't meet this proud, tall woman's eyes. She rocks one of her children in her arms playfully, and she looks just about as genuinely happy as anyone could get. When she calls my name and asks me a question, I don't look at her for fear that I'll reveal too much with my gaze.
My brother isn't married to a woman. He's married to an obsession, removed from reason, reality, and emotional sustainability. To him, the vast range of human possibilities becomes meaningless in the presence of untouched female flesh. I wish him upon no woman. I won't get close to his wife.
And I can't stand it, because, God, do I love the guy.