The biggest thing Rinaldi says she learned from the Wild Oats Project is that she was putting too much pressure on her husband. “Expecting your spouse to provide passion and security and purpose, it’s a lot,” she says. “I was asking too much of that one person… So now, as a result, I don’t look to someone else to kind of unfairly provide all of those things. That’s the biggest thing I learned from it, and I couldn’t have learned it unless I actually went through it.”
Still, Rinaldi wouldn’t necessarily recommend that other women take exactly the same path she did. Instead, she’d advise younger women to “sow your wild oats before you settle down — that’s a no-brainer.”
But more than empowering or arousing, this story is depressing. Rinaldi just seems lost. Still sorting through the psychological debris of an abusive childhood, she latches on to whatever guru or beliefs she encounters, and imagines fulfillment with each new guy. She still rushes to Scott whenever things gets scary (a car accident, an angry text message), yet deliberately strains their union beyond recovery. “At any cost” are the operative words of the subtitle.
The men and women she hooks up with — some whose names Rinaldi has changed, others too fleeting to merit aliases — all blur into a new-age, Bay Area cliche. Everyone is a healer, or a mystic, or a doctoral student in feminist or Eastern spirituality. They’re all verging on enlightenment, sensing mutual energy, getting copious action to the sounds of tribal drums. The project peaks when she moves into OneTaste, an urban commune where “expert researchers” methodically stroke rows of bare women for 15 minutes at a time in orgasmic meditation sessions (“OM” to those in the know). “Everyone here was passionate,” Rinaldi writes. “Everyone had abandoned convention.”
One of her oldest friends calls her out. “How is sleeping with a lot of guys going to make you feel better about not having kids?” she asks. Rinaldi’s answer: “Sleeping with a lot of guys is going to make me feel better on my deathbed. I’m going to feel like I lived, like I didn’t spend my life in a box. If I had kids and grandkids around my deathbed, I wouldn’t need that. Kids are proof that you’ve lived.” It’s a bleak and disheartening rationale, as though women’s lives can achieve meaning only through motherhood or sex.
In a rare moment of heartbreaking subtlety, the book’s dedication page simply says “For Ruby,” the name Rinaldi had imagined for a baby girl. Except, “there is no baby,” she writes at the end. “Instead there is the book you hold in your hands.”
Does Rinaldi reinvent herself? She survives the aftershocks and even seems to discover some happiness, however fragile she knows it to be. So maybe she needed this after all. Or maybe sometimes “empowerment” is just another word for self-absorption.