The Wild Oats Project: One Woman's Midlife Quest for Passion at Any Cost

The Wild Oats Project: One Woman's Midlife Quest for Passion at Any Cost

by Robin Rinaldi

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What if for just one year you let desire call the shots?
The project was simple: Robin Rinaldi, a successful magazine journalist, would move into a San Francisco apartment, join a dating site, and get laid. Never mind that she already owned a beautiful flat a few blocks away, that she was forty-four, or that she was married to a man she'd been in love with for eighteen years. What followed—a year of abandon, heartbreak, and unexpected revelation—is the topic of this riveting memoir, The Wild Oats Project.
Monogamous and sexually cautious her entire adult life, Rinaldi never planned on an open marriage—her priority as she approached midlife was to start a family. But when her husband insisted on a vasectomy, something snapped. If I'm not going to have children, she told herself, then I'm going to have lovers. During the week, she would live alone, seduce men (and women), attend erotic workshops, and have wall-banging sex. On the weekends, she would go home and be a wife. Her marriage provided safety and love, but she also needed passion, and she was willing to go outside her marriage to find it.At a time when the bestseller lists are topped by books about eroticism and the shifting roles of women, this brave, brutally honest memoir explores how our sexuality defines us, how it relates to maternal longing, and how we must walk the line between loving others and staying true to ourselves. Like the most searing memoirs, The Wild Oats Project challenges our sensibilities, yielding truths that we all can recognize but that few would dare write down.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374710811
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 03/17/2015
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 706,294
File size: 557 KB

About the Author

Robin Rinaldi is a journalist and the author of The Wild Oats Project: One Woman's Midlife Quest for Passion at Any Cost. Her bylines appear in The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, Yoga Journal, and elsewhere, and she has been featured on Dr. Oz, The Meredith Vieira Show, Dr. Drew, and BBC Radio.

Read an Excerpt

The Wild Oats project

One Woman's Midlife Quest for Passion at Any Cost

By Robin Rinaldi

Sarah Crichton Books

Copyright © 2015 Robin Rinaldi
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-71081-1


The Threshold

IT WAS A RARE BALMY EVENING in San Francisco. Raindrops splattered the long windows of the second-floor bar overlooking the Castro, blurring its neon signs and the headlights below. As the city's offices emptied for the weekend, the bar filled, the DJ upped the volume, and the waiter delivered the first round of sweating margaritas. I was the only woman, and the only straight person, in the room. Chris, a friend I affectionately called my gay husband, was chatting with his buddies as I reached into my pocket, grabbed my phone, and hit Paul's name.

I did it without forethought. The few sips of margarita probably helped me along, but in truth, that night was the perfect storm. It was early, my husband knew I was out with my gay friend, and I wasn't due home for hours. That Friday night in July 2007, some part of me—hidden yet willful enough to pick up the phone—felt it had license to do whatever it wanted. While I went about my business, it was tracking, with silent precision, the changes in my marriage down to the day.

What are you up to? I texted.

Just on my couch watching TV.

Can I come over?

Nothing for five minutes. In that span, I vacillated between anticipating the thrill of a yes and the relief of a no.

Yes. 2140 Jackson.

The indigo characters "2140 Jackson" threw off a crystalline charge that snaked up my arm and lit my chest from inside, as if I'd been sent the combination to a bank vault, or plucked the enemy's secret code off the wires.

Needing encouragement, I pulled Chris aside and showed him the text. He was aware of my recent crush on Paul. He also knew and liked my husband, Scott, but in his world—the microcosm of gay male life in San Francisco—couples who'd been together seventeen years, like Scott and I had, didn't necessarily read disaster into casual flings. Many of Chris's friends indulged their attraction to others now and then without seeming to damage their primary relationship.

He looked from the phone to me. "Are you sure?"

"No, I'm not sure at all," I said, my eyes darting toward the door. I slid into my raincoat.

"Listen," he said, holding my elbow like a football coach instructing a rookie on the sidelines. "Go slow. You can stop anytime you want."

"All right. I need to go."

"Text me later to let me know you're okay."

The sidewalk was a sea of umbrellas. I made my way to the curb and shot my hand up, prepared to wait twenty minutes for one of San Francisco's limited number of cabs. A driver immediately flashed his headlights and pulled over. I gave him the address.

I opened the fogged window and looked up at the starless, heavy sky. The pavement shone with moisture as we ascended Divisadero Street, the long hill that separates the eastern and western halves of the city. As the rooftops swished by, I mentally retraced my steps, taking one last chance to reconsider before I ruined my life.

I'd known Paul, five years my junior, for a few years. He'd always flirted, which had seemed harmless enough until about six months ago. I'd invited him and several others to a party hosted by the magazine where I worked, one of those five-star-hotel soirees where the free booze makes everyone giddy. I'd been chatting away when Paul interrupted, lightly placing his fingertips on my forearm. "I think you might be the most beautiful woman I've ever seen," he'd said, eyeing me without apology. Because he'd met Scott, and because I knew him to be something of a good-natured ladies' man, I tried not to take his compliment to heart. I was used to being called cute, sometimes pretty. No man had ever called me beautiful. I quickened to it despite myself.

And then, two months ago, as I was packing to leave Mexico after a vacation, Paul sprang to mind unexpectedly. I remembered the precise moment. I was folding my bikini into my suitcase and noting with sadness how rapidly my bikini-wearing days were coming to a close. Even so, I told myself, Paul would kill to see me in this.

Finally, there was another cab ride, just three weeks ago. Paul and I had shared a taxi after impromptu drinks with friends. Once we were ensconced in the cab alone, all I needed to do was sit back and wait. I gave in to the hush that fell over the backseat. I gazed out the window, feeling him watch me. The second I turned to look at him, he lunged, pinning me to the vinyl. His lips on mine. His big hand around the back of my neck. What thrilled me as much as the kiss was how he didn't ask, how his eyes narrowed, animal-like, honing in on my mouth. It lasted only a few seconds. When the taxi stopped in front of my house I quickly pulled away and ran inside, mentally repeating, It was just a kiss.

As Divisadero's rambling storefronts approached and then receded amid the wet sounds of the night, I glanced at the driver's heavy brow in the rearview mirror. I should ask him to pull over. This was a midlife crisis, a cliché. I'd get out, walk through Pacific Heights, and clear my head. I should tell him to turn back toward the Castro and my cozy flat, where my husband waited with a book and a glass of wine.

Perhaps at this early juncture you're already picturing him, imagining some rationale for my behavior: that he was a jerk, that our marriage was sexless. Inconveniently for me, neither was true. Scott had his limits but he loved me, and I loved him.

On the other hand, you might also be thinking this particular cab ride was a simple matter of my being a slut. In fact, with the exception of one very traditional friend, I was the least experienced forty-three-year-old woman I knew, a first-born, over-responsible good girl who'd practiced monogamy my entire life. By "good girl," I don't mean prudish. I'd slept with a few guys—four, to be exact, including Scott—and I enjoyed sex. Neither do I mean especially kind or generous. What I mean is that I was terrified of misbehaving, of causing harm to anyone. My bad deeds didn't come easily and my good deeds were fueled by an overwhelming need for approval. I internalized instead of acting out. Until now.

As the driver turned off Divisadero and headed down Jackson, my phone buzzed with a text message.

Should I open a bottle of wine?

Without hesitating I typed Definitely. My stomach churned with anticipation. I was sailing on a strange new momentum, and the simple fact of its energy, the revelation that some kind of internal velocity was still possible, brought such a surprised joy that I easily let it carry me.

The residential streets at the edge of Pacific Heights were dark and quiet in the rain. I paid the cabbie and stood on Paul's front porch. In the distance, a foghorn bellowed its repetitive warning out in the cold black bay. I raised my hand to the doorbell and paused. I knew that the events of my marriage didn't grant permission for this. And yet a renegade voice cheered me on, assuring me I was past the point of needing permission, that indeed it was time to bend a few rules and see where that got us. Lubricated by half a margarita and a cascade of adrenaline, my brain's shadowy and bright chambers held both sides of the argument in balance.

But my body had lost all interest in Aristotelian logic. It had somehow broken from its usual confines to act on its own for the first time in—how long? I couldn't even remember. Perhaps for the first time ever.

I watched as my finger pushed the doorbell.

Thus began my journey away from the straight and narrow. This chronicle of that journey can be read as either a manifesto of freedom or a cautionary tale. For me, it's a little of both. I'll try to tell it as straight as I can and let you decide for yourself.


Refugee (Sacramento)

I RESISTED SCOTT for months. He asked me to a concert, then to dinner, and when I said no to both of those, to dinner with a mutual friend. I sat shaking through the whole thing because I knew from the moment we'd met three years earlier that he would alter the course of my life. The setting of that first meeting, a sprawling software company in the parched suburbs of Sacramento, belied the sense of destiny unfolding in its midst. His sandy hair brushed the collar of his button-down shirt. I reached out to shake his hand and it flashed through me: sunshine, forest, a peace as deep and still as a summer lake.

On paper, it didn't look promising. He had a girlfriend studying in Spain, though they were technically free to see others. He'd been my boss until recently and we still worked together. His last girlfriend had been married and her husband had approved of the arrangement. I was an open wound and he was invulnerable, the last thing I needed.

In the flesh, I was losing ground. After work, our team would gather for drinks and he'd regale us with stories of hitchhiking from Indiana to California, nearly getting stabbed by a dwarf in Colorado, falling from a beam several stories up on a construction site in Texas. He would certainly have died, he said, if a mysterious voice, an older male with a southern accent, hadn't suddenly spoken in his mind.

"What did he say?" I asked.

"He said, 'There's a purlin over your left shoulder.' I grabbed it just as the beam fell away."

"What's a purlin?"

"It's like a rafter."

That was notable. He knew the names of things: flowers, trees, parts of machines. And he knew how things worked. On Monday mornings, when we'd all report on our weekends, he'd talk about replacing the transmission in his antique Volvo or laying linoleum in his kitchen at midnight.

He'd grown up along the dunes of Lake Michigan, tall and strong-featured thanks to his German-Scottish blood, cheeks ruddied with a trace of Native American. He looked ten years younger, my age. He owned a tidy little house with hardwood floors, bereft of all furniture except a table and chairs, so full of framed prints it resembled a gallery. He had a cat named Kato and a garden where he grew tomatoes and peaches. He wrote surrealistic short stories with titles like "Mother of Ten Thousand Beings." He quoted Walt Whitman and Epicurus. He kept his old Boy Scout Handbook on his crowded bookshelf, tucked between Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian and William Burroughs's The Western Lands. Those three inches of bookshelf sum him up: midwestern, self-sovereign, and below it all, something feral.

He had an MBA and began investing in his mid-twenties. By the time we met it seemed there was nothing he hadn't done, from living out of his car in the Indiana woods to dropping psychedelics to mastering the real estate and stock markets. In the three years we spent as friends before dating, I watched women send him flowers and bake him cookies.

Finally he asked me to drive out to the Sierra foothills for a Saturday picnic. The girl who went to twelve-step meetings wanted to say no; the girl who longed to see the world and learn how to live in it kept drawing nearer.

"I'll go," I told him, "as long as you agree to turn back if I want to." That's how I was then: twenty-six years old and afraid of cars, afraid of men, afraid of any town or highway I didn't know by heart.

"Of course," he said. "We can always have the picnic in my backyard."

* * *

When you grow up in a defunct mining town near Scranton, Pennsylvania, your eye trains on every drop of beauty it can find. The apples deepening to red on the trees, the sun rising milky and pink through the clouds, the dilapidated charm of sooty brick and rusted iron set against blue mountains in all directions. On a Paris street, surrounded by grandeur, you might barely note the smell of rain. It might register as merely pleasant, an addendum. On a summer night in northeastern Pennsylvania, after you've swum all day and are lazing in the backseat as your friend drives past abandoned coal breakers and fluorescent pizza joints, one leg hanging out the window, the entire surface of your teenage skin taut with sunburn and chlorine, you learn the essence of rain.

I didn't even notice my father's drinking until I was in high school and he was downing vodka for breakfast. The more pressing problems to my child mind were that he was a bookie, a dangerous secret that could get him thrown in jail, and that he was always threatening to kill my mother. That my mother couldn't go to the grocery store alone or drive on the highway. A weaker woman would have retreated to bed altogether or been carted off to the hospital for nerves, but some engine kept my mother functioning at the very threshold of overwhelm, frying pork chops, vacuuming, doling out hugs and medicine despite her panic attacks. My parents were twenty-two years older than me.

The hate I came to feel for my father never erased my biological adoration of him. My absolute dependence on my mother never erased the fact that she was also my child, coming to me for advice and rides to the doctor. The love I felt for my three younger brothers, that marrow love you feel for an infant with your own DNA that makes you want to eat them and protect them at the same time, didn't stop me running from the house every day to flee the noise and chaos of their constant boy-fury.

Each morning I headed out under the fat clouds, past the apple tree to school to gather perfect grades. Afternoons I went to the ballet studio, where I manipulated my body into demanding, artificial positions. Nights I drove to the woods with my friends, where I listened to Led Zeppelin, drank pony bottles of Michelob, smoked the occasional joint, and learned the numerous ways in which a girl could dabble in foreplay without plummeting into intercourse. Each dawn represented another catastrophe I somehow made it through unscathed.

I spent the rest of my life marveling at how joyful I felt during my turbulent childhood, so connected to the mountains, the little town, my friends and wounded family. How it was only after the childhood ended that I collapsed under its weight.

I blamed it on the cloudless, infinite sky above Sacramento, as one-dimensional as the prosaic suburbs fanning out below it. I came there with a boyfriend when I was twenty to escape, and it worked for a few years while I graduated college and secured a good job as a technical writer. It was a stark letdown from the California of my imagination but it was also three thousand miles from the emotional magnet of home, where my dad was entering rehab, my mom was checking herself into a treatment center for anxiety, my grandfather was dying, and a divorce was in process.

When my grief erupted, it felt like I might tumble off the face of the earth. The flat sky and mountainless expanse of the Sacramento Valley couldn't contain me. Places and routines lost all familiarity. I suddenly belonged nowhere: not to my boyfriend or my job, not in California or Pennsylvania, not even in my own skin. Streets, buildings, sidewalks appeared as if painted on a sheer curtain. I lived in continual fear of the moment when an omnipotent hand might sweep the curtain aside and push me into the void behind it. When that happened I had to run from my desk, pull over on the highway. Sobs burst from me that were more screams than sobs.

My company's employee assistance counselor said I was processing the post-traumatic stress of growing up in a violent, alcoholic family. On the phone, my mother agreed. She told me to call a therapist and get myself to a twelve-step meeting. I was twenty-four. My teenage dreams of becoming a journalist and traveling through Europe would have to wait while I fixed myself. I attended five Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings a week, bought all the self-help books, and showed up religiously for therapy. By day I wrote mind- numbing software manuals; by night I penned angry letters to my father for his abuse and my mother for enlisting my help to put up with it instead of getting us all out of there.

My boyfriend had to go, not because he'd done anything wrong but because I was clearly dependent on him and needed to live alone. I would be celibate for a year. I found a garden-level apartment on a leafy street in Midtown Sacramento—the city at least had trees, I'd give it that—and set about trying to grow into a healthy adult. For two years I didn't allow myself a beer or a glass of wine. I was dead set on avoiding the textbook pitfalls of young women with backgrounds like mine: abusive relationships, addiction, promiscuous sex, and the mental hospital.


Excerpted from The Wild Oats project by Robin Rinaldi. Copyright © 2015 Robin Rinaldi. Excerpted by permission of Sarah Crichton Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Part 1 Death of The Good Girl

1 The Threshold 3

2 Refugee (Sacramento) 8

3 The Leap 18

4 Wife (Philadelphia) 21

5 The Return 30

6 Madonna (San Francisco) 32

7 The Epipbany 45

8 Wbore 48

Part 2 The Wild Oats Project

9 Mission Dolores 57

10 Nerve 63

11 One Taste 71

12 Eight Days 83

13 Glory Road 96

14 The Writer 108

15 Sanchez Street 117

16 South of Market 127

17 Solitude in Motion 138

18 Orgasmic Meditation 148

19 Yin and Yang 157

20 Golden Gate 161

21 The Women's Circle 167

22 The Commune 175

23 Infinite Games 186

24 Girl on Girl on Boy 193

25 The Other Woman 205

26 The End of the Bucket List 216

Part 3 House Of Shadow and Desire

27 The Crash 227

28 The Aftermath 235

29 The Broken Heart 242

30 The Message 248

31 The Master of Polarity 257

32 The Brutal, Slippery Truth 267

33 The Crossroads 275

34 The New Year 282

Acknowledgement 289

Reading Group Guide

A brave, provocative memoir that raises powerful questions about sex and relationships, The Wild Oats Project is sure to spark eye-opening conversations. Robin Rinaldi, an attractive, successful magazine journalist, recounts the year when she moved into a San Francisco apartment, joined a dating site, and started having the best sex of her life. Never mind that she was still married to the man she'd been in love with for eighteen years, and that he was fully aware of her plan. She and her husband would live their quiet, domestic life together on weekends. During the week, they would each have their freedom. What followed was a process of self-revelation that ranged from exhilarating to heartbreaking, with unexpected revelations for both of them.

Delivering an everywoman's account of sex and sensuality, The Wild Oats Project raises the stakes in the conversations begun by Cheryl Strayed's Wild and Elizabeth Gilbert's classic Eat, Pray, Love. We hope that the following guide will enrich your discussion.

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The Wild Oats Project: One Woman's Midlife Quest for Passion at Any Cost 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I grew to root for her husband to leave her. I felt bad for him and that no additional therapy or sexual relationships were going to help her. I would find it hard to recommend. She is a good writer, I think knowing it was true made it feel hollow and sad.
ACoons54 More than 1 year ago
This is an odd sort of book - a middle aged married woman suddenly finds herself in an open marriage. She dives into a world of sex, sex, sex. In the hands of a lessor writer this might not be such a good book. But in the hands of Robin Rinaldi it is amazing. It is a brave story that Robin tells with complete openness. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kate582 More than 1 year ago
If you are looking for a feel good story or a happy ending. This is not it ! A long story - short a unhappy married woman bullies her husband of almost Two decades in to a open marriage. My heart goes out to her husband he did not deserve what she did to him.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A sad tale of a middle aged woman who is trying fill a void in her life after a rough child hood . At 44 she wants to have a child her husband does not. he insures it will not happen by getting a vasectomy .to punish him she informs him she plans to be unfaithful. With no other choice he agrees they will live a part 5 days a week with a don't ask don't tell policy. she places a personal ad which is less than true. it reads Good Girl 44 looking for experience. It should have read Angry Wife looking to get back at hubby. As you can image the quality of person that responds to a personal ad are not the best but the author tries to make you believe other wise . Her marriage ends in divorce big surprise. In a nut shell this a story you may tell to a trusted friend other wise you would keep it to yourself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
find it hard to recommend