Advice: sleeping with old friends

Ask A Married Guy: "Did I Just Get Played By The Player-Of-All-Players?"

Here’s my latest advice column up at The Frisky. Alisa has a problem:

So I’ve been a friend of this good guy for over 10 years.  We’ve always had sexual tension, but I never really gave a thought to it nor did I think we were going to act on it. On a total random drunken night, we had sex.  So we decided to go on a date, and it really was no different from any other time we’ve hung out.  He said stupid things to me all night like “You’re my dream girl,” and to be honest, I loved it and had a great time.  I didn’t realized how much I actually like this guy, until one day – he just stopped calling. He’d make plans, and cancel last minute, which is unlike him. We’ve always been close, and I’ve known FOR YEARS that he is a commitment-phobe.  All the years that we’ve been friends, he’s never had a single date. Is this guy genuinely scared of me/relationships or did I just get played by the player-of-all-players? — Alisa

You did not get played. You got “manned.”

Let me tell you something about men. Their deepest, darkest fear is being trapped.  It’s constant. They fear it even when there are no traps in sight. Put a man in a wide-open emotional space, with nothing but happy meadows and tweeting birds for miles around, and he’ll still be terrified of some girl popping up yelling, “I’m pregnant and it’s yours!”

The fear is about 50 percent justified, because there are a lot of traps out there for a guy. Think about the crazy girl who threatens to kill herself if you break up with her, or the controlling girl who drives a wedge between men and their friends. These terrible girls are out there and we fear their crappy, trappy ways.

The other 50 percent? It’s all in his head. Half the time, men DECIDE to fear a trap. If a guy is with a girl who is 95 percent the PERFECT woman for him, he may wake up one day and say, “This whole situation is stopping me from finding the girl who is 100 percent perfect. Therefore, I have fallen in to a trap. Therefore, I must run a thousand miles from this situation.”

That’s the head-space your man is in right now. Frankly, he’s in Crazy Town. There was no trap here. He just hooked up with an old friend. It went well, you went on a date or two. What was the problem? He could have just seen where this fun thing was going. Instead, he went all Hunt for Red October on you: submerging, ceasing all communication, and hiding at the bottom of an ocean somewhere until this all blows over.

There’s very little you can do. Although when men fear a trap, they sometimes respond surprisingly well to women who say, “Look, this isn’t a trap.” So maybe send a brief email expressing that, and reassure him that you haven’t spent 10 years PINING for him, UTTERLY in love with everything about him. Make him understand this isn’t the culmination of some elaborate, 10-year scheme to marry him and have six babies in eight years. You were just pleasantly surprised at the sudden chemistry and would like to keep exploring it. If it works for him? Great. If it doesn’t? No harm, no foul. I doubt he’ll respond, but it’s worth a shot.

But onto the bigger question: How do you break this cycle? How do you short-circuit the male brain’s entrapment paranoia?

Live well. Go out and be amazing. And make sure he knows it. The goal here is to make him realize that his current life is actually the trap. The sub-par relationships? The loneliness? The desperate man-boy immaturity? These are the bars of his prison: the one he locked himself into. The way out is dating you. But there’s no persuading him of this. He has to get it on his own.

Have a query for Tom? Email him at! All questions will be posted anonymously, unless otherwise requested.

Why do women initiate divorce more than men?

Originally written for the Telegraph UK:

Divorce: the popular misconception is that it’s all down to adulterous men

Whose fault is divorce? The cold statistical answer is: women.

Before the hate-mail barrage begins, let’s clarify that rather bald statement (and yes, I was partly just trying to get your attention). It’s undeniable that women request the great majority of divorces in the UK. The Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) most recent number crunch reveals that in 2011, the woman was the party granted (therefore initiating) the divorce in 66% of cases that year. It used to be an even higher share: 69% in 2001, and a whopping 72% at the start of the 1990s.

So what are the factors driving that female choice to divorce? The popular misconception is that it’s all down to adulterous men and their wandering penises. But you’d be wrong. Those same ONS stats break down the reasons for divorce, since there are only five legal justifications for ending marriage under UK law: adultery, unreasonable behavior, desertion, or separation (either with or without the consent of the spouse). Men and women are practically equal offenders in the infidelity stakes. In fact, slightly more men claim to have been cuckolded in court (15% of male-initiated divorces) than women (14%).

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No fapping, please, it’s making us ill

Over 70,000 men have signed up to an online forum vowing to give up online porn and masturbation. Tom Cowell reports for the Telegraph on a very modern support group.

Forgive our impertinence, but… er… do you masturbate too much?

It seems a ridiculous thought. Titillation and porn are everywhere in our hyper-sexed culture. People appear to be at it constantly, so the question is absurd, like asking if you breathe too much or blink to excess. But a growing online community is turning away from masturbation, reporting incredible results from their self-denial: better sexual performance, greater confidence, and more mojo almost everywhere in their lives.

This movement’s spiritual home is the social sharing site Reddit, where enlightened anti-onanists gather on a page called NoFap (“fapping” = internet slang for masturbation, and no one quite knows why). Over 70,000 subscribers have signed up for the page, where users can take The NoFap Challenge, foreswearing masturbation for 90 days or longer. It’s not a judgmental place, but supportive and almost off-puttingly compassionate: a kind of “Wankers Anonymous”.

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Who is better: New York men, or London men?

I answered this pressing question for The Daily Telegraph in the UK. I am a very serious journalist.

London men versus New York men: who’s better?

Despite their similarities, London chaps and New York guys are markedly different species. So who’s best, asks (Londoner turned New Yorker) Tom Cowell

Different species: Mad Men’s Lane Pryce and Don Draper 

The New York male and the London male: two species of dude so similar, in many respects they seem to have been separated at birth. Both stomp triumphantly around financial and media capitals. Both feel they live at the centre of the known universe. And both spend far too much time on their hair.

But there are marked differences between these tribes, from confidence and sense of humour, to mating rituals and dress sense.

So who’s best? Gotham guys or Big Smoke boys? There’s only one way to find out: wholly unscientific means of anecdotes from people who have lived in both cities.

1. Masculinity

Alexander T., a British-born doctor living in Harlem, thinks that “maleness” is a much more consciously performed thing in Manhattan than in London. “Your clothes, what you order in a restaurant, your ability to deliver a sincere patter about your goals and passions – these are things that will help get you laid in New York. Sometimes the London approach of just relying on being funny and self-deprecating will fail to impress.” But only sometimes, Alexander stresses. “For every woman who judges you harshly for your lack of a five-year plan, there will be others driven so mad with trauma by douchebag New York males that a few hours of you listening and being a nice guy will make you seem like the catch of the century.”

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Blondie’s Debbie Harry Has Some Advice for Miley Cyrus

Here’s my interview with Blondie’s Debbie Harry, which first ran in The Village Voice:


Debbie Harry is about pulling off the impossible. Her vocal performances shouldn’t work: how can you sound distant and intimate at the same time? You can’t, and definitely not in a pop song. Yet Harry does. Her stage persona–the untouchable glamor girl who still shows every ounce of her vulnerability–should be a train wreck (file under “Love, Courtney”). Instead, the front woman’s presence has helped propel a four-decade career for Blondie. Pop music owes this band a lot. The new wave pioneers spent a decade in the 70s and 80s experimenting with an eclectic mix of musical styles like disco, hip-hop, and reggae, inviting the predictable wrath of punk’s self-appointed bore brigade. But it’s hardly an exaggeration that Blondie opened up more lanes for more artists than any New York band since The Velvets. And they’re not stopping. Friday sees the band complete an 18-city tour with fellow path-breakers X, at the Roseland Ballroom, and then it’s back to the studio to complete their 10th album, tentatively titled Ghosts of Download and due out next year. We sat down with Harry to talk about sexual personas, World Beat, and what “selling out” really means.

You still live in New York City, and it’s very different from the mid-70s. Does its current incarnation fill you with hope or despair?
I don’t know if I’d use either of those words. The city always changes very quickly and I’ve been here long enough to see a lot of shifts. It’s inevitable. Gentrification, a population explosion, and changes in communication have made a major difference in the life of the city. And that’s part of what Ghosts of a Download is about. It’s about the spirit of something being in the medium. How spirits now live in the digital realm, and how that has altered our lives.
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Meet Opera’s Anna Nicole Smith

Here’s my interview with soprano superstar Sarah Joy Miller, which first ran in the Village Voice:


What does a train-wreck sound like sung soprano? Sarah Joy Miller will show you. She stars in the opera Anna Nicole which opens at BAM on September 17 after a hugely successful run in London. Miller is giving musical voice to the waitress/stripper turned pin-up girl, whose rise and fall now look like an appetizer for today’s reality-TV obsessed culture, feasting on fame, wealth and death. We sat down with her for a discussion about gold-diggers, trolls, and why singing in a fat suit is so fun.

You’ve been in Anna Nicole Smith’s skin for months. How are you guys getting along? Do you like the person you’re playing?
I’ve grown to love her. When someone says not-so-nice things about her now, I actually get a little offended. I love her honesty and her transparent desire for love and adoration, and I think that she represents what we all have as far as wanting to be loved and accepted. But she was very open about it and there was something magical about that.

She’s a tabloid caricature. How do you humanize Anna Nicole Smith?
We start from so early in her life. I play her from a young age, before all the drugs and implants and all of that and it’s a very innocent point of view. Of course we get into all the stuff we’re all more familiar with, but she had a tough childhood in Texas. She dropped out of school at 15 and was pregnant by 19. She was trying to care for her son and had a crazy family situation with no real support system. So when you look at it that way it’s sort of extraordinary what she accomplished.

Some people think Anna is the archetypal gold digger. Is that unfair?
Interesting question. Looking at her relationship with [elderly billionaire] J. Howard Marshall, I think that she had no understanding of boundaries or what a really healthy relationship looked like. It would be naïve and stupid to say it wasn’t about the money, but I think it was also about wanting a family, love and acceptance. Marshall was almost like a father, and it’s sort of demented to look at a married couple that way, but that was part of it. And because she had no example of what that sort of relationship should be like, it filled something for her. She said things like that at the time, and I really think she believed a lot of that.

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Dita Von Teese Has an “Official Corset Trainer”


Here’s my interview with Dita Von Teese, which first ran in The Village Voice:

Dita Von Teese might be offended when we call her the Founding Mother of Modern Burlesque, but the shoe fits. Teese spent the 1990s dragging striptease back from the grimy brink of tawdriness, recovering a lost, pre-war world of fan dance glamor. So if you’ve enjoyed a burlesque show in the last 20 years, you should be slipping a 20 of appreciation into Dita Von Teese’s psychic g-string. Teese has now crossed over into the fashion world, with her own lingerie line, and a coveted spot on Vanity Fair’s International “Best Dressed” List. She’s back in New York with a new show, “Burlesque: Strip, Strip, Hooray!”–a 90 minute piece, performed at the Gramercy Theatre from Sept. 30th to Oct. 4th. It features some of her most talked-about acts of the last few years: the Rhinestone Cowgirl (she’s head-to-toe in pink Swarovski crystal), the Gilded Cage, and the Giant Martini Glass (her signature, with a few new twists). We sat down with Dita to talk about body-modification, mysterious Parisian dream girls, and why letters from prison can be just delightful.

TC: OK, you’re washed up on a desert island, and you can only take ONE outfit with you. Go.
DvT: I’m going to go for a one of my 1950s Hawaiian sarongs. I have an excellent one that comes with a matching cape.

Practical. You’re one of the best-dressed people on the planet. Does it ever get exhausting, the sartorial demands you place on yourself?
I sometimes get overwhelmed. You could make a great parody short film of me being swallowed by my clothes. I have a huge archive of vintage, but at this point I have so many things that I’m never going to wear that I buy just because I love it or I want to fantasize about wearing it. “Ooh, this will be great when I’m riding an elephant in India.”

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Thrilled by a terrible film

I just watched a terrible film about important things.

Hannah Arendt is a biographical drama about a German philosopher. A Jewish thinker who fled Germany then Nazi-occupied France, Arendt was hired by The New Yorker magazine in 1961 to report and reflect on the trial of Adolph Eichmann.

Eichmann was a senior Nazi official and one of the central managers of the Holocaust. He fled to Argentina after the war, living in hiding for over a decade before his capture by the Israeli secret service. He was tried for murder and crimes against humanity in Jerusalem, found guilty, and hanged.

The trial was an international media event, and sparked intellectual uproar (if there is such a thing) in part due to Arendt’s writing.  She coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe the actions and world-view of Eichmann. Rather than seeing him as a Satanic monster, Arendt argued that his evil sprang from a submission to dull, bureaucratic fiat. He abdicated his obligation to think, she argued, and became a cipher for the will of the Reich and of Hitler. Eichmann did not follow evil thoughts to commit his evil actions, Arendt said. He was a mediocre man who committed evil precisely because he gave no thought to his orders at all.

This very idea made some people furious. Critics felt it diluted Eichmann’s responsibility for mass murder. But that was not the most incendiary thing Arendt wrote. She argued that some European Jewish leaders (particularly managers of ghettos in Poland and elsewhere) were in the grip of that same banal evil, and essentially collaborated with the Holocaust. By seeking accommodation with the Reich, Arendt argued, Jewish leadership acquiesced to evil in a similar manner to Eichmann. Without the help of community leaders in concentrating Jewish populations, confiscating property and submitting to the Ghetto mentality, “there would have been chaos and plenty of misery, but the total number of victims would hardly have been between four-and-a-half and six million people”. Again, she argued: evil emerged from an unthinking submission to bureaucratic decree. For this, she was vilified. Lifelong friendships broke down. Her academic career was wrecked. Yet she refused to moderate her views.

Great stuff, right? Whether you think Arendt’s ideas were brilliant or batty, this is wonderful territory for a deep, powerful, “thinky” film. I am so glad people wanted to make it. But the result was appalling.

I’m in an acting class, taught by JoAnna Beckson. We study the Meisner technique. My dumbed-down, one-sentence summary of Meisner is: “actually feel something real – in the moment – while you are performing in character”. I’m sure that is a hopelessly naïve description, but it’s the best one-line definition I can write today, in this moment. The technique can be abused by self-indulgent actors,  like everything can. But I already see how powerful the training is. If she wants to convince an audience that her character is feeling emotional turmoil, the actor must feel that turmoil, in the moment. I did not believe FOR ONE SECOND that any of the principle performers in this film (Arendt, her husband, her editor, her friends, her critics) felt ANYTHING that their characters were supposed to be feeling. Their acting technique boiled down to: “if your character is happy, make a happy face. If they are worried, make a worried face. And if you can’t think of anything else to do, look vaguely tense about this whole situation”. It left me speechless. If you can’t feel real feelings about THIS kind of subject matter (hope, despair, justice, evil…) what CAN you feel?

Practically every performance in the film was also choked with classical stage drama mannerisms. Whenever people were happy to see each other, then didn’t just “feel” it. They “acted” it. They held each others’ forearms and gazed sentimentally into their eyes and TOLD each other how happy they were to see them. I don’t know who exactly is to blame for this (script, director and performer all seem guilty) but it was dreadful.

The director also seemed to think this: “back in the 1960s, most people smoked cigarettes. Therefore, everyone in this film MUST smoke cigarettes at all times, and use the action of smoking as a prop and crutch to support how INTENSE they feel about all these INTENSE ideas flying around”. Every puff of smoke and flick of ash was a distraction from the main thrust of the film: it was infuriating. The work is supposed to be about the human struggles of good and evil, loyalty and betrayal, love and hate. It is NOT about the fucking cigarettes.

But I’m glad I saw the film. You learn as much from the bad as the good. It’s a perfect example of what NOT to do, both as an actor and a director. And without it, I would never have known much about the Eichmann trial, Arendt, or her ideas. So I’m giving one–and-a-half cheers for this utterly terrible film that taught me a lot.