It's hard to say who's the weirdest of them all: Robin Rinaldi, author of The Wild Oats Project: One Woman's Midlife Quest for Passion at Any Cost, Rinaldi's bizarrely passive now-ex-husband who put up with her "year off from marriage"–or Rinaldi's swarm of fans who have already made Wild Oats the No. 2 Amazon best seller in these three categories: "Sexuality," "Dating," and "Mid-Life." I guess the sequels to 50 Shades of Grey have run out.
Wild Oats is one of those Eat, Pray, Love-style first-person sex-memoirs that leave no atom of orgasmic minutiae explicitly unexplored,, this one chronicling the twelve-month vacation from her husband that magazine-writer Rinaldi took at age 44 to have sexual adventures with twelve different people (ten men, two women).
It's kind of like Rochelle, Rochelle on Seinfeld: "a young girl's strange erotic journey from Milan to Minsk." Except that, of course, Rinaldi, now age 50, is no young girl.
According to a review of the book by the Washington Post's Carlos Lozado and an interview Rinaldi gave to Kirkus Reviews, her dull-but-steady husband, "Scott" (yes, that's his real name), now made famous by Rinaldi for his once-a-week unexciting sex sessions with her, was the one to blame. Never wanting to be a father , he balked when she suddenly decided she wanted a baby after 17 years of marriage, and then got a vasectomy without consulting her. Since she was already in her early 40s, Scott probably didn't have anything to worry about anyway, but his decision triggered the couple's agreement to have a one-year "open marriage," in which Rinaldi would move out of the couple's flat into her own apartment for five-day-a-week fun and then back into the flat with Scott for weekends so they can work on their marriage. The idea was that if Rinaldi couldn't have kids, she could at least have a lot of lovers–because kids and lovers are kind of interchangeable, you know. Fortunately, the couple lived in San Francisco, where this kind of thing happens all the time.
She still rushes to Scott whenever things gets scary (a car accident, an angry text message), yet deliberately strains their union beyond recovery.
Robin and Scott agree to three rules — “no serious involvements, no unsafe sex, no sleeping with mutual friends” — that both go on to break. He finds a steady girlfriend, while Robin violates two rules right away. “In truth, I was sick of protecting things,” she writes about going condom-free with a colleague at a conference. “I wanted the joy of being overcome.”
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.”
Meanwhile, back at the flat:
When the year runs out, Rinaldi returns to Scott, even though she soon starts an affair with a project flame. She’s no longer so upset about the vasectomy, regarding it as a sign that Scott can stand up for himself (though it may also mean she now cares less about him, period). No shock that post-project, their chemistry is off, and when Rinaldi makes a casual reference to their time apart, Scott finally explodes. “Do you know how many nights I cried myself to sleep when you moved out!?” he asks. “Do you care about anyone’s feelings but your own!?” She was “too stunned to reply.”
You can guess what happens after that. Scott's now history, and Rinaldi is now self-reportedly living with one of the Dirty Dozen, "Alden" (that's a made-up name), who reappeared in her life and to whom she's as faithful as Patient Griselda (maybe he's the one who made her feel "overcome"–or maybe, now that she's 50, she doesn't haven't a lot of other options). Scott, amazingly–or maybe not so amazingly, given his supine personality–agreed to let Rinaldi lay bare, so to speak, the couple's intimate bedroom life as well as the rest of their intimate life.
There are obvious lessons to be learned here: Women, don't marry a doormat like Scott, for whom you secretly feel contempt and always will. Men, flee like a killer drone's chasing you from high-maintenance self-absorbed drama queens like Robin. Betcha "Alden" doesn't actually want to buy this cow whose milk he's now getting for free.
But I fear that Rinaldi's probably 100 percent female readership will instead pick up the lesson that it's actually a great idea to have polyamorous flings every now and then. An Amazon reviewer who awards Wild Oats five stars (apparently not minding such sentences as "My clitoris…dealt solely in truth"), writes: "I wish I had the chutzpah to embark on such a daring quest for, yes, carnal knowledge, but also spiritual awareness and personal fortitude."