If you are one of those Miss Havishams out there who believes that chick-lit dating confessionals provide too perky a picture of today's sexual marketplace, please meet the confirmation of your worst fears: Eric Schaeffer. An otherwise ordinary 15-minute visitor to fame's picnic, this writer-director-actor attracted some pretty unpleasant attention recently, when media site Gawker began posting items about his blog, I Can't Believe I'm Still Single. Schaeffer has made a handful of movies ("If Lucy Fell," "Fall," "My Life's in Turnaround"), a short-lived television show about eating disorders and, apparently, a prolific splash on the New York dating scene.
On-screen, Schaeffer, a native New Yorker, has tried to style himself as a Woody Allen-ish figure, though his creepy-crawly persona is more paranoid and kinky than Allen's (and substantially less funny). Schaeffer's characters -- all full of pseudo-spiritual romantic heehaw, and affected, self-conscious tics -- have tended closer to bone-chilling than endearing.
But after 15 years of directing and starring in largely ignored and tepidly received films, Schaeffer has struck a chord in New York City and online, just by being ... Eric Schaeffer, a 45-year-old binge-eating, downward-dogging, recovering drug-addict hypochondriac with an online dating habit, a taste for happy-ending massages and golden showers -- and a hankerin' for a wife who wants to bear him three children starting in about five to six years.
Yup, ladies, he's available! And if the gush of venomous responses elicited by Gawker's items are any measure, he's been a busy bee. Schaeffer's blog, which he started in the fall of 2006 to promote his upcoming book of the same name, chronicles in lovingly attentive detail the minutiae of his life: from his cookie consumption, to stray thoughts he had on the subway, to the time he woke up thinking he soiled himself only to discover that some vegan chocolate chips he'd gobbled while sleep-eating had melted in his pubic hair.
But mostly, as its title would suggest, Schaeffer's blog chronicles his attempts to score a wife. He describes the "Nerveettes" he meets online, his experiences with dominatrixes who asphyxiate him and insert thin metal rods into his penis, and why it's OK, as a 45-year-old, to date 25-year-olds: "I simply know deep in my soul that I want my own children....and I don't want them for at least 5 years. I don't get mad when women like black guys, or young guys or buff guys, it's their preference...STOP GETTING MAD AT ME AND THE REST OF US 45 YEAR OLD MEN WHOSE CUT OFF IS 36 OKAY?!!...YOU DECIDED NOT TO HAVE KIDS YET ANDTHAT'S FINE BUT WE DON'T HAVE TO HAVE THEM YET, OKAY?!"
That tirade was the first portion of Schaeffer's blog to be quoted by Gawker, and it created a storm of commenter response -- much of it from women claiming to have encountered him on the dating scene in New York. One woman wrote in asserting that her first date with Schaeffer was at a gym, and that he asked her to "fuck him in the 2nd floor bathroom." Other women testified to his obsessive need for personal compliments about his appearance, his habit of demanding oral sex and an AIDS test on first dates, and the fact that he is "the guy all my friends bring up when people start talking about online dating psychos." Indeed, it seemed that an examination of Schaeffer's blog touched an extremely sensitive nerve, especially among female readers.
In almost parodic exaggeration, Schaeffer and his blog appear to embody some of the worst stereotypes about what's wrong with "the men out there": that they are obnoxiously self-impressed and lazy, that they are commitment-phobic and obsessed with finding a wife, that they are riddled with unnerving hang-ups about everything from food to sex to spirituality. What makes him most fascinating -- in a car crash sort of way -- is that his utter lack of self-awareness, coupled with his excruciating self-obsession, mean that unlike most fucked-up people, men or women, he is willing and eager to let it all hang out.
I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, off the blog, live and in person. We met at a diner near his apartment on Manhattan's far Upper West Side, where he clearly knew the waiters. He was dressed in a frayed blue flannel shirt, and was, as he would later describe a date to me, "fine, attractive enough" -- blue-eyed, square and of smallish stature.
How did you feel about the publicity on Gawker?
What's Gawker? All I know is one day the hits on my site went up and somebody told me it was because I had been linked on Gawker. But I abstain from all media.
So you didn't know what Gawker was, but I assume you've heard that there were people who've dated you writing in?
Gossip to me is the opposite of what I believe is going to help the world succeed. So all I know is that whatever they wrote helped thousands of people come to my Web site and most of them have stayed. Did they publish any of the hundreds of letters I got that were nice people writing in?
They published one by someone who said, "He's not that bad," but it wasn't exactly positive.
Let's consider the source. You seem like a smart, thoughtful, caring human being. That's my sense. So person to person, just sitting here at the table, human to human, in this fucked-up, fractured world, when are we going to start to just love each other? Most people who call into Rush Limbaugh are his supporters. Most people who write into Gawker are people who love talking gossip about people. Women who get pleasure from other people's pain.
I read Gawker. Many people read it, or sites like it, as a diversion, and a bit of a break from work. I don't think everyone who reads Gawker takes pleasure in other people's pain. But this is all to say that it elicited a really strong negative reaction.
I get tremendous fan and love mail from all around the world from people whose lives are fundamentally changed by my work. People on their deathbed who get hope from my films. That's polar opposite to these negative, snippy things. Somebody told me [they wrote on Gawker] that "he lies that he's 5'8"." I mean, are we fucking 13 years old? They could spend that 10-minute break from work reading my blog or going out-fucking-side and finding old ladies to help across the street with their bags.
Let's talk about your blog. Why did you decide to write about your search for a wife?
My last serious girlfriend was seven years ago, and I've only had three third dates since then, and I find it hard to meet someone that I like. In our culture, the American man is told, "When you build it, she will come." Like there is literally going to be a fucking football field of women waiting when you're finally ready. That's the paradigm: Men don't want to commit, women make them commit.
My last girlfriend seemed to say she wanted to get married, and when I finally asked her she said no, and my eyes were opened. [Maybe] the problem isn't "I have a boyfriend who won't commit" [but] a woman's own possible ambivalence [about whether she] wants to get married. Suddenly it's like, wow, this is hard. I think a lot of people will identify with me. I'm pretty much the Everyman, I just talk about it. I am just like every other dude.
Do you have a theory about why you're still single?
I haven't met anyone I really like. I have a smaller pool that I'm able to look in. I don't drink or do drugs or smoke; that's a deal-breaker. But if a woman drinks very casually, totally fine. I've learned who I am and I bring a whole human being to a relationship, a guy who's introspective about my foibles and has a method to work on them. That's the only thing that's really required, that you're not being ruled by your baggage unknowingly. I want to be inspired by a woman. I want to wake up and go, "Oh my god, wow! What's in your mind today? What did you create today?" And she can have any kind of job ... but no, actually, a lot of jobs are out.
What do you mean?
You know, if she had a Republican job, that would be out.
What's a Republican job?
If she worked for the Republican Party, if she had a talk show like Rush Limbaugh, that's what I mean by a Republican job. If her point of view was catty and inhumane and superficial, that'd be out. I want a woman who's an openhearted, loving, sweet person who doesn't drink or drug, who treats her body well. And then, because I don't want to have kids for five or six years [she needs to be under 37]. I want to have some Christmases and time to really get to know the woman before it's all about kids.
I've read your blog that you've "always known your fifties would be about kids." You've also written that you won't date women who have been victims of sexual abuse. I understand that everyone has their preferences. But these requirements seem to be all about how you envision yourself, your future. It doesn't really leave room for you to be wowed by another human being with her own visions for her future.
Again, I think I am exactly like everybody else, just very clear about it. I will not have a child in the next three years. Because that child will not get the father that he deserves. My sense is in five years, or six years or seven years ... That's been my sense my whole life. But this comes with the caveat: What the fuck do I know? You could sit here and tell me, "You know what, Eric, I'm a Republican, I don't fit some of your deal-breakers," and I would be open to being wowed by you. But there are guidelines.
Guidelines that make a relationship all about you.
That's so funny what you just said. Because it is all about my needs in terms of who I want. Once we fall in love it's a compromise, but setting out, of course it's all about my needs. And [my idea of who I'd like] is a liberal ideal! It's anyone I fucking like! A 5-foot-2, 200-pound Indian woman! It could be anybody.
Except if she's 40.
Yes. Or if she drinks too much, or if she's at an age where she can't have two or three babies in five or six years. Other than that I am way more liberal than 90 percent of men and women. Do you know how many women have written me and said, "You're an inch too short"?
Of course these are different things. I just think that cutting off all these people reflects that maybe you don't really want to be with anyone.
I'd rather have not been married three times with three kids from broken homes right now because I didn't know what my deep truth was and compromised. I have spent 24 years not drinking and drugging, meditating. Every night I write out what I've done wrong today. I fucking spend a lot of time reflecting on how to be a better person. Tracking down cab drivers I was short to. I don't know who else does that.
You've written that you had sex with your girl cousins when you were 6. Is that true?
Yeah. They were 5, 6, and 7, and I was 6 and we would play little games and some involved playing Mommy and Daddy and sleeping together.
And penetration occurred?
But you don't consider that a sexually damaging experience?
Not at all. All kids who are 6 are rubbing it somewhere. If you as a parent don't think yours are, you are in abject denial.
But actual sex with family members is a big leap from rubbing it somewhere.
You mean actually sticking it in for two seconds and having her run and tell her mother that this isn't a good game anymore?
Whoa, that's a whole other level...
We were both 6, so it wasn't like that. We played Mommy and Daddy. We were both kissing. And then it got stuck in and then ... you know, I fucked my little guy friends when I was 6!
I read that you peed on your guy friends at 6, but did you have sex with them too?
Were you the top?
I was both top and bottom. These were friends! We would crawl under the covers and play bat cave and somehow a dick would end up in someone's ass. [Laughter] And then the boys went away and I started liking girls. You know in many cultures, the Greek culture, it is happening. Equestrian class, girls are rubbing it on horseback, guys are climbing up the rope.
There's a difference between equestrian class and sex with your cousin at 6. But you don't think these experiences fucked you up?
Not at all. Because it wasn't anybody perpetrating a crime against me.
No, but your cousin running to her mother doesn't sound too happy.
Yeah, she was a little flustered by it, and then the rule was, I wasn't allowed to hug her hello or goodbye. But this is ancient; it did not start with Eric Schaeffer in 1969. Do I have intimacy issues around sex? Sure. I had to work on that. My point is, Rebecca, I've done all that work.
How about some of your other dating barometers, like, "I don't want my wife to be the kind of woman who waits two days to call back," etc.
I'm FedEx; I don't like a woman who's book rate. If I come at you with that kind of wooing and enthusiasm, I want a woman who gives it back.
I'm curious about your date with "April," and how angry you were at the fact that she refused to go with you spontaneously to Vermont directly after your first date, when she was hosting a party.
Yes. I want someone who would have [gone with me]. Cause I would have done it.
But this is a woman you've just met, she has a commitment to host a dinner party...
The dinner party was three people: her best friend, one other woman and her uncle. I learned that she was the kind of person that would say no to me and yes to that dinner. That takes the wind out of my sails and makes my heart sink.
But what's bad about the fact that she has a life that she's committed to?
This was not a life she was committed to. That dinner wasn't with someone who flew from fucking Arizona to see her. But I did continue to see her. Would I have loved it if she could have done a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants and chosen this amazingly romantic thing over that? Of course. Did I suspect it was emblematic of the deeper issue, this thing that doesn't work for me? Yes.
What's "that thing" that doesn't work for you?
A lack of openness to embrace her own true feelings. I kept going out with her, because I wanted to champion that part of her, that if she wanted to go to Vermont, would say, "Fear, go fuck yourself!"
Here's a reason that I would have been nervous about going to Vermont. You wrote about that first date with her: "I despised her. She made me sick to my stomach. I literally wanted to vomit. Choke her to death and smash her dead head in with a rock and then vomit onto her deadness."
Isn't that clear that going so over the top shines a light on the absurdity and therefore renders it less angry? I think it would have been scarier to say, "I wanted to slit her throat."
I'm actually going to say they're equally scary. But I was also struck by the rant about your frustration about having to ask women out, where you write, "the hatred that comes your way sometimes is the understandable collective pent-up rage, fear, hurt and anguish of thousands of years of our burden." Do you feel angry at women?
Women tend to do this thing -- white women, not black women. But white women do this thing where they'll clearly be sending all these vibes and then when you approach them they'll look at you like they never fucking heard of you. That's frustrating and makes me feel like an asshole. Because I'm not wrong. They weren't looking at the clock over my head. They were sending vibes. I'm not angry. I was trying to illustrate how hard it is to be a boy. That's all.
Do you worry that that kind of sweet, issue-free woman you're looking for might not be interested in a guy who writes on his blog about patronizing hookers and hiring dominatrixes to stick metal rods in his penis?
If somebody's going to be scared by that, then I don't want them. My point is that I like to make love gently and sweetly and intimately as much as I like to have rough sex. I submit that I'm no different from 99 percent of everybody. The only difference is that I acknowledge that I have these feelings. I [want] someone who is unconditionally supportive of me in my me-ness. If they don't know that we're all complex people ... Nothing in my life sexually in any way rises to the level of fetish.
Do you think that your habit of having sex with women for money...
I've done it eight times in 35 years, so "habit" would not be an accurate word. What would you call eight times in 35 years? That's the opposite of habit.
OK, and your desire to be dominated -- peed on and asphyxiated -- all of which I understand are not uncommon sexual proclivities. But do they reflect any unresesolved sexual issues?
Absolutely not. I've had 10 dominatrix experiences in my lifetime. In 30 years, I've had 10 dominatrixes.
I thought you said eight.
Whatever. Eight prostitutes, 10 dominatrixes. Eighteen sex workers. Not including special massage women of which I've had maybe 10. I don't think we should lump them together since they are extremely different experiences.
One of the things women wrote about dating you was that you often ask for a blow job right off the bat, and one claimed that on a first date you were doing a Master Cleanse and didn't have energy to get off the couch but still expected a blow job.
Here's the deal. Like my profile says on Nerve and like I write in the blog, my intention is to find a woman to marry and have babies with through an organic process.
I have tremendous ambivalence about having sex with people I'm not in love with, but once in a while I do it. Being a man, being a healthy hot-blooded American male, who really loves sexual contact, going months and months without that can become lonely to me. Sometimes, if I'm in a strictly sexual mood -- again, it's rare -- either I can be contacted by them or I will contact somebody on the Internet and we will set up a contract, via e-mail, to get together and have some kind of sex.
So it's explicitly prearranged.
Absolutely. "I will meet you at this table [points to table] and then we will go to the park and I will blow you in the fucking hippo park." Or the woman I met at a gym, that someone told me about [who wrote in on Gawker claiming that on their first date Schaeffer suggested they "fuck in the second floor bathroom"]. She had listed "play" [on her Nerve profile]. I don't list "play" because it's not what I'm after, but if it comes up, and I'm in the mood, I might dabble. Same way a lot of people go on a first date and there is a contract, spoken or unspoken, and they go home and they have sex.
A first date is actually not a contract to have sex.
No. I don't feel that it is. But some people, men and women, feel that it is. I never would assume that. I don't want to spend five minutes with a woman unless I think you're gonna be my wife or unless I think we're going to fuck.
I don't remember the Master Cleanse time. But if we talk on a Web site in a sexual conversation and I invite you to come over to my house, it's usually post-midnight, and there's only one reason that that's happening. But I've never even had a girl by the back of the head and then pushed her down. At most it's been an energy. I usually even ask a woman if I can kiss her first; I think it's sexy. A lot of women actually think it's wimpy.
Another armchair diagnosis might be that you are gay and not out of the closet. Are you gay or bisexual?
Definitely not gay and not out of the closet. I would never want to have an emotional relationship with a man. If I weren't a hypochondriac and terrified of HIV I certainly would have tried being with a man at this point in my life, but I want an emotional relationship and marriage and babies with a woman.
To me the fantasy is about the phallus and domination. My fantasy would really be to have a woman with a phallus. A pussy and a dick. That would be some crazy cool thing to try. If it is a man that turns me on in occasional fantasies, and again none of this is pervasive, [it's about] being dominated and subjugated and ridiculed.
What about the theory that you're a narcissist?
A narcissist is a person with an out-of-control ego with an inferiority complex. I'm certainly not the first -- only self-regard at the expense of everyone else. I don't know what your experience of me for the last few hours is, but ... do I seem like that? Like I'm just trying to blow smoke up your ass because you're writing an article about me? "Self-absorbed" might be the term, though I don't like it, that I'm more willing to claim.
Self-absorbed is a lot closer to how I think of a narcissist -- someone for whom everything is in some way a reflection of themselves, the kind of person whose every act of kindness is actually a moment at which to think of themselves in a good light.
I don't think anyone else in the world thinks that's what narcissism is. When I give an extra $50 tip to a cab driver because he's going to Atlantic City and he's a cute kid and he reminds me of me when I drove a cab for eight years, I give him money I don't have because I believe if you give money away you get it back. Is there a moment where I have a snapshot of thinking, "Here is Eric being great in the world?" Yes, I think that. I do feel a lovely sense that it's about giving a gift to this kid. But, yes, my brain does go, "Oh, there's a snapshot of Eric doing a mitzvah." But I don't actually think that's a definition of narcissism, and I don't think that's a bad thing.
I have to constantly force myself to act out of generosity, not selfishness. So I may feel I want to push the old lady who's walking slow out of the way so I can race home and look at the blinking-light barometer of my self-esteem -- all the great women and jobs that are calling. But instead I stop and help her with her bags. So now the world only sees me, hopefully most of the time, as a healthy, generous soul. Rather than a selfish asshole.