This past summer, I made a new friend named "Kyle." By all appearances, Kyle's a pretty "normal" guy: He's a successful accountant, he's married and he has 2 children. I really enjoyed hanging out with him. We did all the fun stuff that I like to do: play golf, fool around on the Xbox, watch movies, have deep philosophical talks, and occasionally hit up Taco Bell for a "fourth" meal. He even built me a new computer that's blazing fast and sports a 27-inch LED monitor.
But all friendships come at a price. In order to please our friends, we must reciprocate and participate in their hobbies and interests. In the past, I've had to engage in all sorts of diversions that displeased me: I've had to accompany my friends to horror movies (which I've had a problem with ever since I saw Poltergeist as a child), go hiking (and use the bathroom outdoors), and shoot off rounds at the gun range (I'm a pacifist).
Kyle loves strip clubs. In particular, he likes a strip club called The Pink Slip. He goes to the club once or twice a week and always sees the same "girl," which makes him a "regular" or regular customer. After we grew tight, Kyle wanted me to accompany him, too.
Personally, I believe that strip clubs are a waste of money. I'm married and have kids: The hard-earned money I do make as a medical writer and editor should go to helping my wife buy diapers not to helping strippers buy rhinestone-encrusted G-strings. Additionally, my wife would kill me if she found out I was hanging out with strippers.
For a while, Kyle understood that I didn't want to go the strip club and would just hint at his desire for me to accompany him. Eventually though, Kyle's suggestions blossomed into demands. It became apparent that in order to do the things that I like to do, I had to do stuff that he likes to do, too. So, I began to go with him. (Understandably, I didn't tell my wife.)
Strip clubs are entertaining: the hip-hop, the strobe lights, and the voluptuous ladies all give strip clubs a certain ambience. But the artificiality never escapes me, and I can never suspend disbelief: These women were only interacting with customers because they're being paid. Furthermore, I feel guilty going because I'm married, and the only person who should be grinding on my nether regions is my wife.
Purchased from iStockphoto
I think most strippers sense that I am, at heart, an occasional customer--I was Kyle's wingman. But Kyle is a regular and every time he enters the club not only does he make it rain, but he also makes it thunder and lightning. Apparently, money is no object for Kyle, and he will spend hours talking to "Destiny": venting about his day, his troubles, his marriage and punctuating these heart-to-hearts with lap dances. Kyle's interactions with Destiny made me wonder about the psychology of the regular.
Sociologist (stripperologist?) R. Danielle Egan has extensively studied the psychology of regulars. As with many good researchers, she's even spent time in the field: working the pole and frequenting the champagne room to learn more.
Egan explains that strip club transactions are commodified. Whereas sexual acts and companionship may not necessarily be viewed as a commodity in the everyday world, in the strip club they are. In exchange for serving as a sympathetic ear for a regular's problems and providing titillating entertainment, the stripper gets paid.
Emotion is inherent to strip club transactions. The customer is the emotional consumer and the stripper is the emotional laborer. Oftentimes, the regular customer feels what Egan calls "love" for the stripper. Although the stripper may like the customer and enjoy their interactions, most of the time this love is unreciprocated. The stripper will never meet the regular outside the club or commit to his well-being. Nevertheless, within the structure, rules and protection of the strip club, the stripper perpetuates the illusion of love in order to continue to receive payment and encourage the regular to return for more business.
Egan characterizes a regular's love for a stripper as masochistic. The regular falls in love with a stripper, feels some of the excitement typical of true love but is ultimately left unsatisfied (and with an empty wallet). The regular will never be able to realize requited love with the stripper but fears ending the transaction, and thus ending any impotent hopes of both emotionally and physically consummating the relationship.
I quickly realized that Kyle was only hurting himself. Anybody could tell that Destiny didn't care for him. She would always refuse to give Kyle her phone number--instead teasing Kyle that she may do so in time. For a smart guy, Kyle was actually pretty stupid, or, as I now realize, blinded by love.
After a few weeks of me sneaking out of the house, my wife swiped my credit card bill and freaked out. She wondered why I spent so much money at "PTC Enterprise LLC"-credit card code for The Pink Slip. I fessed up and promised to stop accompanying Kyle even if it meant our friendship would come to an end. (Truthfully, I grew weary of buying seven-dollar Cokes-eight if I wanted ice.)
I could tell Kyle was hurt and felt violated that the sanctity of our bromance had been compromised by my wife's prying eyes. We quickly grew apart, and I only occasionally hear about Kyle when he posts something on his Facebook page. I imagine that he's still hitting up The Pink Slip.