The Love Junkie and Me
“I never did drugs, I did love – the crazy reckless kind, more damage than healing, more heartbreak than health.
Love is vivid. I never wanted the pale version. Love is full strength. I never wanted the diluted version. I never shied away from love’s hugeness but I had no idea that love could be as reliable as the sun. The daily rising of love.”
- Jeanette Winterson
It is day 378, just, and I am in a bar in the East Village. Upward of 80% of the men look like they are using fake IDs, and they all seem to be wearing button up plaid shirts with NorthFace jackets. The women are decked out: short black cocktail dresses and heels, mostly. It is packed and I have to pee and so I make my way through the crowd, touching shoulders and saying excuse me and asking people politely, once and twice and three times, to move.
I hate this place.
I am here for the “Love Junkie” after party, and it is pretty easy to locate. To the right of the bar the crowd empties out. There is room to dance. There is one white woman dancing by herself. She is feeling the music. The music is Prince. There is a beautiful man with a full beard and make-up on and he’s wearing a dress. He’s holding a metallic gold clutch. Then there is the love junkie herself, Bridget Barkan, wearing a low-cut black top and talking to everyone, it seems, at once. Bridget’s crew is here too, mostly sitting around and talking. Folks are wearing vintage clothes, there is another man with a beard and make up wearing a dress. I’m wearing drop-crotch sweatpants and taking notes feverishly, holding a drink but talking to no one.
This is what I imagine that the village used to feel like. Weird. Full of folks who push boundaries and spend nights getting drunk and talking about art and love and sex. This is the village I conjure from Baraka and Baldwin, beat and Basquiat.
377. Earlier that same night I am in the East Village at a show. Bridget Barkan is the “Love Junkie” at Joe’s Pub. The “Love Junkie” is a catharsis. It is an offering. Bridget stands on that stage and talks and sings about her love life. It is a train wreck, and she knows it. She lists off the men who hurt her. “I am,” she says, “a douche bag magnet.”
Here are some of her douche bags: there is the man who she fell for, a director, who wanted to help her create this very show. And then he brought another woman on what Bridget thought was a date. There was the painter she met on the train. He lived in a downtown loft. He also owned a pet chicken. He tried to fuck Bridget without a rubber. There was the guy she moved to LA for. He was emotionally repressed, refused to kiss her. Bridget needs physicality, or she did then. She needs passion, or she did then. She cheated on him. There was the guy in London who fucked her in a mirror doggy style while playing the song “Fame” on repeat (“I want to live forever…”). He ditched her the very next day and is now in jail for manslaughter. No kidding.
“It’s more like he’s just jerking off inside my vagina,” Bridget says of the chicken man while wearing a chicken mask. “And I’m looking at his pet chicken Lucy and I am thinking ‘Why am I like this?’”
It would be awkward if Bridget didn’t manage to make it so funny. She plays characters, old Bridget, bride Bridget, fairy Bridget, and we’re not even at the real heartbreak yet. Bridget calls all her unavailable men by name. They’re all named Richard. I suppose they are all interchangeable is the point. She sings, she dances, she goes through various stages of undress. Bridget has a voice, too. The show is full of music, covers and originals. The music pulls us in; we know the covers, we sing along.
The real heartbreak is the married filmmaker. Bridget has boundaries, and married is one of them. But then he was all of a sudden a divorced filmmaker. “We fit into each other like no one I’ve ever met before… The pain and the pleasure were equally intense.” Have you ever had a love like that?
Bridget admits that she is an addict. She knows that these loves, if they are loves to begin with, are not sustainable. The sex might be good, or even great. But Bridget was in it for the chase, the hit, the high.
Day 382. I walk into Think Coffee on Mercer in the West Village. Bridget throws me a massive smile. We hug, deep. I am here to ask her a few questions. About the show, about her life, about art. We find one empty table up against the wall; the place is packed with NYU students working on laptops. I tell her that I thought the show was amazing, honest, true. She admits to being a little hung-over, let down now that the show is over. She still kind of can’t believe she actually did it, after all this time.
I ask Bridget about growing up in NYC and how the city has changed for artists and musicians. Bridget went to a performing arts high school in Manhattan; her world has always seemed filled with talented weirdos and artists. The “Love Junkie” came to be in NYC burlesque shows and music reviews over the last few years. “I was a tiny kid when the performance art scene was popping,” she says. “Growing up, obviously the sexuality of the city was very charged,” she says. “The whole city was a performance art piece,” she says. She tells the story of a man with a gray beard who dressed all in purple, everyone in the city knew him, he built a garden and one summer he painted purple footprints all over the city, leading to gardens and parks and green spaces.
Like the New York that Bridget grew up in, her show is eclectic and raw and sexual and weird. It is full of talent. It is funny and off-putting and sad.
How does she manage to do it, how can she get up on stage and put her heart and soul out there for consumption by the audience, how can she tell these ugly stories about her love and sex lives? She admits that the characters and masks, that helps. Plus she put so much work into the craft of the show that it almost feels like the stories fall away.
The main thing is that, for Bridget, loving this show was synonymous with loving herself. The show was proof that she could put aside chasing toxic men and toxic sex and care for something else. The show exists because the show exists, in a way. Men had been getting in the way. Bridget gave herself to the show with the same enthusiasm that she had given to various Richards over the years. Except this time she came away with something.
“Oh and by the way,” Bridget said. “Richard was at the show.”
“Fix-it Richard.” The filmmaker. The real heartbreak.
377. Bridget has an unquestionably friendly audience. People shout out things like “YES!” and “I love you Bridget!” It might be because the audience is full of her friends and family, but I think it’s something different. It’s hard not to get behind Bridget. There she is, up there, just emoting like crazy. Who doesn’t have a few fucked up stories of love and sex? Who hasn’t cheated or been cheated on? Who hasn’t engaged in love or sex that is unhealthy, unsustainable? We see ourselves in Bridget. And she sees herself in us, too. “It is the sharing of our stories,” she says while wearing a black corset and a wig, “that helps us heal.”
If love is important (I think it is) and if love can be transformative and revolutionary (I think it can) then figuring out how to love sustainably is important. That’s what I think. There aren’t a lot of good models for sustainable love. The “Love Junkie” is a how not to. The real question it poses takes place after the show ends. How do we find ways to love sustainably? To give and receive love equitably? To trust and fuck and be healthy? How do we make love and make art and tell the truth?
I want to stop manufacturing painful relationships in order to be able write about them.
Since I talked to Bridget about love and art and her show, I figured I might as well ask her. “First off, I’ve been celibate for, what is it … 382 days now. I am just not gonna fuck anyone until I actually want them inside me. I had one little slip up where I made out with a boy and touched his wee-wee, but it was through his pants and it totally doesn’t count.” That is to say: first, stop doing the things that hurt. Believe in the possibility of a love that will rise everyday like the sun. Focus on the fact that loving yourself can be that type of constant.
As for the future, Bridget wants a love that pushes her forward in her art. She wants sex that is life-changing, mild-altering without being toxic; she wants sex that is not a drug. She wants a love that doesn’t run, that doesn’t need to be chased, and she is trying to learn not to run, either, herself. She doesn’t want to love or fuck anyone until she feels like a sustainable, mutual affection is possible. She doesn’t know when or if she will find a love that looks like that, but she’s committed to trying. Step one is admitting you have a problem. I can’t wait to see the rest of the show.
- Joseph Osmundson
Be sure to catch Bridget Barkan in “The Love Junkie” when she returns to Joe’s Pub May 31st