By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
Part of him wanted to lay her down on the bed and hold her and make passionate love to her the way they do in romantic movies.
Part of him wanted to get his clothes on and get out of there as fast as possible. And never look back. And never discuss this moment. Ever.
They were covered in soapy bubbles, standing close to each other in the shower of her Fort Lauderdale townhouse. Steam crept down the bathroom mirror.
"Does that feel OK?" she asked, running her fingertips through the lather on his shoulder. He was a burly man, a merchant marine in his 40s who'd spent most of his life at sea. The only woman with whom he'd had any relationship was his mother, who was both religious and abusive. She'd often reminded him that sex was a dirty, sinful, unspeakable act.
Catherine, the woman touching him in the shower, was the first woman who'd ever caressed him.
"That feels good," he said in a shaky voice.
"Now I'm going to rub the other shoulder," Catherine said. A slim, modest-looking woman with straight, soft hair and a smooth, warm face, she was calm and reassuring. "That isn't too bad, is it?"
Before they got in the shower, they'd talked a bit, getting to know each other. They started with soft touching on the hands and arms. Eventually, they were standing naked next to each other.
All the while, Catherine encouraged him to talk about how he was feeling.
He said he was frightened, tense. He couldn't stop thinking about what his mother had told him so many times. He couldn't help but feel that what he was doing was wrong. But it also felt good to be touched. It felt good to connect with someone, even if it was just temporary.
Catherine continued rubbing him and speaking in a soothing, caring tone.
He extended his hands to her body. First to her hands and arms, then her shoulders and stomach, and soon her breasts. As his hands moved over Catherine's soapy body, he gulped. His eyes turned glassy. His hands shook. He felt a twisting deep in his chest.
Soon it was too much for him. The merchant marine was overwhelmed by the experience. He began sobbing.
"That's all right," she said, still covered in bubbles. Catherine's voice was like warm syrup on a cold morning. "Stay with your feelings. Talk to me. It's OK."
Catherine isn't his wife or girlfriend. Nor is she some trollop off the street. And while technically she is getting paid $185 an hour to play with him in the shower, she is not a prostitute.
She's a sexual surrogate — a partner supplied by the man's therapist so he can work through his sexual dysfunction. The concept of sexual surrogates first came about in the late 1950s, when sexology researchers William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson were working with couples dealing with sexual problems ranging from physical handicaps to serious emotional issues caused by childhood trauma. Many of the most severe cases were men and women who struggled with these issues but understandably didn't have a partner to work with. So Masters and Johnson found open-minded, compassionate young women to fill the role of sexual partner for therapy purposes. Since then, men have also become sexual surrogates.
Partner surrogates can work with patients for as long as several years or for only a few weekends. Over an extended treatment period, a surrogate might dispense anything from verbal encouragement and soft touching to intercourse.
Though most psychologists no longer view surrogate therapy as radical, the practice is rare these days. Dozens of surrogates were spread across the country in the '70s and '80s, but today, in a Viagra-infused society, there are fewer than 30 licensed practitioners. And there is just one certified surrogate working in Florida — Catherine. She works with men traumatized by childhood abuse or who have physical or emotional handicaps that make sex difficult.
The merchant marine, for example, felt that his mother's sentiments about sex had a hold on him that prevented him from connecting with anyone. "It wasn't until his mother died that he would even think about these things," says Dr. Marilyn Volker, the Miami sexologist who brought in Catherine to be the sailor's surrogate. "He had never really been around women, and these thoughts paralyzed him."
Because he was so accustomed to living at sea, where he showered in saltwater once every few days, Volker and Catherine started by coaching him on simple things like dress and meal etiquette and showering and brushing his teeth daily. They were nonjudgmental and reassuring, explaining how a mature relationship should work.
"It's not about sex," Volker says. "It's about being able to connect with another human being."
The sailor's breakdown in the shower was actually a breakthrough, Volker says. As he felt the sensuous touch of a woman for the first time, he discovered that he was capable of opening up and sharing with another person and, in turn, being loved himself.
Later that afternoon, he told Volker, "If I never have sex with a woman, it won't matter, because today I feel free of whatever my mother did to me."
Before that moment in the shower, Volker says, "all of his emotional connections to other humans had been tapered down or shut off. You wouldn't be able to tell it by looking at this big, smelly kind of guy, but he was closed down. Now he feels like he can at least search for someone. Like life isn't hopeless."
The first time Volker told her about surrogate therapy, Catherine felt as though her entire life had been leading up to this. "I felt immediately like this is what I was meant to do," she says.
Now in her early 60s, she sat down recently to talk about her life as Florida's only sexual surrogate.
Catherine is not her real name. She asked that her name not be published because of the nature of her work. Catherine, ironically, is her confirmation name.
She grew up in a Catholic family in southeast New Jersey. Her father was a factory worker and an alcoholic. Though her Ukrainian mother was devoutly Catholic, she divorced while Catherine was in elementary school and waited tables at a diner to pay the bills. She worked the graveyard shift while Catherine looked after her three younger sisters.
Her mother never taught her about the birds and the bees. "All my mother ever told me about boys was that I should stay away from them no matter what," Catherine says. "She never even said anything about protection or how anything worked or anything. 'Just stay away.' So, of course, naturally, I couldn't resist."
In high school, she'd sneak out of the house to meet her older, football-star boyfriend. At 15, she got pregnant. It was 1960. Her mother was devastated. "A priest came to my house," she says. "They said I had two options: Get married or move to a convent. Luckily, [the father of the baby] was OK with getting married, and as much as you can be at 15, we really were in love."
A week before her 16th birthday, she married and moved to Key West, where her new husband's father was a wealthy businessman. She says her father-in-law had a string of girlfriends he regularly mistreated. She worried that her husband might one day take after Dad.
Seven months after the move, she gave birth to a boy. Over the next five years, they had two more sons. She says that by then, her husband had cultivated a stable of paramours just like his father. When they divorced, she was 22. She says her father-in-law pushed hard to keep the kids in Key West.
Relinquishing custody of her sons, Catherine worked one odd job after another, bouncing up and down the East Coast. She tended bar, waitressed, and sang in clubs in Key West. Her longest stint was as a receptionist for Xerox in Miami.
The same year her oldest son went off to college on an ROTC scholarship, her ex-husband died at 37. The two youngest sons decided not to move in with their mother. Their grandfather gave the boys a mobile home to live in by themselves in Key West. "As you can imagine, two teenage boys living on their own, the place was a constant party."
Catherine took a job as a flight attendant. Two of her sisters were flight attendants, and it sounded appealing — crisscrossing the world, meeting interesting travelers, learning about other cultures. And taking care of people, which is what Catherine did best.
She had a run of short relationships with men, including a brief marriage to an alcoholic who reminded her of her father.
After several airlines she worked for went out of business, she started looking for a new line of work. She took acting classes and got work as an extra in movies and a few speaking roles in commercials. She saw an ad in New Times calling for actresses who would be comfortable showing their genitals to Nova University med students needing to learn how to examine live patients. She got $30 per student, with about eight per class. She found that she was completely relaxed with her clothes off. And she liked it. She found satisfaction in helping nervous future physicians navigate what could have been an awkward experience.
Catherine told a chiropractor friend how much she liked working with the young students. One day, as he worked on her back and she talked about what she wanted to do with the rest of her life, he touched a sore spot below her shoulder blade, the area behind her lungs. The sensation immediately brought tears to her eyes. Not from physical pain, though; the touch seemed to trigger something else inside of her.
Her friend asked her to talk about what she was thinking. She explained that the touch reminded her of something from her childhood. Something horrible. Something someone had done to her.
He told her about the concept of "muscle memory." As humans, one of our brain's coping mechanisms for dealing with trauma, particularly sexual trauma, is to repress the memory of the traumatic event. Certain kinds of touch can stimulate those memories, even if they've been dormant for decades. "The body is a funny thing," Catherine says. The chiropractor's touch brought back memories of a time as a child when she was molested.
Through the years, Catherine pieced together her college degree, taking night classes at community colleges, majoring in psychology. She told her chiropractor she wanted to work in therapy. Maybe even sex therapy. "The problem was, I didn't want to go through getting a Ph.D., and in psychology, you basically can't work unless you have a doctorate." He put her in touch with his friend Volker in Coral Gables. Volker, a slim, urbane woman, told Catherine there was something in the field of sex therapy that didn't require a post-grad degree.
Catherine had never heard of surrogate therapy, but as Volker explained the process, it made sense. Surrogates help patients connect on an intimate level. "I'd been doing that all my life. In my personal life, I had been coaching boyfriends for years. I'd get calls from exes telling me how much I helped them become comfortable with themselves," she says. "I've never felt better-suited for anything."
When the International Professional Surrogate Association training program accepted Catherine, she was told to bring plenty of comfort foods and her favorite blankets — this was going to be an emotional process.
To get into the IPSA program, the only surrogate partner certification course in the country, Catherine needed three letters of recommendation from health professionals attesting to her earnest desire to help people. She had to write an essay detailing her sexual history and another one explaining why she wanted to be a surrogate. After her application was approved by the IPSA board, Catherine paid the $1,500 tuition and went to California for three weeks.
Her class consisted of four students: herself, a young man, and a married couple. There were two instructors: Vena Blanchard, president of IPSA, and a male surrogate trainer. Classes took place at Blanchard's home in Los Angeles. The first day, the students were told they would work as partners for the duration of training. "Obviously, I thought they'd put the couple together and pair me with the young man," she says. "But no, I was told to work with the man, even though his wife was right there watching us and talking to us."
On the second day, the class was instructed to disrobe. The exercise for that day was a full-body, head-to-toe, up-close inspection of each student. Throughout the training, the partners played the roles of both patient and surrogate. Students kept journals of their most intimate feelings and shared them with Blanchard every day. They heard lectures on topics ranging from basic human biology to dealing with the natural human attachments that arise in this line of work.
Toward the end of training, Catherine wrote in her journal that she was having conflicting feelings. She believed 100 percent in the concept of surrogate therapy, but she suspected that her training partner — the husband — was "just there to get a cheap thrill." She felt guilty for feeling that way. Blanchard approached her after the last class. She told Catherine that her instincts were right on. "You've got exactly what it takes," Blanchard told her. "You're going to be a great surrogate."
Her training was put to the test with her first client: the malodorous merchant marine who'd never been around women. "It was a really tough case," she says now, smiling as she thinks of the patient. "I had to call Vena [Blanchard] and ask what to do. He just had all sorts of social problems."
The solution? "She suggested I take him out on a date. The rules were, he picks the place, he pays, we walk through what women like and don't like. Then have the session afterward." So the sailor cleaned himself up and took Catherine to a nice steak house in Fort Lauderdale. "It was rough," she says. "He was eating with two hands, burping, getting up for smoke breaks throughout the meal. I told him, 'Look, if you want to connect with someone, you can't do this. You can't just get up and go outside in the middle of dinner.' "
After dinner, he said he was too full of steak to have a regular surrogate session. "You see, food was one of the ways he dealt with his anxious feelings, along with alcohol and cigarettes," she says. "So when he was nervous about the date, he ate more than he should have and smoked more. Those were his crutches."
As therapy progressed — long before the breakthrough in the shower — he began to open up more. He talked about his overbearing, controlling mother, but he also talked about the time an uncle took him to a prostitute as a teenager. He had showered and put on cologne ahead of time. But when the time for sex came, the prostitute told him he needed to shower again. He couldn't go through with it.
It's no coincidence that his big breakthrough with Catherine occurred in the shower, she says. Human psychology is a powerful force. Behind man's sexual desires are millions of years of evolution urging him to spread his seed, she says. But the emotional responses such as fear and shame are so strong that they override biology and physiology.
"He was already self-conscious and scared being in that situation," Catherine says, "and now you have a hooker telling you that you smell bad. The poor thing. He went 20 years before he could even talk to a woman."
Picket-fence America wasn't ready for the concept of sexual surrogates when the therapy was developed in 1959 at the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation in St. Louis, later renamed the Masters and Johnson Institute. Respectable folks didn't discuss such matters. Masters and his research assistant turned wife, Johnson, were the first American academics to examine human sexuality since Alfred Kinsey's groundbreaking work at the University of Indiana. They created a broad program that involved everything from interviewing volunteers about their sexual histories to observing couples having sex in the laboratory. Their findings are still the basis for most research in the field of sexology, according to Dr. James Walker, president of the American Board of Sexology, a national quality assurance and certification organization that oversees sex therapists. "There have been new models for study and treatment and obviously with pharmaceuticals," he says, "but everything people are doing really comes from adaptations of this original way of looking at sex."
Masters and Johnson developed new methods to treat married couples with sexual dysfunctions, conditions they described with terms such as "ejaculatory incompetence" and "orgasmic dysfunction in women." The solution, as they saw it, combined psychological approaches with practice at home. The exercises were based on trust and acceptance, with couples and therapists working as a team.
But this posed a problem for unmarried men and women, who were often the most severe cases. Their sexual problems, in fact, were precisely the reason they didn't have a partner. It was a twisted social paradox: can't work on the problem without a partner; can't get a partner before working on the problem.
So Masters and Johnson trained the first surrogates. For the study, 13 women were selected as surrogates from 31 volunteers. They worked with 41 single men. After 11 years, in 1970, Masters and Johnson published Human Sexual Inadequacy, a book about their research. It became a bestseller and has since been translated into 30 languages. The book, written in intentionally dry, clinical language, has a chapter dedicated to the work of the original group of women, whom they called partner surrogates.
An optimal partner surrogate, they explained, was, for the patient, "someone to hold on to, talk to, work with, learn from, be a part of, and above all else, give to and get from."
Masters and Johnson believed that without two people present to explore the nature of the dysfunction, there was no chance of recovery. With an emotional connection, they said, the treatment can bring healing, in some cases overriding the original trauma and replacing it with a positive association.
The original surrogates came into the program with some traumatic stories of their own. Three of the 13 women had been married to men with sexual dysfunctions. One man killed himself. Another husband, unable to deal with his dysfunction, became an alcoholic and eventually divorced. But the women all had their own reasons for wanting to participate in the program.
If someone wants to conquer a fear of flying, at some point, he must ride in a plane. If someone wants to conquer a fear of intimacy, he also has to board the plane at some point. The way Volker looks at it, to be a surrogate, you have to like being the plane in the equation — the one who eases the pain, no matter how physically or emotionally handicapped the patient may be.
Volker is sometimes called the Dr. Ruth of South Florida. She used to host a call-in radio show called Sex With Marilyn. She also teaches graduate classes at Florida International University, Barry University, and St. Thomas University. She's the type of grandmother who gives her grandkids books about sex every year.
Volker does at least four or five "talk therapy" sessions before she introduces a patient to the surrogate. If the patient is struggling with problems like addiction or anger management or depression, or even if there's a medical issue such as high blood pressure, these must be addressed before starting therapy with a surrogate. "We can't have anything else getting in the way of those true, intense emotional feelings," she says.
The first sessions are a screening process. Because patients often work with surrogates in the surrogates' home or alone in hotel rooms, she has to make sure she isn't putting the surrogate in danger. They use protection if there is intercourse.
If the patient seems like an appropriate candidate, the three parties — Volker, Catherine, and the patient — meet in the Hollywood office. "The first step is everyone getting to feel comfortable with one another," Volker says. "Surrogates aren't prostitutes, not that there is anything wrong with prostitution. It isn't, 'Here's 50 bucks — give me a blowjob.' A lot of times, there isn't even intercourse. It's mostly talking."
She says if a patient asks about what the surrogate looks like, "that's an immediate red flag. I know right there that's not the type of person who would benefit from working with a surrogate."
If the meet-and-greet goes well, the therapy begins with what Volker calls body mapping — the surrogate and patient going over the patient's body together, determining what's comfortable (or functional) and what's not.
Then comes an exchange of touches: first observational, then playful, then nurturing, and, finally, sexual touching, which may or may not lead to intercourse.
The process is often done slowly, with weekly meetings over a number of years. "For people who have done surrogate work," Volker says, "their rituals of moving with regard to closeness will be very different from what's on adult films. Their ritual of what we call foreplay — I call it 'outercourse.' They get to genitals in very different ways. Because for many people, if it were done like on adult films, it could be triggering, and the body could shut down. Because it is like reenacting the traumatic experience."
Volker recalls the case of a man who'd been injured in a car accident at 18. Before the accident, the man was sexually active; he was engaged, in fact. But the crash left him a quadriplegic, unable to speak. After ten years of rehab, he was living in a nursing home. His psychologist asked Volker to see the patient. "This man was very angry, hostile," she explains. "He was making — I suppose clinically it'd be called 'lascivious tongue movements' at women."
He also managed to swing his arm, hitting people near him.
Volker established a communication system so the patient could answer yes or no questions. "I wanted to see what was important to this young man. He was very interested in the sexuality part. He was very angry that there was no way to express this. Here he was in a Catholic nursing home, which was great for helping him in all the rest of his life, but the sexuality was very overlooked."
When she brought in pictures, she learned he liked blonds — blonds with large breasts. As it turns out, his fiancée who left him after the accident ("and one could hardly blame her," Volker adds) fit that picture.
Volker said she'd bring in a surrogate to work with him but only if he agreed to stop the tongue movements and hitting.
Catherine quickly figured out what he could feel and what he couldn't, what worked and what didn't. As it turned out, the patient could get erections and ejaculate (the limbic system, which controls sexual impulses, had not been affected by the accident), but he couldn't reach himself to masturbate. He had gone ten years unable to tell anyone.
The climax of the treatment came when they arranged for Catherine to come to the nursing home one night. It was Volker's idea. "We set up a step-by-step 'date' of watching a movie together, eating some food or drinking something together, then a massage with what we might call a happy ending."
There's no way of knowing exactly what percentage of the populace might be candidates for surrogate therapy. Volker suspects that the percentage of "sexual anorexics and phobics" who actually come in for therapy is small. There are many others out there who would be right for the treatment but can't afford it or are too embarrassed.
David Yoblick is no longer embarrassed about the time he spent with a sexual surrogate. It was 30 years ago. Yoblick, then 37, had just divorced his second wife, and he wanted help with delayed ejaculation. "This was before we had Viagra," he says. "There wasn't much a man could do, but I tried it all: eating certain things, not eating certain things, vitamins, minerals, exercises, whatever I thought might work."
Yoblick says the problem began with his first sexual experience, when he was 12. "It was in a public park in Philadelphia, and, well, I ejaculated very rapidly." He had sex in high school, but it was always brief, and there were long stretches when he couldn't perform. It was the same when he got married. He was always tired from working two full-time jobs, causing a strain on the marriage. In his second marriage, sex wasn't as big an issue, but it still didn't work out.
Yoblick's lack of sexual confidence was a huge issue, he says. "The first thing I thought about whenever I shook a woman's hand and introduced myself was, 'Will I be able to get an erection?' Men think if they don't get erections, they are in some way less of a person."
In the late '70s, Volker was finishing her graduate work in sexual behavior at the University of Miami. She was at a party with one of her mentors when a psychologist was talking about a patient who needed someone with knowledge of sexology to work as a surrogate with him. Inspired by the moment — and a recent divorce — she volunteered her services.
She worked with the therapist and the patient, following the traditional Masters and Johnson steps, making emotional connections, then physical. "There's nothing like seeing a person discover their own sexuality — seeing the moment they feel free from some trauma or the moment they learn they are just as capable of having sex as anyone else." She gets a knot in her throat as she talks. "It's just overwhelming. What people are capable of is amazing."
After she had assisted several other patients, the therapist she worked with at the time introduced her to a man who'd been having problems getting and keeping an erection. They got to know each other. His name was David, and he needed an understanding partner who wouldn't rush him and wouldn't scold him if he couldn't perform. She liked him.
She really liked him. Something was wrong, actually. She told the therapist that it would be psychologically damaging to everyone involved if she continued seeing someone for whom she had such strong feelings. Patient and surrogate had a sitdown in the therapist's office. When David was told Marilyn would no longer be his surrogate, he asked her out on a date.
"I can't date one of my patients," she said.
"Why not?" he asked, pointing out that she already knew his darkest secret and didn't seem to mind. "And you just said I'm not your patient anymore."
Soon, David Yoblick didn't need a surrogate. Marilyn, his new girlfriend, knew just how to handle his little dilemma.
Volker's voice gets softer and quieter when she talks about the successes she's seen through surrogate partner therapy, like the resolution of the quadriplegic accident victim's problem.
"This young man still gets help eating and dressing and speech therapy," she says. "He gets taken to church and to the beach and different activities. And once a week, an escort comes who sits and watches a movie with him and they have something to eat, and she gives a massage with the manual sex. And he's able to ejaculate."
As for the merchant marine, he's doing OK too, she says. He's still looking for the right woman. And he's ready to connect with someone. "And who knows?" Volker says. "There are people into all sorts of what I call skanky smells."
Almost every day, as she's leaving her office, she gets a call from her favorite surrogate patient. After 30 years, she and David are still married. They see their children and grandchildren regularly.
David knows he's lucky to have found the perfect partner for him. When he tells people how they met, he says, "Thank God for my limp-dick problem."
Technically, since she is getting paid and occasionally has sex with her patients, Catherine could be charged with prostitution. The only state with explicit laws protecting therapists and surrogates is California. A police officer would have to be having a really bad day, though, to ignore the fact that this is clearly therapeutic, Volker says, and it's never happened in any of her cases.
But Dr. Walker of the American Board of Sexology says legal ambiguity is precisely the reason surrogate therapy might be in its last throes. "The controversy comes from the fact that prosecutors have decided that if you are hiring someone to have sex with someone, you are a panderer," he says. "Many clinicians, not wanting to put themselves at risk, have stopped using surrogates."
The decline has more do with technology and pharmaceutical advancements, says Volker, citing what she calls the "Viagrazation of America."
Catherine thinks it also has something to do with the emotionally draining nature of the work. Recently, she took a year off from being a surrogate. "It's rewarding, but it's also exhausting," she says. She calls the work "a roller coaster of feelings you have for and about these desperate people who need your help so badly." She knows how much of a man's identity is entwined with his sexuality, sometimes becoming an all-consuming plague on an otherwise tolerable life.
More than any other dysfunction, her patients are rapid ejaculators with anxiety issues. "I'm here to tell you, the Jewish mother is alive and well," Catherine says. "That overmothering, the control, the 'He's my son, and nobody's gonna take him away,' that has an effect on men. I see it."
One patient needed overstimulation to get aroused. He was a doctor who was able to have sex, but he needed to watch an adult movie to maintain an erection. "He needed women with unnaturally large, superenhanced breasts," Catherine says. "He couldn't get enough of anything. But he was also in his 40s, and he had never been in love. He wanted to know why he couldn't get into a serious relationship."
During an early session, Catherine was giving him a full-body, fully clothed massage. Going over his back, she pushed down below his shoulder blade, behind his lung — the same place her chiropractor had pressed on years earlier. The doctor began sobbing.
She spoke to him in a calm voice. "Stay with your feelings," she said. "Talk to me. Talk to me about what you're feeling."
He was inconsolable, she says, holding his arms over his ears as he cried. It turned out that, when he was 7, his family lived in an apartment building in New York. The building's janitor lived in the basement, where the boy would sometimes visit him. That spot on his back that Catherine touched during the massage was the same place where the janitor had put his hand when he raped him and ejaculated on his back.
Not long after the massage, the physician started seeing someone. For the first time in his life, he had what was at least the beginning of a serious relationship. He had his final session with Catherine and switched to exercises with his girlfriend. As the final session with Catherine ended, he leaned over to her and whispered, "Still, she's not you."
Many of Catherine's patients fall in love with her, just like Volker's surrogate patients fell in love with her at the time. It's only natural when you have an emotionally wounded individual and someone who's always ready to listen.
"I tell them, 'You don't see me first thing in the morning. You don't have to deal with me when I'm cranky or tired.' "
Catherine always holds a closing session in which she explains that she was there just to model a relationship and that they will do just fine without her. In 12 years, she has had about 30 patients. She's had intercourse with only three of them: two 40-plus virgins and one rapid ejaculator who couldn't last more than a few seconds during intercourse.
After a year off and a move from Fort Lauderdale to Boynton Beach, she's ready to start seeing clients again. She feels like her life is coming together for the first time in years.
She has a good relationship with her sons, the oldest of whom is a captain in the Navy. And yes, they do know what she does. She sat them all down in a room a few years ago and told them she had a great opportunity to help people as a surrogate.
"It's not about the sex. It's about the intimacy," she told them. If they had any questions, she added, all they had to do was ask. The topic has not been discussed since.
She's in a serious relationship now. Relationships are tricky for a surrogate. Before the current boyfriend, she'd had two serious boyfriends. When it came time to talk about her work, she gave them both the same careful, practiced talk about helping people with serious sexual dysfunction and feeling like she had a purpose in life. One ended the relationship immediately. "The other one said he was OK with it, but he basically didn't understand it and wasn't OK with it." They split up a month later.
After that, she didn't date for a while. "It was just easier," she says. "I fell into the same routine I'd always had in life: give and give and give and not get anything back." That's what she did when she was taking care of her younger sisters as a child.
But self-neglect has consequences. "If you don't date outside with this job, it will kill you," she says. So she set up an online dating account. On Yahoo! Personals, she met a man 15 years younger than she who hadn't been in a relationship for ten years. He told her he'd never been in love. On their first date, they ended up kissing in a booth at Bennigan's. This time, she had told him ahead of time in an email that she was a surrogate.
"He really is OK with it," she says. "He isn't jealous at all. He's more curious about it than anything else. He likes to hear stories about different patients I've had."
They just celebrated their one-year anniversary. When she works as a flight attendant now, Catherine has someone to pick her up and drop her off at the airport.
One night, she got to thinking about their age difference. "I know one of these days, you'll leave me for someone younger," she told him, a slight hint of bitterness in her otherwise sugary voice. Her eyes tear up and her voice flickers as she talks about the moment. She thinks about her life spent taking care of others.
"He held me by the hand," she says, "and looked me in the eye. He said, 'You're the first woman I've ever loved. I'll always take care of you.' "