Missed connection

Last Saturday, I received an email from a prospective first-time client. 

He briefly introduced himself — his name, his age (30-something), his occupation (high school teacher). He mentioned he was in Hartford, CT for the night, visiting from another state. “It was my birthday yesterday so I treated myself to a weekend away,” he wrote. “Would love to meet up if you are available. Never done this before so you'll have to excuse my ignorance as to how this works. Hope to hear from you.”

He emailed me from his work account, which — sure enough — was a high school.

As opening emails go, this one was promising. Polite, articulate, and he used his real name and work email address.

Here comes the hard part, the stuff I hesitate to disclose.

I didn’t reply, choosing instead to let my email auto-reply do the work. He was in Hartford, about three an a half hours away from me. I travel to Hartford for longer engagements, but it’s difficult to arrange on short notice. I need to mentally and physically prepare for dates, after all. All indications pointed to this appointment falling through, logistically. I left the ball in his court. I never received a follow-up email from him.

On Monday, I received an urgent email from the headmaster at his school. He introduced himself as the man’s close friend and colleague. The man was missing and hadn’t shown up for work. Did I have any information that would point to his whereabouts? Not really, I replied. I copied and pasted his email to me — not something I would normally do, but this was an extraordinary situation, and this person (verifiably his boss) had access to his email anyway. 

Wednesday morning, as I awoke, something compelled me to Google the man’s name. 

I did, and the news stories confirmed what I already knew — he had been found dead in his car. 

I know what happened. He took his own life. What else could it be? 

***

Some missed connections haunt me. This one certainly will. 

What did this man feel when all he received from me was a boilerplate auto-reply? If I had said the right thing to him, could I have lightened his burden, nudged the universe toward a different outcome? “Hi, I don’t think I can meet with you, but you sound like a lovely person. Stick with your new job — I’m sure it’ll get easier”? 

These are ridiculous questions, of course. It’s unknowable. I didn’t reply to him because I didn’t know any better.

***

As companions, we are all about lightness, laughter and frivolity. And for damn good reason. That’s what the world needs, and what people want. People need a shelter from life’s storms; a shoulder to cry on; a receptive ear for their gripes, concerns, problems, despairs. A gentle and reassuring touch, or an electric one. A scintillating tryst, if only for an hour, where the outside world ceases to exist. The companion’s job is to be a beacon of light, encouragement, reassurance, and fun. No pressure, no expectations, just deliciousness.

It’s one of the most rewarding parts of this job — adding cheer, sexiness or intrigue to someone’s life, if only for an hour or an evening. It’s also challenging sometimes. It’s where professionalism comes in — checking my own worries and hang-ups at the door, becoming a catalyst for whatever experience the client wants and needs (even when he can’t articulate it).

It’s an act of generosity, too. We give ourselves to others. As a whole, the industry is grappling with the question of how generous companions should be. How generous should we be with our time? With a guy jockeying for our attention on social media, in DMs, in texts or in email? What do we owe people who we’ve never met in person, whose intentions are often unclear, who sometimes approach us in bad faith?

Against that backdrop, a question remains: Did I fail by not adding that bit of light to this man’s life when he needed it? Or simply opening the door, proactively, for a meeting? Maybe I could have simply said something back — something, anything. Maybe, maybe. Unknowable.

****

The paradox of being a companion is that while there’s a lot of focus on our physical appearance, the hot bodies and lacy lingerie are just window dressings, shiny wrapping paper for what’s underneath. 

The incredible physiques and pillowy lips pique interest, but they don’t keep it. We get booked for extended dates and build up devoted client bases by being kind and empathetic confidantes, careful and active listeners, and capable of creating an emotional experience — not simply a physical one. This isn’t true of every escort-client relationship, of course — sometimes, a no-strings-attached, one-hour tryst is just that. But sometimes, it becomes much more. 

I’m often struck by how emotionally raw my client relationships can get.

Over the course of an evening, or a month, or a year, clients open up to me. I give my clients permission to be messy, vulnerable, imperfect, self-centered.

I’ve noticed that, often, physical closeness becomes the catalyst for my client opening up. 

***

It’s no accident that many clients book me at times of transition in their lives — a new job, a promotion, a relationship starting or ending, a move to a new city. By definition, change is destabilizing, and that seismic destabilization is made worse when — as many men do — you put tremendous pressure on yourself to get everything right, transition seamlessly, easily find your social footing, and so on.

Job changes are perhaps the most disorienting of all, as many men (perhaps most men) wrap up their self-worth with their professional success. Move jobs and boom, you must excel from Day One. Never let them see you sweat. Don’t make any mistakes or ask any stupid questions. Make friends with the power brokers immediately. Don’t. Fuck. Up.

Ooooof, what an impossible task. It’s stressful, lonely and (I can say this from experience) can trigger intense sadness, loneliness and self-doubt — sometimes even imposter syndrome. “How the hell did I get this job? I’m horrible at it. Does everyone notice I’m struggling?”

Enter the professional companion — polished, buffed, self-assured, nonjudgemental, smiling broadly, with a cheerful glint in her eye — an avatar for Having All Your Shit Together (and she won’t tell anyone if you don’t). She’s a catalyst for the perfect date — whatever that means to you. A woman who will make you feel like a bazillion dollars — money you can’t take to the bank, but it will add a spring to your step as you go back to the office, or home, or anywhere.

We all need that sometimes, don’t we? Therapists are great, but they are sterile and clinical, not inclined to stroke our arm, take us to an amazing new restaurant, make a really dumb pun, charm the pants off of us — and simply listen, without offering advice, unless you ask for it.

And it’s a rare man who goes to therapy, anyway. 

***

One story of my life goes like this: I fail myself and others a lot of the time. And I will keep failing. 

Another story goes like this: I try, because that’s all I can do. I try to be a beacon of kindness, openness, empathy, and generosity, every day. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I try. It’s hard.

Yet another goes like this: I make choices, just like everyone. Some are right, some are wrong, and some just are.

***

If you feel you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It is a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1.800.273.TALK (8255).


Shae Ashbury