Las Vegas may hold the title of Sin City, but for our money, NYC beats out that glitzy strip in the desert any day of the week. Drugs, food, booze, basically anything that sparks overindulging—we have it, in spades. Which is why we decided to take different writers from this adult amusement park—a chronic self-pleasurer, a shopaholic, a social media addict and a cocktail fiend—to see how long they could go without indulging in their (let’s be real, pretty innocuous) bad habits. In effect, we’re recreating “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld. Because seriously, what’s the deal with vices? [Canned laughter.]
Photographs by David Williams
When it comes to self-love, there’s a widely held belief that women can hold out longer than men because we don’t “need” it as much. In fact, during “The Contest,” the assumption is that Elaine will win by lasting the longest because she has a vagina. She loses. Because guess what: Women like orgasms.
I masturbate every day, sometimes twice. I started doing it at this frequency two years ago, when the pressure at an old job would leave me tossing and turning at all hours of the night, wide awake, and it seemed to be the only thing to help my mind to quiet down. There’s something in the New Yorker manual that says we are required to carry more stress than everyone else, so finding relief requires a method of survival. While some of you pop Ativan like Skittles or SoulCycle your way to a comatose-like level of Zen, I lie on my back, vibrating my way to sanity.
Masturbation isn’t a vice, per se, but just like those times when you give up alcohol for a month to make sure you are not, in fact, an alcoholic, I want to see if it’s something I can pull off. So I stash away the vibrator (goodbye, friend!) to see how long I can last.
The first night is a piece of cake. I go out drinking at a couple of holiday parties, and by the time I return home, I’m too tired to get it up, so to speak. But the universe—that bastard—is ready the second night to see just how serious I am. Around midnight, my phone sounds a single buzz, signaling a WhatsApp notification. That could only come from one person: a long-distance whatever-you-want-to-call-him Canadian I’d met in Mexico. He’s one of those men you can only meet while on vacation, like someone Nicholas Sparks dreamed up, a bad-boy Ken doll with intense blue eyes, a body cut from marble, tattoos and a motorcycle. I open the message. His “I can’t believe those are real” abs reach all the way to my vagina’s ears (vaginas have ears, you guys!), and I almost can’t help myself. My screen reveals a photo of his penis giving me its best “come hither” stare (penises have eyes, you guys!), so I turn off my phone to prevent further temptation and pop half a sleeping pill.
Night three. Tucked into bed, phone safely in the other room, I’m minding my own business in sleepytown when Hot Guy from the Gym decides to make an appearance for an episode of “dream sex from behind.” What’s a woman to do in dreamland except sit back and enjoy? Which Dream Meagan happily does, much to the dismay of Actual Meagan, who is on a mission. My skin tingles, blood flows to all necessary areas, and it becomes abundantly apparent that an orgasm is going to happen. About 40 percent of women achieve nocturnal emission—think wet dreams for girls—at least once, and I do it often. I wake up. “Fuck it,” I mutter, reaching for that old friend in my nightstand drawer and taking matters into my own hands for 30 seconds of glitter, rainbows and stars shooting out of my eyes. (That’s what happens when I orgasm. Be jealous.)
As I drift back to sleep, I wait for that guilty feeling we all get when we slip back into bad habits—that same feeling I get when I sneak a cigarette. But all I feel is satisfaction and relief. There are some things we are meant to give up. Rubbing one out on the reg, at least for me, should never be one of them.
Quit for: 2 days, 14 hours
I’m not a contrary person by nature, but tell me I can’t shop, and I (apparently) really, really want to. So let’s cut to the chase: I failed spectacularly at this challenge.
The compulsive-shopping gene was passed down from my grandmother, who bestowed it on my aunt and mother, who in turn gifted it to me. If you’re not similarly afflicted, you won’t get it, but the urge to shop is like a drug—and like a drug, the highs are less acute and sustained the longer the addict is at it (which makes us go looking for more, bigger, badder drugs). I typically get excited about something I see online (an Isabel Marant dress, a Mansur Gavriel bag), and without much thinking about whether I need it or how much money is in my checking account (currently not much), I buy it. As I await my purchase, the high droops. By the time the package arrives, I’m already over whatever it is I’ve bought and plotting the next thing I want. Shopping gives me a sense that there is potential in the world, that a new Rachel Comey top or Nars lip gloss could quite possibly change my life. Deep down I know they won’t, but I keep trying. Only, I’ve lost control (too many clothes, too much money spent) and need to stop.
The first night of my challenge is…rough. Lying in bed, flitting around the usual suspects (Farfetch, Bird, Net-a-Porter), I tell myself I’m just looking (hi, masochism) and even go so far as putting something—a Helmut Lang biker jacket exactly like one I already own—in my cart. “You don’t need that,” I say to myself, then slam the laptop shut and force myself to go to sleep. Success! I know that by morning, I’ll barely even remember that jacket.
But the next day in Urban Outfitters, a store that doesn’t really tempt me (I’m 39), as I purchase an instant camera for my niece, the embers of my addiction are stoked. By the time I leave, I’m so keyed up that when I walk past Barneys, I don’t stand a chance. Rather than abate my sickness, the time away (one whole day!) has made me more feverish—and careless—than ever. I start pulling things off the racks willy-nilly, barely paying attention to price tags, and defeated (or euphoric?), I know that my sickness has won. In the fitting room, I negotiate an exorbitant dress that I sort of like onto my body and know I have to have it—yet it doesn’t even look that great—and have it I do, along with a leather top I only like a little.
So I fail, because I never really wanted to succeed. (You can’t force an addict to change until she’s ready, after all.) The dress and leather top don’t change my life—or at least they haven’t yet—but I’m still holding out hope that they could. In the meantime, I at least have a pretty kick-ass wardrobe.
Quit for: 1 day
I’m a comedian, and something about the psychological impulses that drove me to be a comedian (insecurity, daddy issues, a face shaped like a LEGO head) also make social media incredibly addictive for me. When I post something funny and it gets a “like,” the emotional effect is the same as a laugh for me (even if its intention is more, Awww, isn’t it cute that she’s trying?). I find it helpful to try out jokes on Twitter before bringing them onstage. But perhaps most important, social media lets me see how well other comedians are doing and pushes me to get off my ass and make something.
Oh, about that: Going through Facebook is the most time-efficient way for me to minimize my own successes while blowing up others’ to heroic proportions. Wow, I might think, this person has a web video going viral, and she was just cast as the funny best friend in a TRESemmé commercial? I bet she never feels sad anymore! That envy is propulsive. I’d be lying if I said that seeing other people do well didn’t inspire me to work harder on my own stuff—but it’s also sad and hollow. Constantly updating and checking in on others is like calcium—it strengthens your bones, but it’s toxic in large doses.
Even though Facebook isn’t technically my home page, in practice, every time I open a browser, I start typing “f-a-c” in the address bar without even thinking. I easily visit the site 10 times a day—and that’s just Facebook. I also regularly use Twitter (which I go on maybe twice a day), Pinterest (four times a week for long stretches of time, during which I convince myself that I can make candles) and Instagram (just a couple of times a month, because I’m not Gigi Hadid, so who cares, right?).
Withdrawal comes quick and hard. During the time of my technological hiatus, some movie called Star Wars: The Force Awakens is released. I see it opening night, as do a lot of my nerdy comic friends. They get to talk about it excitedly over social media. I don’t. I resort to emailing one of the people from the group the next day. “Desperately need to talk about Star Wars,” I type. “Can you CC people [who saw it last night]? This is indulgent, I realize, but I’m desperate to make my opinions about Adam Driver’s excellent performance known.” Note the two uses of the word desperate. I’m missing the party.
At work, I discretely read emails from Twitter telling me about the most popular tweets of the day (not cheating). They feel like messages in a bottle from a more connected world. But there are good moments off the grid, too. I have long, blissful periods of not caring about other people (read: total strangers). But other times, I just feel isolated, even as I do more in-person socializing than ever.
When I rejoin Facebook, it’s an immediate relief. However, something weird happens: I post a lot less. Something about Facebook feels glib and superficial: a time suck with no real value, a popularity contest with no prize. I can see the loneliness behind every post a little more clearly. But, eh, I’m sure it will wear off.
Quit for: 6 days, 14 hours *WINNER*
Here’s the first thing I learn: They don’t tell you how many times you’ll have to say no. Unlike other habits, drinking is hard to escape even in the most banal of everyday settings—alcohol is offered at just about every social engagement, restaurants and even the office, and it sits above my fridge at home. So when I commit to cutting hooch altogether, I know I’m in for a struggle.
To be clear, I’m not in the business of self-medicating with alcohol, nor am I the type to drink myself to the point of blacking out (well, usually). By day and more so by night, I’m the magazine’s resident drink guy. My job description involves writing our weekly booze reviews and covering the latest bar openings—so getting properly sloshed is, for me, an occupational hazard as much as a way to let loose. And after you’ve acquired a taste for the most finely crafted cocktails in NYC, it’s hard to remember a time when life was dry and sober. Still, it seems like a stellar opportunity to give my body a little break and enter 2016 with clear eyes. Before cutting out the hard stuff, similar to a runner carb-loading for a marathon, I savor cocktail after cocktail like each one’s my last (because, well, they are) and go to bed snug as a bug in my booze blanket.
At work the next day, I fight off a mild hangover with Starbucks and Gatorade, thinking to myself, Well, at least I won’t have to deal with that anymore. I plan to attend a press preview for a restaurant that evening—the invitation says there’ll be drinks (goddamn tempting press invites), but I’m not worried. I have this on lockdown. While my friend and I are sitting at a table, though, the waiter asks me three times if I want something besides water. Like, throw me a bone here, bro. You wouldn’t offer a piece of cake to someone clearly eating a salad, would you? I politely decline, eyeing my companion’s cup with quiet envy.
On Friday, things are a little less polite since I—like, I assume, everyone else—enjoy the weekly ritual of getting hammered at the local tavern as a sort of spirited middle finger to a week in the office. So I opt to skip happy hour and head straight home—out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong. My friends decide to bring the party to me. (Screw you guys.) They show up at my door with a six-pack, some OJ and tequila, and the stated goal of “getting drunk and watching Star Wars.” I begrudgingly go to the theater as the only sober member of the group, feeling like a Jedi without a lightsaber.
It all comes to an end when a friend arrives from out of town. Being the grade-A host that I am, I announce that enough is enough—we’re going to drink at dinner and at the club. It’s admittedly a convenient reason to end my modern-day Prohibition, since I’d really been feeling like I could use a drink. While the challenge proves that I could give up the habit if I need to, having that first sip again reminds me of the power of a good pour. My verdict? This is one vice I don’t mind living with.
Quit for: 4 days, 18 hours