Turning 50, memoirist Leslie Morgan sets out to have “five lovers for a year.”
The Naked Truth: A Memoir
By Leslie Morgan WG’92
Simon & Schuster
The Naked Truth reads like erotic fiction, complete with head-spinning descriptions of sex with a stream of (mostly) much younger men. Only Leslie Morgan WG’92 swears that every mesmerizing, salacious episode in her latest memoir—from the airport and yoga pickups to the electric reunion with an old high school flame—is true. Minus, of course, the identifying details.
Turning 50, Morgan had endured two thoroughly dispiriting marriages: to a physically violent man (the subject of her first memoir, Crazy Love) and an emotionally indifferent, sexually rejecting one. After splitting from her second husband, she was reluctant to seek out another long-term, committed relationship. “It scared the hell out of me,” she says.
Instead, after her latest “soul-crushing” marriage, she wanted sexual variety and sexual healing. “I came up with the idea of having five lovers for a year,” she writes.
Men, she decided, would be a pathway to self-acceptance. And if there were enough of them, she figured, she wouldn’t risk her heart. “I wanted a lot of men,” she explains in a phone interview, “and I wanted them to all be sort of lighthearted, and hot, and crazy about me, and interesting. I wanted them to not be able to hurt me at all. I wanted to approach them like a buffet, which I had never done before.”
In short, she wanted to date like a man. “How many older men, fresh off divorce, sought shallow sexual relationships with pretty, pliable, twentysomething women with impunity, with approbation, with a nod of understanding from our culture?” she writes. “Why couldn’t I do the same?”
But The Naked Truth, her page-turning chronicle of that interlude of dating dangerously, also reveals how hard it can be to escape disappointment and heartbreak. “Even when passion comes into our lives,” she writes, “it can slink away unexpectedly.”
The 54-year-old memoirist, who splits her time among New York, Washington, DC, and New Hampshire, is warm, articulate, and candid, with a quicksilver laugh. The author of four books, she’s also a prolific speaker, with TED Talks that have been viewed by more than four million people. By dint of lived experience, she has become an expert on domestic violence and, more recently, a dating coach.
“I can’t help you have a great long-term relationship, or pick somebody who’s going to make you happy over time, because I don’t know how to do those things,” she says. “But what I can do is help you meet a ton of men or women.”
After studying English at Harvard College, Morgan began her writing career at Seventeen magazine and became a freelance writer. But she quickly became frustrated with the poorly paid “pink-collar ghetto” of magazine publishing.
Her undergraduate job organizing Harvard Business School reunions had shown her the value of an MBA. “I just had a feeling it would be a great degree,” she says. “My abusive ex-husband also wanted to get an MBA, and he convinced me that it would be a fun thing to do together.”
Morgan reports that she “had a blast” at Wharton, “which is a remarkable thing to say, because I was being abused, and I left my husband at Wharton, and I still had a great time—because it was the first place I’d ever been in my life where it was okay to be a super-smart and highly competitive woman.”
In the midst of a recession, she received five job offers and went to work at Johnson & Johnson and later the Washington Post, where she was the general manager of the Sunday magazine. But “corporate America really let me down in terms of combining work and family,” she says. With three children, she needed more flexibility, and so she returned to writing.
Her first book—a 2006 collection of essays that she edited—Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families, sold well. She followed that up with Crazy Love in 2009 and, in 2013, a book on surrogacy, The Baby Chase.
But her Wharton education still came in handy. “The most important negotiation of my life was my divorce settlement from my second husband,” she says. “And my Wharton MBA and the power of women standing up for what they deserve stood me in very good stead. “
Her immediate impulse after splitting from her second husband was “never … to have sex with a guy again,” she says. “It wasn’t that I was bitter. I felt like I chose the two best men I could possibly find on the planet to marry, and both of them made me feel like marriage was a jail cell.”
But meeting a handsome 29-year-old man at an airport—after she accidentally spilled coffee on him—changed her outlook. “I shocked myself by pursuing him,” she says. He was separated from his wife but ambivalent about leaving her. After just one sexual encounter, he told Morgan he couldn’t see her again. “I was shocked by how devastated I was,” she recalls. That’s when she decided she needed to play a numbers game, bedding a series of men.
All that went out the window, however, when she reconnected with an old high school boyfriend, whom she calls Jake. She reproduces his romantic letters in the memoir word for word, with his permission. “He seduced me with his writing,” she says. She fell hard, even though “the only thing that worked between us was the sex.”
The daughter of an alcoholic mother and a mostly absent father, Morgan says that she missed various warning signs, including Jake’s hoarding behavior, alcoholism, and extreme possessiveness. “Growing up in an alcoholic house, you get really good at trying to make things look perfect on the outside,” Morgan explains. “You’re accustomed to things being bad behind closed doors.”
Writing a memoir, she says, was an exercise in therapeutic candor. “I believe that secrets and silence and shame are really crippling, particularly to women. In Crazy Love, I wanted to own that I was an abuse victim and say that I wasn’t ashamed of it.” Similarly, with The Naked Truth, she wanted to declare: “I am a woman who loves my body and loves sex and loves men, and I’m not going to hide that.”
The journey she details in the latest book was “the most exhilarating thing I’ve done in my life—to say, ‘I can go out there, and I can probably get any man I want, and I’m going to go do it.’”
The memoir gave her an excuse to contact the men again and revisit how much the relationships, however short-lived or abruptly severed, had meant. “I guess the bottom line,” Morgan says, “is that I don’t think there’s any such thing as casual sex. I think that sex always is connection—maybe unless you’re a prostitute or a john.”
The Naked Truth ends with an affirmation of the importance of self-love. But Morgan says: “I think the journey to self-love cannot be achieved on a diet of yoga and therapy and self-help books. I think you have to go out there and try relationships again and again and again. I learned from all of those men that I was beautiful and worthwhile. That was the door prize that I got to keep, long after they had left my bed or ghosted me or betrayed me.”
And in case you’re wondering, there will be a sequel. “The men just keep giving me unbelievable material,” says Morgan, adding, “I think it will be a little more of a cynical book than The Naked Truth.”
—Julia M. Klein