A Bootcamp Promises to “Heart Hack” the Sting of Breakups

With tantra teachers and the occasional spanking, a retreat in New York wants to heal the broken

Jeremy Bishop

“I fucking hate you, I’m blocking you on everything,” I text my ex. The silence lasted roughly two hours before the swinging pendulum of pleas regained its momentum—about the same time it took me to reach my home for the next three days: a boot camp, but for breakups.

Evidently, his rage was catalyzed by my participation in the ‘Renew’ retreat—a high-intensity approach to healing, combining “spirituality and science” to equip women with the tools to confront their last relationship, and ‘break up’ with bad habits. I had packed up my baggage from our relationship—complete with extra-irrational jealousy, diet digital affairs, and lite physical/emotional abuse—and was en route to emotional recovery in Hudson, NY. He envisioned it would bang the final nail in our connection’s coffin, and bury it six-feet under on the all-American estate, perhaps between the meditation studio and miniature horses.

His concerns were valid. Myself, and most of the women who had travelled across the country, arrived at the retreat looking for answers. Before I spoke on my (only) year-long relationship between sobs, the yoga teacher next to me explained she discovered her husband was a sugar daddy after 25 years (you can read her article about it). A millennial lawyer shared she arrived home to find her boyfriend of several years packing his bags, never to be seen again. Wounds, no matter their depth, still hurt regardless of the context.

At the helm was the fearless and often frenetic Amy Chan, a relationship expert and columnist who defines herself as a “heart hacker” —a convenient title to entice women ready for a quick fix. I was dubious. Chan’s approach appeared to me as psycho-babble for the Burning Man gen, but with just a glance at the women of various ages and ethnicities inhaling the expertise of the tantra teachers and tarot card readers, it was clear: Renew was the last resort. For 1,500-2,500 dollars a night we were about to learn how to fully address the pain within ourselves, our love interests and, as it turns out, our pussies..

“Now place your hand on your pussy, cradle her,” instructed polyamorous tantric practitioner Lauren. The woman next to me lightly sobbed as we writhed in cat/cow position, but the following 10-minutes of kegels seemed to calm her down. After each weighing in on our current sexual states, we were encouraged to relinquish our vibrators (goodbye quick convenience!) and go back to basics—manually stimulating our clitori to the point where we, like Lauren, could have rolling orgasms for minutes on end.
For 1,500-2,500 dollars a night we were about to learn how to fully address the pain within ourselves, our love interests and, as it turns out, our pussies.
The following day I walked to breakfast refreshed and full of newly-harnessed sexual energy...where I was greeted by a reprimanding Amy Chan. A digital-free zone, we were required to surrender our phones, rebelliously checked only when the day was done. The previous night I had shared with my roommates the 21 missed calls from my ex-boyfriend and the smorgasbord of “answer me?!”s and “you’re so immature”s. One had expressed concern to Amy, who instructed me to turn off my phone until the retreat’s end. Narcs.

In my relationship, I convinced myself that love was difficult and the good times justified the bad. Think Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” lyric: “You can tell me when it’s over / if the high was worth the pain.” In a later session, Amy explained the dopamine that follows being treated badly. Many cannot understand why a person goes back to their abuser, but the rush that accompanies the sun coming out—from “fuck you slut” to “baby I didn’t mean it, I can’t live without you”—is far more potent than a perpetually clear forecast of “I love you” every day. You might have heard people described as “addicted to drama,” now you know why.

“Losing love is painful, but love isn’t pain,” became my mantra for the weekend—something we were told to individually generate to dispel a long-held misconception about relationships. There were many other 101 behavioral theories broached to indicate where we were going wrong. Emotions were temporary, but could be extended if we fed them (the key food groups being sad music, days in bed), and our childhoods could determine our attachment style as adults (to simplify: secure attachment—unfazed when ghosted; anxious attachment—spiraling when ghosted; avoidant attachment—the one doing the ghosting). One woman left suddenly halfway through the weekend, citing work commitments.

Throughout our 17-hour Saturday, there were only several practices that really resonated. The psychological analysis made sense, the hypnotism (meditating to find our inner child) kind of worked. I really tried to relate to my tarot reading and relished the opportunity to burn a letter to my ex, but I wasn’t sure if I really was healing, evolving, obliterating the habits that kept me going back. Then I got dommed.
It’s just like they say: never underestimate the restorative power of a good motor-boating.
Dressed in full sweats, a soft-spoken dominatrix, Domina Colette, removed her clothes piece by piece, revealing as she went her ongoing body dysmorphia and the trials of her open relationship. Finally, standing masked before us in black lingerie and stilettos, she called for a volunteer, to which I eventually responded. “Close your eyes,” Colette commanded, “get on your knees.” She took off her bra to rub my face in her breasts, pulling my hair and telling me to suck her fingers. Which I did, in front of 20 sober women, at 11 a.m.

While the scene probably resembled foreplay in amateur lesbian porn, I was surprised by the sensitivity of the session. The atmosphere was so tender, so unconditionally open that it felt almost maternal. Every other class felt like a fight to connect to, with the coaches’ perky approach attempting to target the new-age hippies, pain micro-managers and chronically anxious among us. The self-work each preached had brought them professional success and/or the love of their lives—Amy claims she gets “whatever she wants” via manifestation—and while you may not want to be served by a skinny cook, this was, at times, a grating experience for a heap of heartbroken women. Then again, thousands of dollars down and miles away from our daily lives, the participants might have just been desperate enough to believe in anything. Nevertheless, at the weekend’s conclusion, this was the freest any of us had felt. It’s just like they say: never underestimate the restorative power of a good motor-boating.

“Will I ever see you again?” chimed my Instagram DMs as I boarded the 4.30 p.m. train to the city. Here it was. I was confronted with the question I’d been avoiding: In returning to real life, had a breakup boot camp provided me what I need to move on? Was I fixed? Maybe, maybe not, but in the past 56 hours, for the first time in 12 months, I had pivoted to put myself first. Now if I fall off the wagon—with the help of various teachings, readings and even spankings—I might have instilled in myself the strength to get back on. Will I ever see him again? Time will tell…but for now, silence.

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