Leslie Morgan has been through two harrowing marriages.
At age 23, she married a Wall Street trader named Conor, who started physically abusing her five days before their wedding. He beat her up during their honeymoon, and isolated her from her family and friends throughout their marriage. After four years of attacks, she divorced him. He's the subject of her memoir "Crazy Love."
Then she married Marty, who seemed to be the opposite of Conor. But he ended up cheating on her and being emotionally neglectful. After 20 years together, she divorced him.
"One of the things that was really hard for me in both marriages is that I loved both men so much. And at the end of each marriage, for separate reasons, I felt like I was in prison and had to get out," she tells Press Play. "And I think that a lot of people, women in particular, feel that way and don't know what to do about it."
Morgan says her marriage with Marty looked good from the outside, and it took her years to decide to end it. "It was a slow realization… that I couldn't be with somebody who really disliked me so much, and didn't want to be sexually intimate with me, and wanted to just pretend to the outside world that everything was fine."
She says she sees a slow death in many marriages, and the first reason is because women are encouraged to lose themselves by trying to be the perfect wife and perfect mother. "When I lost my marriage, I also realized that I had lost myself, and that was part of my unhappiness," she says.
Morgan observes the second reason: "Our society does not teach men how to nurture women and nurture relationships. And my observation is that men's view of relationships are really about getting their needs met, whether it's sex, or cooking, or keeping a nice house, or societal status of having a certain kind of wife. It's all about them. And so not surprisingly, I think that a lot of women who are married to men like that are not happy over time."
Starting over in an unusual way
At age 49, Morgan needed to feel better about herself and her body. So she hatched a plan: find five lovers in a single year and have fun -- no commitments. Morgan wanted to act like a stereotypical man and get away with it. She writes about it in her new memoir "The Naked Truth."
The book shows readers that sexuality and rediscovery are possible at any age, and that sometimes divorce is a stepping stone toward that. "That's what The Naked Truth is really about: is rediscovering how great it feels to be in your own skin, no matter how wrinkled that skin might be," she says.
In her year of adventure, Morgan found herself dating younger men, and two were 20 years younger.
She contends that she wasn't simply using them for sex. "It was all really straightforward and consensual... I wanted men to make me feel beautiful, and cherished, and feminine, and wise, and yes sexual again. Every one of those men made me feel special and valuable in a way that unfortunately marriage had not in a very long time."
The physical intimacy helped her change her negative view of her body. She recalls a moment when Dylan, a man in his 20s, was stroking her stomach, cellulite and all. He told her she was sexy. "All of a sudden, I thought oh my God, I can see myself through men's eyes, not through a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model idea of perfection. And even long after that man left, I still tried to hold onto that. I still do today, to look at my body the way men do."
She adds that research shows men have a positive body dysmorphia, whereas women have a negative one. Women see all their flaws, whereas men see what's positive.
Out of all the younger men Morgan dated, she fell in love with her old high school boyfriend Jake.
Her therapist told her to watch out: the first time someone falls in love following a divorce, they invest so much in the relationship because they want it to be everything their marriage wasn't.
"That's what I did. I overinvested. And I missed so many red flags about him," she admits.
Despite being heartbroken and crying more over him than any other time in her life, Morgan says Jake gave her hope that she could love again, and she has no regrets about that relationship.
Other women's judgment
Morgan was afraid of sharing "the gory details" of her year with married friends because she didn't know what they would think. Only her best friend KC knew.
She recalls one moment: "There was a woman who I knew vaguely, and she said to me, 'Oh I saw you the other night walking down the street with your boyfriend.' And I just looked at her, I said, 'Which one?'... She just looked at me like she was appalled and shocked. And I got that a lot from women."
Forget Prince Charming -- be happy solo
Since the book's release, many women have asked Morgan if she's still single.
"What they're really after is that the only legitimate fairytale ending for a woman in our society is to find a great guy, to get married, and live happily ever after. And we don't offer women a lot of other choices," she says. "So I'm here to say that after all of my adventures, I am single. I'm joyfully single."
Morgan says there is no Prince Charming, and the mythology of that is destructive to women and unfair to men. However, she believes many women still believe a perfect man exists. The reality, she says, is much more nuanced, and women can be happy as single.
"I think that is one reason why so many people are staying in these dead marriages -- is because they're still clinging to this idea that it's the only way to be happy. I think men can be wonderful healers, as well as destroyers."
Morgan’s currently collecting material for her sequel, and "the adventures continue."
--Written and produced by Amy Ta