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May 2023 Issue [Letter from the Celebrity Beyond]

I Really Didn’t Want to Go

On the Goop cruise
Gwyneth Paltrow Goop Cruise

Photo illustrations by Nicolás Ortega
Source photograph of Gwyneth Paltrow ©RB/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

[Letter from the Celebrity Beyond]

I Really Didn’t Want to Go

On the Goop cruise

They told me they couldn’t offer me an interview with her at this time. Fine by me—I didn’t want to talk to her anyway. She talks a lot and doesn’t say much. A Financial Times profile published on the occasion of her fiftieth birthday suggested we have her to thank for spirulina, celebrity skin care lines, the good divorce, blended families, sex positivity, and dry skin brushing (just what it sounds like). I’ve also heard she made yoga happen. This is all obviously ridiculous, flatly ahistorical, except maybe the celebrity skin care line thing, but that doesn’t matter—even if someone thinks she’s done more harm than good, and that a lot of it is an upscale scam, they will comment, wearily, pragmatically, just a little bit enviously, that you have to respect it, don’t you, what she’s done. She has successfully integrated her imperial wellness company into American life. Memories of a time when gut health wasn’t something you discussed at parties are distant. Moms are microdosing. Vulnerability reigns. The countervailing spirit of resistance to quackery and “fake news” that characterized the Trump era is over, and eggs made of jade that you’re supposed to put in your vagina are still for sale. Everybody knows about the vagina eggs. The elderly know about them. People from Belgium know about them. What comes next, epochally, is still unclear. In the meantime, she has been, for some reason, partnering with a cruise line.

Last summer, I got an email from my editor asking, sneakily, among the how are you’s, “Have you ever thought about writing on wellness??” She was looking for someone to go on “the Goop cruise.” Like most female writers, I had thought about writing on wellness, mainly in terms of the free stuff I could get to do so. And for name recognition and potential hate-read appeal, a Goop assignment is the ne plus ultra of wellness writing. I don’t know anyone who uses the Goop skin care products, much less reads the graphomaniacal website or attends the “In Goop Health” summits, but I had a hunch that the products, the actual Goop, were nice.

The email sat smiling, evil, in my inbox, certain of its power. It didn’t care how uninteresting I thought the phenomenon was. It didn’t care that I’d already done my time at a feminist website, escaped, and moved on. Our genre was calling, and it knew I’d pick up, because I’m addicted to my phone. Bizarre anecdotes would be collected, holistic therapies undertaken, details of my personal life “shared.” Ideally I would cry. As a woman, I cry frequently, so as a feminist I have a duty to destigmatize it by doing so in public—that’s the prevailing philosophy. The first thing everyone wanted to know was whether my vagina would be involved. “Sorry too far I’m sure you won’t be putting jade eggs in your vagina,” a friend wrote me. “On a moving boat.”

I was in the right emotional state for a nine-day (yes) wellness cruise from Barcelona to Rome. This is precisely why I really, really did not want to go. I’d spent the summer engaging in polyamory and doing unanticipated quantities of drugs, and everyone agreed I needed to get away from my two boyfriends, who were providing me with an endless supply of suffering and stimulants and totally distracting me from my book deadline, soon to be missed. “You seem like you’re healing from the wounds of being a bitter person,” Boyfriend 1 told me. “You’re worrying about your relationship to avoid working on your book,” Boyfriend 2 said. They were both projecting, but also not wrong. In the meantime I had finally, after years of threatening to do so, genuinely taken up smoking—to spend more time with Boyfriend 1—and was aware that I would now one day have to quit. An all-expenses-paid regimen of special smoothies and fake meditation practices, a further but professionally justifiable distraction from my book, was theoretically welcome, particularly as the weather got colder and the romantic turmoil increased. Nine days seemed to me a basically infinite amount of time to be away, exposing my delicate mood to the elements. I already worried enough about the intervals between text messages.

The first indication that something was off came when I attempted to purchase my ticket. It’s too easy to buy things these days—I recently saw a man pay for a coffee with his watch—but there was apparently only one page on the internet that featured the instructions for booking a cabin on the Celebrity Beyond departure out of Barcelona on September 24, and then, once you had done this, for “adding on” the Goop at Sea package. A sense that I was being tricked could not be shaken. There were supposedly limited places available.

Then, another red flag: it wasn’t expensive enough. Cruise pricing fluctuates like airline pricing, I learned from the cruise blogs, which I also consulted to strategize cabin placement (away from the elevators but in the middle, to feel less movement), and there are several cost tiers; the fanciest suites on the Beyond, six of which are two stories and equipped with their own private Jacuzzis, located in an area called the Retreat accessible only by key card and containing a special restaurant called Luminae, start at seven thousand dollars and can go much, much higher. It’s hard to imagine a Goop gal choosing to do this instead of an actual retreat, in a stationary location; the latter implies refinement, the absence of the cram-it-all-in whirlwind vacationer’s need, while booking a ten-thousand-dollar apartment on a cruise ship suggests you don’t know how to spend your money. When I booked the tickets a month before we set sail, the cheapest cabin, without a window, was $999; in the weeks that passed between my being told to book the tickets and booking them, they had gotten cheaper. Of course, not much is included in the price of my ticket—drinks, Wi-Fi, fancy coffee, and dining in the Beyond’s “specialty restaurants” are all extra, though you can buy various packages that cover some or all of this. The Goop at Sea add-on was $750, which, again, didn’t seem like enough to realize the fantasies conjured by the phrase “Goop cruise”: like a normal cruise, but lavishly pseudoscientific, sprinkled with “superpowders” and bathed in infrared light.

On embarkation day, which is what they call it, there was still no Goop programming visible in the sort-of-required Celebrity app, though the regular cruise offerings—footprint and posture analysis, silent disco, general knowledge trivia, “fun dance class”—tempted. The promotional materials for the add-on had been worryingly vague: three workshops, a “special on-shore excursion at one of the incredible cities we’ll be visiting,” a “live conversation” with hers truly, and “more pop-up activities, gift bags, and of course a few surprises along the way.” That one did not really know what exactly one was paying $750 for was as much a statement about the strength of the brand as it was an indication that the brand did not really care about this partnership. The promised appearance of the woman herself was titillating, but I would believe it when I saw it; a prior partnership between Goop and Celebrity in 2021 had not even bothered to promise this, and inspired an article called goop threw a cruise, and no goopies came. I had no faith there would be any Goop stuff going on at all until I got an email as I was preparing to leave my hotel room in Barcelona asking if I’d like to be added to the Goop at Sea media WhatsApp group.

The story of Goop, as we’d say in the business, is a story about the media, which for years responded slavishly to the company’s “provocations”—such as the “yoni” eggs ($55 or $66) and a candle called “This Smells Like My Vagina” ($75)—which were always, in the founder’s words, “about dismantling systems and injustices and stuff like that,” not “what can we do to get headlines and shock people?” I believe this, actually—the part about the intention, not the part about how overpriced vagina products can dismantle injustices—but the feedback loop is nevertheless tediously vicious. In 2018, a New York Times Magazine profile titled how goops haters made gwyneth paltrows company worth $250 million featured the subject screaming “VAGINA! VAGINA! VAGINA!” at a Harvard Business School class to explain how the “cultural firestorms” that erupted every time her site was attacked for particularly bogus health advice only attracted more monetizable “eyeballs.” This anecdote has been incorporated into nearly every subsequent story about the company; the Goop episode of the popular podcast Maintenance Phase, which debunks “the junk science behind health fads, wellness scams, and nonsensical nutritional advice,” included a mea culpa from the hosts for participating in the same attention-seeking cycle they were criticizing. As of 2019, the company was valued at $390 million, and today it consists of, inter alia, a clothing line, a skin care line, a cookware line, a multifarious e-commerce platform, an editorial platform, a podcast, two Netflix series, the “In Goop Health” wellness summits, a book imprint at Penguin Random House, a “healthy takeout” service consisting of three different menus based in three locations in the LA area, and the vaginal gimmicks. To advertise it all, quite frequently but not always, just on the border of creepily so, they make use of their best, most recognizable asset, who has 8.3 million followers on Instagram.

A survey of the country codes in the journalist WhatsApp group revealed two British people, one Irish person, a whopping three Australians, and one other American, plus Jade and Tenneal, a chipper, bottle-blond PR duo who are British and Australian, respectively. I live in Germany and was operating stealth (+49) for the time being.

Cruises should be illegal. In the weeks before I set sail, the FT published a feature story about the American cruise industry’s destruction of Europe through overtourism and pollution. Barcelona, which hosted more than two million cruise passengers in 2019, was ranked the most polluted port in Europe in a report published that same year. Despite the daily presence of annoying tourists clogging port cities’ winding streets, a study found that up to 40 percent of cruise passengers traveling through Bergen, Norway, never left the ship; half of those who did spent less than twenty-five dollars. “They’re not really modes of transport,” one expert told the FT. “They’re just very carbon-intensive hotels.”

I love Europe. I do not want to participate in its destruction. I want to support its economy by filling it with money from American magazines and publishing houses—by being American in a sophisticated, worldly way. I arrived at the Port of Barcelona wearing loose-fitting black clothes and looking unimpressible so that people wouldn’t mistake me for a cruiser but rather recognize me as someone on the side of truth and beauty, someone who prefers to travel unobtrusively, guided by taste in art and literature. On day eight, I intended to see some Caravaggios in Sicily as an act of resistance. Looking up at the Beyond, which with a double occupancy capacity of 3,260 is defined as a megaship, I felt a slight but real nausea. These things kill fragile marine life. They can emit the carbon of twelve thousand cars. It is incredibly tacky. According to the Celebrity website, it is the “most luxurious vessel in the Celebrity fleet,” and Simone Biles is its godmother. Nearby, a group of pretty girls, also not typical cruisers, but not because they were on the side of truth and beauty, assembled as I smoked my final cigarette on land. They looked well—like it was their job to look well. I imagined that one of them noticed I didn’t belong there.

The first thing on the agenda for the WhatsApp group was a tour of the boat, though whenever we called it a boat Tenneal jokingly performed irritation that her boss was going to hear us. We went around the circle introducing ourselves: Charlie Gowans-Eglinton (GBR, freelance, on assignment for the Times of London); Jodie Dunworth (GBR, Red), plus her partner Andrew; Irene Tsolakas (AUS, Stellar); Valentina Todoroska (AUS, POPSUGAR Australia), plus her partner Ray; Marianne (AUS, would establish only that she was “freelance” and writes “one book per year”); and Mary Bemis (USA,, plus her partner Stephen Kiesling. Later we would be joined by Triona McCarthy (IRL, Irish Independent), known since the Nineties as “Party McCarthy,” who wore consistently eye-catching attire, plus her friend Mary. There was a moment of Harper’s Bazaar confusion. “Wasn’t it Harper’s that published that big cruise piece?” Charlie asked; she had just reread it in preparation.

I responded in a hushed, protective tone, paranoid that someone would either understand I was there for a hit job or, worse, register me as competition and seek to stymie my efforts. To journalists, a “cruise piece”—in addition to being a free vacation you’re paid to express all your darkest thoughts about—is a career achievement; it carries associations with the great cruise piece of 1996, “Shipping Out,” better known as “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” indeed also published in this swanky East Coast magazine. To be able to unite the cruise piece with wellness writing in a single essay promised a glory and quantity of free stuff that would hearken to the heyday of print magazines, back when things mattered. What’s more, during the yearslong squabble over which of us lady writers would become the next Joan Didion, no one had tried to claim the title of David Foster Wallace for girls; his reputation as both a misogynist and an author beloved by misogynists meant it was just sitting right there this whole time, waiting for anyone with grammatical flexibility and the courage to try. A reread confirmed my suspicions: it’s not that good. But it is, fatedly, about a cruise on the same cruise line. All I’d have to do was avoid footnotes, which would be too obvious, and getting sensitive about the evils of advertising, a moment that has long passed. (We call it branding or marketing now.) The point, remember, is not to imitate DFW, but to occupy his place—in a female way. “A supposedly moisturizing thing you’ll never do again,” suggested a friend. “A supposedly fun egg I’ll never put in my vagina again,” proposed another. “A supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again, because I’m dead,” Boyfriend 1 supplied. I would not be putting any jade eggs in my vagina, both because of my Didion-esque self-respect and because, after Goop settled a lawsuit concerning “unsubstantiated claims” made about the medical benefits of the yoni eggs in 2018, I assumed they had stopped selling them. Anyway, I am getting paid about 50 percent more than DFW was, even adjusting for inflation, which is a win for us girls.

I needn’t have worried about saboteurs. Andrew asked me at one point whether I was “allowed to say negative things,” and when I said it was encouraged, the others expressed relief and excitement, even once pointing out that behind an open door there was a control panel of some sort that I might investigate. Celebrity paid for, ahem, advertising in a couple of their publications.

My guy Dave already covered what a regular cruise is like, as well as what Celebrity Cruises are all about, so I consider myself liberated from having to do this, as well as from having to do boy stuff like include a bunch of technical details about the boat and how it works, lust after sexy crew members, and shoot skeet. The only masculine piece of info DFW omits is the definition of a knot, which he could never “get clear on.” I suspect this is one of the less famous lies he tells in this essay, a lie on behalf of his Midwestern relatability complex rather than on the construction of narrative and character, because it’s not that hard to understand what a knot is, even without Google. What’s a little bit confusing is that when you say knot you’re expressing speed, not distance; when we say miles (or kilometers) per hour, we are expressing two units of measurement. The knot combines them. One knot equals one nautical mile per hour, and a nautical mile is slightly longer than a regular mile, because it equals one minute of latitude, which is used in sea, air, and space travel to take the earth’s curvature into account. The term comes from the seventeenth century, when sailors measured speed by dropping a triangular piece of wood attached to a rope with evenly spaced knots tied in it into the water; they let the rope unspool for a little while, after which they pulled in the line and counted the number of knots that had fallen in. There are some cool things measured in knots; my favorite is VMG, or velocity made good, which refers to a boat’s progress toward a destination, acknowledging that it’s not always possible to sail directly where you want to go.

Of course, free stuff was gotten. I received the GOOPGLOW Flower Acids Resurfacing Toner, which smells not bad but very weird ($45); the GOOPGLOW Microderm Instant Glow Exfoliator ($125); the GOOPGENES All-in-One Nourishing Eye Cream ($55); two moisturizers (GOOPGLOW Glow Lotion, $58, and GOOPGENES All-in-One Nourishing Face Cream, $98); the GOOPGENES Clean Nourishing Lip Balm ($20); the GOOPGENES All-in-One Super Nutrient Face Oil ($98), which Margot Tenenbaum claimed on Instagram “completely changed” her skin; a chambray (fancy denim) baseball hat with goop embroidered on it; a Goop at Sea notebook and pen, both made out of an incredibly slippery type of cardboard that in the case of the pen actually prevents you from using it; a very sturdy canvas-and-wicker tote bag, with nautical rope handles, embroidered with goop at sea and celebrityxcruises; an inexplicably ugly Celebrity Cruises apron that they let us keep after an unnecessary cooking demonstration during which we were served carrot margaritas (pretty good!); a pair of white slide sandals with two of the worst words in the English language, goop vibes, printed on the top; a sweatband with g. on it; and an Ostrichpillow 3D-ergonomic Eye Mask ($45), which I gave to Boyfriend 2 because he is an independent devotee of many of the tips and tricks Goop promotes—the least dubitable being sleeping with an eye mask, which he advocates vociferously—only to discover months later that he felt so attached to his (crappy!) Amazon eye mask that he never even opened this gift, which he happily said I could have back when I asked him to tell me the brand name for the purpose of fact-checking this article. I was excited about this small recompense until hours later, when he wrote me again to say actually he’d now tried on the eye mask and “It’s just a marvelous sleep mask it lets you blink and remain in total darkness, the ‘eye cups’ are genius” so he would like to keep it after all. Goop makes a cleanser—the traditional first step of the skin care routine, without which a pile of free skin care products would be obviously deficient—but I was given instead a Purifying Cleansing Gel ($55) by a “holistic skin care” brand called Tammy Fender, which is sold on Unless otherwise indicated, all these things were as nice as expected, though I would not use the tote bag.

Each Goop at Sea guest was also given an allotment of special smoothies, one per day ($6 × 9), collectible by showing the Goop sticker on your key card at the Spa Café and Juice Bar on deck 15 at particular hours, which would have been annoying if I had come on this free vacation expecting to be able to do things at my leisure. I also stole a bathrobe from the spa and received a bottle of Veuve Clicquot compliments of Celebrity that I did not drink the entirety of because my trip was not comped by the cruise line, so I could not bring a plus-one gratis as others did, though in a heroic display of old-school print journalism largesse Harper’s did spring for a room with a “veranda” ($3,239), which you can’t smoke on, and will reimburse me for Celebrity’s WiFi at Sea, which ended up costing, I kid you not, $490 to connect one device. When I learned of the plus-ones I became wistful, remembering the half-joking discussions I’d had with the boys about the possibility of one coming with. The insurmountable expense was a relief, because it would have caused a conflict, of which there were already a few; we had been, uh, all sort of dating each other. When ensconced in the quixotic realm of alternate futures we were all able to agree that Boyfriend 1, who is gay and values irony, would have been the obvious choice to join, though in reality by the time I was on the boat I’d made one of the only real mistakes I’ve ever made in my love life (so far!) by melodramatically and somewhat suddenly asking him (Boyfriend 1) not to speak to me for an undefined while, thus implicitly disbanding what was unfortunately known as the throuple, to Boyfriend 2’s poorly disguised relief. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is close to the opposite of the outcome I wanted. Without succumbing entirely to the seductions of analogy, you could say the situation with Boyfriend 2, who is, to quickly summarize, perfect, was not dissimilar from the idyllic free vacation that I was being paid to go on, in that despite all appeals to logic, emotional and physical health, and the opportunity to in one fell assignment produce a swashbuckling masterpiece of magazine journalism, conquer the sexist genre of wellness writing, and unite irony and sincerity once and for all, I would have preferred to be in Berlin smoking cigarettes. After about a week of not speaking, just before I was due to fly to BCN, I apologized to Boyfriend 1, profusely yet elegantly, without sacrificing the core points of my discontent, and began the process of ambiguous reconciliation, to Boyfriend 2’s undisguised chagrin followed by falsely equanimous acceptance. Point is: throuple OVER; relations between me and Boyfriend 1 entirely unclear; relations between me and Boyfriend 2 superficially normal. It would have been uncomfortable for us to share a little boat cabin, even with the scarily efficient bathroom ventilation system (see DFW) and extra space provided by the veranda.

The first full day on the boat began with a morning “movement session” hosted by Isaac Boots, a Broadway dancer turned choreographer turned celebrity trainer turned “fitness philanthropist” who began teaching his Torch’d workout on Instagram during the pandemic. Preliminary investigation suggested that the workout was a little homemade but popular with skinny older women who live in the Hamptons, which is exactly who you should follow for exercise advice. In the Rooftop Garden the sun was shining, the water was full of citrus, and Torch’d-branded exercise mats were laid out in rows. Everyone seemed fairly normal—clean, peppy, average age of let’s say fifty-three, percentage white let’s say ninety-two, with varying degrees of facial work. The most interesting thing was how few there were. Goop later confirmed that there were “43 ticketed guests,” plus the journalists. A not insignificant portion of Goop at Sea affiliates, then, were media, even if you don’t count the additional journalists and influencers who revealed themselves throughout the trip. “They wanted to keep it small and intimate,” Tenneal told us, and we didn’t believe her.

Goop employees in branded T-shirts loitered complacently, speaking only if spoken to, in high-school tones. Isaac’s husband, Jeffrey, a tall, shiny-haired ballet dancer turned consultant, demonstrated the exercises, as he often does, and their black poodle, Davis (after Bette), roamed free, delightfully. Set to canny musical choices—Madonna and Megan Thee Stallion—the routine was pretty much just Eighties aerobics, but nevertheless not easy. In every fitness class, from spin to barre, HIIT to yoga, the instructor must make some penetrating comment about how it’s actually the core working in whatever movement they’re demonstrating, as if it’s some revelation that the middle of the body controls everything. “Abs are a cage,” Boyfriend 2 would often offer during moments of body-dysmorphic distress.

Isaac skipped around in his Prada Cloudbusts, encouraging us, and harassing the lone man who “thought it was yoga!” At some point he slapped Triona’s ass, in a motivating way, which they somehow captured for Instagram. But profound boredom roiled beneath the surface of his campy energy. Jeffrey, in direct sunlight, seemed to be teetering on the brink of doubt, his forehead sweaty, real pain discernible in his Canadian eyes. “I know, right,” Isaac said to the crowd. “Imagine being married to me!” On Instagram, where they also met, they seem to be really in love. The poodle lay behind Jeffrey during an ab portion, preventing his movements, to the laughter and relief of the participants. When the dog trotted past me I was shocked to find he didn’t smell great. Later, Boyfriend 1 would envy the poodle’s omnipresent little Prada backpack—this throuple has some kind of deal with Prada, the details of which, like Davis’s passport and the rest of their paperwork, are worked out by Jeffrey—but I reassured him that the techno-sport iteration of the label had been done to death, and this was proof.

After the class, everyone was happy; no one was going to shoot their husbands. As I tried to subtly abandon my complimentary Torch’d exercise mat, I heard an American accent. “You guys wanna go get smoothies?” the small, good-looking man said. “We get a Goop smoothie.” We all wanted this; there is no other way to follow a Goop exercise class except with a Goop smoothie. The man, Eugene, told me unprompted that the pendant on his necklace was a ketamine molecule; he organizes ketamine retreats in upstate New York. I said I sort of did ketamine retreats on the weekends in Berlin, a joke I then had to explain. With the artificial patience of the often drugged he responded in earnest: the ketamine retreats are in a controlled setting, involving blankets and eye masks. He used the phrase “on point” repeatedly. We hugged and he gave me his card: psychedelic medicine retreat/ketamine-assisted therapy. He was not wearing a shirt. En route to the Spa Café he pointed out a crew member polishing a large golden egg with a Swiffer.

The Goop detox smoothie contains coconut water, kale, mango, mint, celery, parsley, chia seeds, and spirulina, ranges in color from spirulina to kale, and tastes like a smoothie. Once Ketamine Eugene had defected to his friends, the journalists informed me that he was the plus-one of Ellen Vora, the “holistic psychiatrist” slated to give a workshop and, on day six, conduct the live conversation. We all found this perplexing, as Ellen seemed aggressively wholesome, with bright eyes and adorable auricular protrusion, but made our judgments quietly. As our smoothies were hastily delivered to the large group who stressfully requested them all at once, we made tasting notes—this one was mint-forward—and discussed our plans for the day in Marseille. Mine was to eat lunch and look at the water; on port days there was never really enough time to do much because you had to be back before the all-aboard, usually 5 or 6 pm, or the ship would leave without you, and you would be responsible for arranging transportation to the next location. In each issue of The Celebrity Daily, the three-page schedule memo that despite the app was printed out and left in our cabins every night, the distance between that day’s port and the next was listed threateningly after this warning. Someone asked Jade and Tenneal if people ever missed the boat.

“Oh yeah,” Tenneal replied, enthusiastically. “There are YouTube videos! The port charges you for overstaying, and then you have to go faster and use more fuel to get to the next destination, and there are sustainability targets they need to hit.” We contemplated these targets to the sounds of industrial blenders and an indoor Jacuzzi. The inhabitants of Marseille dress on theme, in nautical shades of blue. The mussels were great.

Two days later there was a group session led by Jennifer Freed, a “psychological astrologer,” who I believe has no soul. I was already weary of the Goop smoothie, the thought of which made me feel bloated, and this in turn made me depressed—I had been, somewhat pathetically, enthused about the free smoothies, and now I was forced to acknowledge that not even they would help me mark the passage of time. I arrived one minute late and was shamed for it—“the journalist is late!”—though “the people with the dog!” arrived later and were welcomed joyously.

According to Jenn, who is in her sixties and fond of airy floral blouses, “if regular astrology is about interpreting the chart and making predictions based on the chart, psychological astrology is about a therapeutic conversation about your chart, and the patterns and opportunities in that chart, and how to up-level them into divine possibilities.” Many Goop-affiliated “practitioners,” following a blond example, often see themselves as renegades, rebels, or “weirdos,” working outside the mainstream and gazing approvingly at, if not actually existing on, what they like to think of as the cutting edge. Jenn says star client has a similar stellar setup to her own; Jenn’s “chart is the rebel,” she told me later. “Conformity does not breed new ideas and we’re both, you know, definitely non-conformist,” she added. “Especially for a woman in her high profile. I care about her deeply. And I think all the time: no one would have contempt for a luxury brand man. They just wouldn’t. Because she’s a businesswoman. And she’s attractive. And she’s radical. She cannot catch a break.” This is funny.

Jenn told me she’s booked out a year in advance and doesn’t really take new clients. Through her non-profit, AHA!, in Santa Barbara, she works with “the poorest of the poor” and otherwise is “going to charge a lot of money and it’s going to be really high-profile celebrity business people.” Still, the problems clients bring to her are universal. “Everyone comes for the same reasons: love, money, health, purpose.” I replied that my problems mainly had to do with my love life, which I happily outlined, along with my astrological situation. “I did that,” she replied when I mentioned the gay boyfriend. (If you are a woman dating a gay man, or embarking on a toxic throuple, you will find that neither situation is that uncommon.) “This guy was the most gorgeous guy . . . we did all kinds of stuff, but I didn’t sleep with him, and it was right then that we found out about AIDS? He died of AIDS.”

Journalist dinner that night was at Blu, the restaurant exclusive to AquaClass guests, a pricing tier that has something to do with Goop in a vague but important way. Already the journalists had many suggestions for how to make the Goop cruise more Goopy, and I sensed, because I felt it too, that we would have preferred more Goop programming not only because it would have provided us with better material but also because the food and overall “experience” would have been more to our taste. We are all snobs, with palates trained by globalization and, in the case of my fashion- and beauty-journalist compatriots, dangerous proximity to luxury. (The opportunity for tax-free shopping was not missed.) A Goop pop-up where one could get smoothies and salads on demand was proposed, as was a “clean eating” menu. Why were there no sound baths? We should have been drowning in sound baths. We should have been able to book private consultations with the astrologer, or at least an astrologer, and had the option to get Torch’d every day. And given that Goop began, as the legend goes, as a travel newsletter in 2008, why were there no Goop restaurant and activity recommendations? The programming did not befit a person who knows what adaptogens are. (This would be a great place for a footnote but my hands are tied.)

At Blu, I didn’t drink, and the waiters were suspicious. Because of this one evening of abstention I developed a reputation among the journalists, a subset of whom were getting pretty hammered nightly on the comped booze, for having a moderate and healthy relationship to substances, the brick of cigarettes (57 count) Boyfriend 2 gifted me notwithstanding. Part of the issue was that at around 9:30 pm every night I began to find the situation unbearably boring and would experience my typical stress response, sleepiness verging on narcolepsy, and go to bed. As the sommelier eyed my empty wine glass like it was a bomb, I asked Jade “how Celebrity sees their collaboration with Goop.” She said she thought it was about increasing brand visibility; Celebrity is not as famous as Royal Caribbean or Carnival Cruises, according to her. (Royal Caribbean is Celebrity’s sister company, but whatever.) The company wants to distinguish itself by having non-cruise entities involved; several times we were told that some of the designers and architects who worked on the ship’s restaurants had never done a cruise project before. Another representative for Celebrity later added, helpfully, “the Goop partnership was an organic fit for Celebrity, as our clientele gravitates towards wellness and well-being.”

This is much more straightforward than what Goop is getting out of the partnership with Celebrity. The hypothesis, unconfirmed, is that the collab is a half-hearted attempt at generating brand awareness among the Midwestern and Floridian disposable incomes that might become a route to expansion. In August, ABC announced that Apple’s mom would be a guest judge on the new season of Shark Tank, another indication of a grab for the masses. “The Goop person is curious, open-minded, a learner, a seeker and supporter of beauty and connection,” Goop’s senior communications director told me. “We saw a lot of those traits reflected in the group on the sailing. As a group, they were adventurous, fun-loving, willing to share and get vulnerable with one another—and prompt, which we love. They are invited to any event we do, any time.”

To frame the Goop at Sea passenger as a kind of interloper who must be welcomed to spend her money at other Goop events—well, it supports the idea that Goop doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

As dinner progressed, we all started to feel a bit non-specifically odd in the limbs. It was hard to focus. “Is the boat, like, really moving?” I asked Tenneal. Yes, yes, it was. Tenneal and Jade had the jovial security of having experienced much worse at sea without perspective-altering contemplation of mortality. I, however, did not like it. It wasn’t motion sickness, exactly, but it did drive home the neurological foundation of motion sickness. I used the weirdness of the sensation as an excuse to escape.

The next day we were set to dock at Livorno, near Florence, and go on a seven-hour exclusive Goop excursion “through the picturesque Tuscan countryside on [our] way to a traditional family-owned farmhouse,” where we would “embark on a truffle hunt, and enjoy a homemade Italian lunch and local wines.” At 3:45 am I awoke to the sound of the walls creaking and the hangers tinkling in the closet. The boat was not rocking, but bouncing. Occasionally there was what I would prefer not to have to describe as a jolt. Since the passage had been heretofore smooth sailing, I began to freak out. A supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again, because I’m dead, I thought, over and over. One occasionally wants to die, to be extracted unresisting from existence and its relentless demands . . . but not like this!

At 8 am the weary but resolutely paced ESL of Captain Dimitrios Kafetzis rang out over the boat’s PA system. Previous announcements had played in the hallways and other public areas, but not in the cabin directly. That the bodiless voice of Captain Kafetzis was now coming to me live from above my proprietary Cashmere mattress indicated the obvious seriousness of what had happened in the night. We may have noticed, Captain Kafetzis began, that we were not at port at Livorno, as planned, but instead on our own little odyssey. This was good, because the weather close to shore was, we may have also noticed, quite bad; it was too dangerous to dock. We would have to find an alternate port for tomorrow, because, I imagine, we did not have the fuel (or the customer service wherewithal) to cruise around the Mediterranean for a full three days without stopping. Our new trajectory would hopefully be relayed to us at midday. “Thank you for having your attention,” Captain Kafetzis concluded. “I’d say to enjoy your day at sea, but it’s a bit rough. The winds are between forty and fifty knots, and the seas are at fifteen feet.”

I began sending my text messages. “The irresistibility of [nature’s] power certainly makes us, considered as natural beings, recognize our physical powerlessness,” Boyfriend 2 responded, quoting Kant,

but at the same time it reveals a capacity for judging ourselves as independent of nature and a superiority over nature . . . whereby the humanity in our person remains undemeaned even though the human being must submit to that dominion. (§28, 261–262)

you feel that nature can destroy you (if you were swept out there), but also you are safely enscon[c]ed in reason (the ship built by people) so

(he never left Königsberg what could he know of storms at sea)

I liked him so much, yet it was all wrong. I did not write to Boyfriend 1 because he had not responded to a drunk voice memo I’d sent him two days before, and I needed to seem unconcerned, having done this, after all, to myself. Utterly torturous. This is water.

By noon our new trajectory was outlined—we’d dock at Civitavecchia, about an hour from Rome, the next day. Imminent threat to life assuaged, there was only one thing on everyone’s mind: Would she still show up? She was scheduled to speak the following day. Surely it was just as easy for a luminous celebrity to helicopter into Rome as into Florence? Perhaps even easier? Jade and Tenneal were hesitantly optimistic; the Goop girls made no mention of the very pretty elephant in the room, but sent us updates: “To roll with Mercury in Retrograde, we’re adding something fun to the Goop at Sea schedule today,” read a WhatsApp message. “Our psychological astrologer, Jennifer Freed, is going to be doing impromptu group tarot sessions for us.” We were also gifted $250 in ship credit to replace the irreplaceable truffles. Free stuff, c’est moi.

Among the journalists, there was a sense of claustrophobic mania, of being on the brink, even before the profound disappointment of the tarot session. In the conference room, Jenn, in Sherpa slippers, promised us she did not want to be a cult leader, and began the session with an overview of the astrological situation vis-à-vis the unexpected stuck-at-sea situation. (Neptune played a role.) Then we all went around the circle—not a small group—and drew cards. We were encouraged to meditate on our cards silently. Then everyone was given a chance to raise their hand, describe the image on their card, say what they thought it meant, and have a little chat with Jenn about a problem in their lives and how they thought it related to what they thought their card meant. True to her word, Jenn offered little in terms of leadership. Two women cried.

Afterward, bereft from lack of professional guidance, I googled my card. Seven of swords—not good!

The next morning, in the least cool of the three smoking areas, a couple from Essex, experienced cruisers, claimed they’d seen her in the coolest smoking area earlier that day. Though I knew skepticism was my only friend, my heart rate rose. It was unlikely, but possible. Ros and Jonathan had just rewatched The Talented Mr. Ripley, so they were sure they could recognize her. People would confidently tell me that she smoked one cigarette a day, week, or year, depending on which interview they’d read. And this was a special occasion—two days after her fiftieth birthday, which, according to an erroneous Daily Mail article, was going to be celebrated both in Santa Margherita and on this very boat. Ros demonstrated an impressive knowledge of Goop scandals; she’d tried to buy a vagina candle for her daughter, as a joke, but they were sold out. I thanked them for the intel and hightailed it out of there. She could be among us, anywhere—maybe even doing a key bump!

In my room, I had messages: the talk was on, and would take place at 1:30 pm—meaning that anyone who wanted to see her would need to skip a day in Italy, having lost one already to the Kantian sublime. This seemed like a hard sell, but when I posed it to Tenneal, with her many little ear piercings, she eagerly assured me the turnout would be high. “It’s Gwyneth,” she said. “That’s who they’re all here for!”

I don’t think this was actually true. The audience was full, but of people who probably have more opportunities to see Rome than to hear a genuine celebrity conduct a live conversation. Up to that point, no one had seemed waywardly obsessed, though they all showed up on time. The Goop employees dressed up, in Goop denim shirts; they did not, as a rule, mingle. I found the media group at the front left, tittering. A Coldplay song—“My Universe,” a collaboration with BTS—came on. An interesting choice, but there is also a vibrator famously for sale on called “Viva la Vulva,” an obvious reference to the 2008 Coldplay album Viva la Vida. (This is the good divorce: a confusing metaphor.) Several rows behind me, sitting next to Isaac and Jeffrey, was the Real Housewife Lisa Rinna, one of Isaac’s clients and friends, in her Prada bucket hat, gigantic lips very shiny. I pretended to be the subject of a photo for Irene and Andrew so they could get a shot of her.

We spotted a blond woman near the entrance but quickly realized her hair wasn’t nice enough.

At 1:40 pm she appeared—on the upper level of the restaurant, preparing to take her walk down to the stage. “Is it gonna be rude to take her picture?” whispered a woman behind me. No—the emptiness of the conversation about to take place made it clear that that was the entire point. She was wearing a gray suit and white high-tops, the ubiquitous stacked gold necklaces and bracelets that gesture toward interestingness among women in and aspiring to the upper classes, and a very sparkly watch. She spoke in a night-before rasp and warned us that she was going to be “extra sexy today.” Usually she sounds like a smart young protagonist from the Eighties; her voice is even, gentle, a little adenoidal, almost cute, without any of the fry she’d have developed and been harassed for if she were younger. She’d taken a Xanax on the flight over. It was her fiftieth birthday two days ago, she reminded us, fake exasperated. Her hair—not that nice, actually, with some frizz—was tucked into the suit jacket in a style that magazines and fashion blogs identified as popular and “French” circa 2014. Her best friend from childhood was there in the audience, just in front of us, already crying. When she asked her from the stage, clearly touched but also a bit surprised, why, her friend replied that the scene was amazing to see. “You all”—that’s us—“are just everything that gives her work meaning.” On closer inspection the suit was heathered, laying suspiciously, and the pants had not a hem but a jogger-style cuff. I whispered frantically to other members of the media group for confirmation: yes, it was a sweat suit.

Her interlocutor, Ellen Vora, meanwhile, was beaming in a floor-length floral dress with puffy sleeves. It was G. Label by Goop. Ellen introduced herself and noted that those who had been in her seminar yesterday—my session would be the following day—would recognize some of the material. Indeed, pretty much all the material, because the structure of this talk was not to focus on the woman we were all there for, but on Ellen and her expertise.

GP, who, in her career as an actress, now mostly in the past, has played Emma Woodhouse, Estella Havisham, Sylvia Plath, and the fictional lover of Shakespeare, donned her large glasses and asked about Ellen’s journey to her current career as an “integrative psychiatrist, acupuncturist, and yoga teacher” with a “functional-medicine approach to mental health.” Ellen had a crisis as a medical student at Columbia. “My health—can we curse?—my health was a fucking mess,” Ellen said. “I couldn’t poop to save my life, I wasn’t getting my period, and I was getting gaslit by tons of gynecologists.” Now her patients find her “for a very weird approach to psychiatry.”

“How much work is there to do in terms of culturally creating a psychological language or set of vocabulary words?” GP asked next. We’re socialized to ignore or even fear bad feelings, she added. Throughout, she was taking swigs from a glass Evian bottle filled with green juice.

“We are due for a cultural rebrand around crying,” Ellen said, which is “free therapy.”

“I love that,” GP replied, deeply.

A favored tactic of the self-identified iconoclast is to argue that things that have already happened need, still, to happen. In the two Goop Netflix series, people cry. They cry while on mushrooms, while being penetrated by sexological body workers, while having orgasms, while contemplating jumping in freezing water, while having their energy fields manipulated, while receiving psychic readings. The writer of goop threw a cruise, and no goopies came cried. The writer of how goops haters made gwyneth paltrows company worth $250 million cried. They are not being exploited or manipulated, exactly, though that’s the obvious argument. “These women want to cry,” a bewildered audience member said after the talk.

This isn’t new, or recently popularized by the star of Shallow Hal, a role she says she took for the money and now regrets. On television, on the news, on TikTok, in videos explaining YouTube beauty influencer controversies, in writing, in politics, people are constantly, persistently crying. There is a mental health crisis in the United States, to be sure, but that is not why all these women—and it’s mostly women—are crying, or why “vulnerability” has become a buzzword. The ease with which public weeping has been incorporated into an understanding of a healthy psyche, and a feminist politics, is not actually about crying, which can easily be done privately, among close friends and trusted advisers. For both the crier and the audience, it’s about the public: confirmation that it’s working, whatever it is. Crying implies a loss of control, but when it’s discussed as a positive behavior it’s also often paired with “willingness”; to lose control in this controlled setting, you must first give it up. But to be vulnerable doesn’t only mean letting one’s guard down; it also means being exposed to possible harm. Why would someone who’s trying to sell you something, whether vibes or a vibrator, want you to do that?

We’ve seen her cry, like really cry, once: in 1999, when she won an Oscar. She stutters, she hiccups, she literally chokes up. It starts in earnest when she begins to thank her family, but from the moment Jack Nicholson announces her name she is not in control. It’s amazing to watch; I haven’t seen a celebrity act so normal in a long time, though they often perform normalcy for laughs. People still make fun of her for this, and for the pink princess gown she wore, though it’s no longer acceptable to mock a woman crying, particularly when you learn that her father had been diagnosed with aggressive cancer; the career that came afterward, the way she’s promoted all these stupid and sometimes downright medically irresponsible ideas about how to live, seems to justify grandmothering her in. She has said the whole thing—the crying, the taunting, the weeks of embarrassment—is part of what led her slowly to consciously uncouple from her acting career, though she was pretty funny playing a caricature of herself in the 2019 Netflix show The Politician, which Ryan Murphy created with her second husband. In it, she runs for governor of California on a platform of secession and Marianne Williamson–style spirituality.

The question with wacky celebrities like this is always: Do they know what they’re doing? She does, that recent self-parody said to me. It would be a little too easy to suggest that being mocked for publicly crying—she was crying in part because she was so in public—eventually led her to start a company that profits from women publicly crying. In the interim she has done so much deservedly mockable stuff. The thing is, she didn’t have to. She used to be kind of cool—in possession of a youthful elegance, free, stylish, just a little droll, a good actress, who brought quiet verve to the complex roles and self-awareness to the dumb ones. When she dated Brad Pitt there was a period when they had the same haircut. I would have liked her for the Oscar speech.

Next she broached the topic of anxiety, the subject of Ellen’s recent book. “My daughter has anxiety,” GP said. “I know so many anxious people.”

Ellen contends that there is a difference between “false anxiety” and “true anxiety.” False anxiety is not “fake,” per se, and she doesn’t mean to dismiss it, but it is avoidable, and should be avoided, because it can “cloud our understanding of the truth.” To determine whether your anxiety is false, you should ask yourself—and, I’m sorry, I’m paraphrasing—are you actually anxious, or are you just hungry or sleepy? She speaks as if trying and failing to connect with high-school students from California and is “not here to throw shade at glutamate,” which is a neurotransmitter. Ellen strongly recommends buying blue-light-blocking glasses and a squatty potty.

True anxiety, by contrast, is “our inner compass” telling us to “slow down, get still, pay attention.” It sometimes has something to do with trauma. She didn’t really go into it.

GP said that she doesn’t “have anxiety” but “can tip into overwhelm and stress.” Here is when I felt it all made sense. She is never distracted by a tangle of unspooled implications; she has the placid focus of someone who does not really suffer. We of the truth and beauty contingent would like to think such people don’t exist, that the fact of being human necessitates some kind of suffering, but I think the safer bet is that there must be people who manage to skate along the surface. Stress when you’re overworked, grief when your parent dies, nothing inexplicable, nothing too scary. It helps to be rich, surely, the coddled child of a famous actress and a television producer, the goddaughter of Steven Spielberg, but of course many rich people suffer. Just not, maybe, her.

More was discussed, GP slugging from the Evian bottle: chemical imbalances, medication for mental illness, eating “from a place of radical self-love,” psychedelics. During the Q&A, a painter from the Hamptons who was often spotted walking around in her smock, raised her hand: “How do we feel about masturbation?” Ellen said she encourages her patients to develop a “self-pleasure practice.” In wellness everything you do is a practice; you must layer practices on practices in hopes of attaining an equilibrium of perpetual maintenance. Lest this sound a bit unsexy, you should keep in mind you’re also doing it to form a “connection with the sacred and the divine.”

After, according to Charlie’s article, fifty-one minutes, GP stood up, waved like a homecoming queen, blew a kiss, and jogged up the stairs. Even hungover, she was buoyant, apparently guided not by any kind of calculation or strategy but by a long, steady process of alignment, to use a yoga metaphor, of public image and private life. It’s true what they say, and what her somewhat alarmingly easygoing style as an interview subject implies: she doesn’t seem to care what people think, or intend to impress. An actress cannot really be anyone in public. A businesswoman, though, with an empire that moves her best friend to tears, with her boring clothes and her happy family—everyone will say, regardless of the details, you have to respect it, don’t you, what she’s done.

Once the coast was clear, Charlie and I approached the stage, tentatively at first, and then shamelessly, to inspect the Evian bottle. From the remaining juice we determined that it must not be dissimilar in composition to the Goop smoothies we were drinking. It was, however, darker, more nefarious.

“If I were a hardcore groupie I’d be devastated,” Diana, a curator from the Pacific Northwest whom I met on the first night, said as I was on my way out.

“I thought it would be more interviewing the other way around,” agreed Melita, a Croatian woman who lives in Toronto. She was there because she saw it in the Goop newsletter. She nevertheless appreciated that GP’s face was “not pumped.”

“She’s a little pumped,” someone piped in. I was eager to get off the fucking boat before the Italian lunch hour ended and it was impossible to find anything to eat. I did not succeed, and ate a gelato and a piece of cold pizza from what appeared to be a chain, though I was able to find someone to operate an automatic cigarette machine for me using her EU ID. I actually don’t think she’s pumped.

Sitting in bed one day, I don’t know which, maybe a little too cold from the air conditioning, maybe listening to the waves outside my open window, I read an article called how to slow down time in the Wellness section of I have never wanted to slow down time, and certainly not on the boat, where every morning the muesli was in a different place and I had to stumble around, seafaringly, to find it. I find time unbelievably long, parceled into brief periods of excitement and longer stretches of anticipation and dread. Many things ameliorate the feeling of endurance that I associate with living—men, art, food, drugs, smoking, looking at the ocean—but they don’t ever really make it go away. I can understand why someone might want to divide her time into “practices” that she can plan in advance and execute on the instruction of an expert guide. I can understand why people want to have frequent tearful epiphanies that fundamentally alter their perspective, inaugurating a new phase. The article notes that “focusing on time slows it down,” which is correct.

Before I skip to the end, which is one of the great things writing allows you to do, I have to mention one more thing. During Ellen Vora’s anxiety workshop, a couple asked whether she had any idea what to do about their teenage son, who suffered from anxiety, depression, tinnitus, and self-harm. Ellen, latching onto the tinnitus, a “tricky pickle,” suggested it might be due to effects from the “hot lava, do-not-go-there topic”: the COVID vaccine. The couple responded immediately: “He really didn’t want to get it.” Ellen suggested they might try following the “detox protocols” known as “Kill Bind Sweat” that could be found on the Instagram account of someone called In our interview later, Ellen told me she regretted doing this “in front of journalists!” and said she wasn’t an anti-vaxxer. I pointed out that tinnitus is often thought to be caused by stress. Surely, I posed, treating their son’s anxiety and depression would be more likely to help alleviate the tinnitus than going through some elaborate “antimicrobial” program hawked by a woman who has a blog post on her website called why i willingly surrendered my hard-earned medical license in california? This blog post is illustrated with a photo of the former doctor wearing a clown nose and wig. Ellen did not give me a very good answer to this, I’m sorry to say. “I felt like I was going to do them a disservice to not at least bring that out as a line of inquiry,” she said. In 2018, “we’re just asking questions” was the defense Goop made in the New York Times after their short-lived magazine with Condé Nast closed, in part because Goop wouldn’t agree to fact-checking. It’s possible that undergoing a medically unsubstantiated but physically traumatic experience will make the patient feel like it’s working, and that sense of agency, of having done something, will help the anxiety and depression, with no lasting side effects that create more anxiety and depression. But probably not.

On the night before the last one, we “gathered” at the Sunset Bar for one final send-off. As appletinis circulated, the mood was charged. What was going on? I’d spent the day looking at the Caravaggios in Messina and had missed a major development. A couple of civilians eagerly filled me in: an undercover journalist had published a report about the cruise—about us!—in the Daily Mail. I handed someone my drink and pulled it up on my phone. “All aboard the Goop ship! When Gwyneth Paltrow announced she would be celebrating her 50th on a cruise with her disciples, jan moir was up the gangplank like a shot. But nine days and more than £1,500 later, our writer’s feeling far from well . . .” The crowd was comparing notes: Had anyone even seen this traitorous Jan Moir? One woman, one of the few Goop at Sea civilians I’d describe as young, insisted she knew exactly who she was, and made several DFW-esque comments about the journalist’s physique to prove it.

The Caravaggios I saw were late works, two of his best, especially (in my view) The Adoration of the Shepherds. I don’t believe a profound experience of art must result in weeping. It can be like a swoon. The black, the red. You feel high. You want to share it with someone you love. Having caved on texting Boyfriend 1 after several days, I sent photos to both the boys, separately. At the time I was unaware that the artist was depicted as a member of a toxic throuple with Tilda Swinton in Derek Jarman’s 1986 film Caravaggio. “He came to Messina at the end of his career and got a lot of followers,” I wrote to Boyfriend 1. “I’m sure it’s not the end of your career,” he replied.

The next day we docked in Naples, where I planned to meet a friend and eat pizza, hot this time, which we accomplished long before the all-aboard at 5 pm. At around 6:30 pm, I was saying goodbye to the Pelotons when I noticed that we were only just then leaving port, pretty late. A WhatsApp notification appeared on my phone. “Tenneal 8 members of the Goop group missed the boat the captain said he would wait but we have left. . . . ” Marianne wrote to the media group. “Oops.”

Another one. “Thanks for flagging Marianne, the ship team were in contact with them and waited for over an hour,” Tenneal wrote. “Unfortunately nothing else we could do. We’re making all the necessary arrangements now.”

When I found the journalists at dinner later, they were delirious. “Did you see what happened?” Irene said. “They missed the boat! We were like, where’s Lauren? You have to talk to Marianne!” It was, they knew, the perfect ending for my article.

According to Marianne, who was in contact with the SS Minnow but not on the fateful trip, what happened was this: After taking the ferry from Naples to Capri, a motley crew of eight, including Ellen Vora, Ketamine Eugene, and Diana, had hired a private boat to take them around the island for around $1,500. They did this apparently without considering that the tour itself was five hours long and that once it was over they would have to get an additional hour-long ferry back to Naples. When they realized their incredible hubris, they contacted the ship and mounted a complicated plan to take them to the port of Naples—but it was too late. The ship pulled away just as the gang was running toward it, so I’m told, like in one of those YouTube videos. (By other accounts they were still in the taxi when they watched the ship pull away.) Because the trip ended the next day, they wouldn’t be allowed to reboard; they had to have their bags packed for them. “No one’s happy about it,” Tenneal said dryly.

The next morning, as we all disembarked and waited for cars to the Rome airport, one of the journalists’ partners emerged from the port laughing. He’d seen Ellen and Eugene, frantically sorting through their luggage on the floor. We wondered if the feeling of missing your cruise ship and having to rush 170 nautical miles to be reunited with your passport counted as false or true anxiety. I really do not know.

The list of meanings offers for the seven of swords is:

Deceit, lies, trickery, cheating, theft, underhanded, scheming, dangerous/risky behavior, enemy masquerading as friend, spying, lack of conscience, strategy, resourceful, flexible, escaping detection, getting away with it, adaptable, courage, daring, sharp wit, mental manipulation, cunning, overly rational.

My first thought, when I read it, was a hopeful one—another journalist was going to betray me! No. Obviously not. The important thing about this card is that it does not establish who is engaging in deceitful trickery. “It could be you,” Jenn told me, as if I didn’t know. I knew; he knew; everyone knew. “Do you miss him?” a friend asked on one of those infinite days. Romantically scheming, overly rational, I was holding on to Boyfriend 2, but I did not, could not, make myself care. He reminded me of my failures with Boyfriend 1, about whom I had not stopped caring.

I needed to throw Boyfriend 2 back into the sea. It was pretty awful. The night before, we saw Triangle of Sadness. I’m not making this up. The customary postmortem was wide-ranging and sad; I smoked a lot, on my balcony, where it’s allowed. When finally it seemed there was nothing more to “process”—he has an optimism about this vocabulary that I lack—he looked down at the ground. “Goop vibes,” he said mournfully. I agreed. “We no longer have an active partnership with Goop,” Celebrity told Harper’s as this piece went to press, “and thus, Goop at Sea was a one-time offering.” In the end Boyfriend 1 got the baseball hat, and he put it on right away.

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