To my mind, having a girlfriend was incompatible with remaining in the Center. Certainly, that was the explicit general rule: if you were single, then you were to remain celibate.
Now, I wasn't completely naive. I knew that amongst the general population of disciples there were those who didn't follow all of the rules all of the time. And even amongst those who were wholly devoted to Guru and the Center way of life there were, at times, temporary exceptions to the general rule. If, for example, an otherwise devoted disciple was honest with Guru about an affair of some kind (or some other indiscretion), it wasn't necessarily a firing offense.
There were no exceptions, however, to the marriage prohibition. In the 1970s, Guru not only permitted marriages, he actually arranged some between disciples. But by the time I joined the Center, marriage was verboten. If a disciple got married, he or she would have to leave the Center and could come back only after a three-year hiatus. There were a number of disciples who took this option.
My standard was different though. The fact that I wanted a girlfriend -- that I desired sex -- was a failure of my spiritual life on its face. There was no getting around it and I wasn't going to be a hypocrite and pretend to be a disciple while leading a double life of some kind. So, by the time I was discharged from the hospital, I knew that my eventual departure from the Center was inevitable.
What I did not have, however, was a goal -- something around which a plan to actually leave the Center could coalesce. That changed when someone handed me a paperback copy of Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October. One of my talents is an active, solution-oriented imagination. Given a goal that I believe in -- one that grabs my attention -- I can "see" how to make it happen. The Hunt for Red October provided me with my first worldly adult ambition: to be a spy.
After finishing the book one night, I lay in bed thinking to myself that there were, in fact, people like the book's protagonist Jack Ryan out there. Not necessarily saving the world or single-handedly preventing World War III (I've always despised anything smaking of James Bond, a kind of vulgarity which led John le Carre to call the Bond series "pornography"), but men of action doing dangerous, challenging jobs. That's what I wanted, too.
Laying there that night, I knew at once that I'd need a college degree, probably an advanced one. I'd need language skills. I'd need military experience. The bare outline of a long-term plan began to form. It was thrilling and frightening at the same time. While I'd known for some months that I couldn't remain in the Center indefinitely, I hadn't been forced -- until that moment -- to contemplate actually leaving.
That was the scary part.