Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dumb Boys

On chick lit, genre problems, and Nietzsche

Friday night, I was engaging in a bit of retail therapy at Savers, attempting to absorb, mitigate, ameliorate the gut punch that had crossed my Facebook newsfeed an hour earlier (the L-word! He used the L-word! About that 20 year-old!), when my phone rang. "I need some guy advice," my friend Katie said.

"Not sure I'm the best person at the moment," I replied, "but shoot."

You should know that Katie is a studying neurobiology at a prestigious university. She is also a 6' 1" drop dead gorgeous model. The fact that she a) has guy trouble at all and b) thinks that I can help her with it is hugely amusing. She proceeds to tell me about a 23 year-old fellow student of hers, who is kind of cute, in a nerdy sort of way, and they've kind of gone out once or twice, and he texted her last week and wanted to hang out on Friday, and she had this reception she needed to go to, so she called and asked if he wanted to go with her, and he said, no, he would rather hang out in his underwear and play xbox.


"So are you telling me that this guy cannot even get off his couch and put on a pair of pants for you?" I asked, stunned.

"Yeah, I guess that's what I'm telling you," she sheepishly replied.

"Do I even need to give you advice at this point? I mean, if he's really hot, and you just want to hook up... But this is not boyfriend material, Katie."

"That's what I needed to hear," she sighed.

Why is it always so easy to tell other people? And so hard to tell ourselves?

Back to the 20-year old and Facebook. My current theory is that I keep avoiding the hard truth about the situation because I'm still stuck in the life-narrative requirements of a genre I don't even like—chick lit. (Curse you, Bridget Jones!)

Here’s the chick lit book pitch: They met in college and were a perfect match. They did everything together, from watching Beavis and Butthead to studying Boethius in Latin (okay, not a major selling point) to rock climbing at sunset. Everyone—friends, professors, family—assumed. But he didn’t love her. He loved a hypothetical construct of a woman who was serving a Mormon mission in Uganda (note to editor: Too close to current plot of sold-out Broadway musical?).

She never said a word. She wrote an essay about thunderstorms, which in certain lights, might have been construed as metaphorical. Then she developed an entire theory of Platonic friendship based on the relationship, which would later, like so many of her hard-won theories, be proven dead wrong.

When his fantasy girl came back, he married her, and reality hit, hard. He stuck it out for ten years.

When her hypothetical construct of a marriage unraveled after 13 years, she ran away. To him. He was--it was--just the same. Minus the Platonic part.

They lived in different cities, were both seeing other people. But…

In life and love, timing is everything.

The truth is, there is more than one reason things have not (and will not) work out for us. Those reasons are personified by the 20 year-old, and the type of 43 year-old man who, given the choice, chose her. Maybe we can blame genetics, maybe status seeking, maybe Hugh Hefner, for this all-too-familiar midlife crisis male trope (yeah, he also has a hot, impractical car, to match the hot, impractical girlfriend).

I am not a 20 year-old hottie. I'm an attractive, accomplished, talented, successful, almost 40 year-old woman. I'm raising four children, earning a doctorate, working 8 to 7, and even pursuing my own passions--writing and music--in my spare time (midnight to 2 a.m. on Wednesdays).

I don’t have time for dumb boys, any more than Katie does.

I am truly fortunate to have plenty of close male friends, and I value their intellect, wit, and the way they stroke my ego once in a while. But after talking to Katie, I realized that this friend of so many years is not really my friend. If he were, I would not have felt that need to flee to Savers when he announced his love for his 20 year-old girlfriend on Facebook (though on the plus side, I found this awesome vintage Diane von Furstenburg dress and a pair of $5 leather boots that look new!).

Take that, chick lit! I'm in the wrong genre entirely. I assert, once more, my desire to live my thoroughly examined life in the philosophy section of the library.  Because if there’s one thing I learned when I was a 20 year-old, in graduate school, it’s that there are few sports more enjoyable than taking down an entire philosophy class of dumb boys and making them cry for their mamas.

Oh, and with respect to my erstwhile theory or Platonic friendship, I fear that Nietzsche had it right: “A woman may very well form a friendship with a man, but for this to endure, it must be assisted by a little physical antipathy.