Authors: Ben Karlin
Tags: #Humor, #Essays, #Form, #Relationships, #Sex (Psychology), #Man-woman relationships, #Psychology, #Rejection (Psychology), #Topic, #Case studies, #Human Sexuality, #Separation (Psychology)
The events described in this book are true, but the names and other identifying characteristics of some of the people have been changed to protect their privacy.
Compilation copyright © 2008 by Ben Karlin
Introduction copyright © 2008 by Ben Karlin
Graphic for “Nine Years Is the
Right Amount of Time to Be in a Bad Relationship” by Andro Buneta.
“The Heart Is a Choking Hazard” copyright 2008 by Stephen Colbert.
“Strange Gifts Can Scare” copyright 2008 by Marcel Dzama.
“Beware of Math Tutors Who Ride Motorcycles” copyright 2008 by Will Forte.
“She Wasn’t the One” by Bruce Jay Friedman was originally published as “Kneesocks” in
magazine. Hampton Shorts, Inc. Volume 1, number 1. Summer 1996 © Bruce Jay Friedman.
“Being Awkward Can Be a Prophylactic Against Dry Humping” copyright 2008 by Matt Goodman.
“Always Make Her Feel Like She’s #1” copyright 2008 by Alex Gregory.
“Technology Can Be Friend and Foe” copyright 2008 by Alex Gregory.
“Lessons of a Cyclical Heart” copyright 2008 by Marcellus Hall.
“Things More Majestic and Terrible Than You Could Ever Imagine” copyright 2008 by Todd Hanson.
“Dirty Girls Make Bad Friends” copyright 2008 by A. J. Jacobs.
“You Too Will Get Crushed” copyright 2008 by Ben Karlin.
“Sometimes You Find a Lost Love, Sometimes You Don’t” copyright 2008 by Bob Kerrey.
“A Dog Is No Reason to Stay Together” copyright 2008 by Damian Kulash, Jr.
“Notes Towards a Unified Theory of Dumping” copyright 2008 by Sam Lipsyte.
“It Wasn’t Me, It Was Her” copyright 2008 by Rick Marin.
“Don’t Leave Too Much Room for the Holy Spirit” copyright 2008 by Tom McCarthy.
“Don’t Enter a Karaoke Contest Near Smith College; You Will Lose to Lesbians” copyright 2008 by Jason Nash.
“Nine Years Is the
Right Amount of Time to Be in a Bad Relationship” copyright 2008 by Bob Odenkirk.
“Dating a Stripper Is a Recipe for Perspective” copyright 2008 by Patton Oswalt, Lord Loudoun, Inc.
The first half of Neal Pollack’s “Don’t Come on Your Cat” was published, in somewhat different form, on Nerve.com.
“Get Dumped Before It Matters” copyright 2008 by David Rees.
“Girls Don’t Make Passes at Boys with Fat Asses” copyright 2008 by Andy Richter.
“I Still Like Jessica” copyright 2008 by Rodney Rothman.
“I Am a Gay Man” copyright 2008 by Dan Savage.
“You Can Encapsulate Feelings of Regret, Panic, and Desperation in a Two-and-a-Half-Minute Pop Song” copyright 2008 by Adam Schlesinger.
“Baby I’ve Changed” written by Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood. Published by Vaguely Familiar Music and Monkey Demon Music. Copyright 2004.
“A Grudge Can Be Art” copyright 2008 by Andy Selsberg.
“Eggs Must Be Broken . . .” copyright 2008 by Tom Shillue.
“I’m Easy” by Paul Simms was originally published as “Four Short Crushes” in
The New Yorker
, April 30, 2007.
“Keep Some Secret Admirers Secret” copyright 2008 by Eric Slovin.
“Sex Is the Most Stressful Thing in the History of the Universe” copyright 2008 by Dan Vebber.
“Persistence Is for Suckers” copyright 2008 by David Wain.
“Women Are Never Too Young to Mess with Your Head” copyright 2008 by Larry Wilmore.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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This one’s for the ladies
“Time heals some wounds.”
—American folk saying
I Think My Son Is a Catch
by Barbara Karlin
My son is a real catch and shame on any girl who’s ever thought otherwise.
He’s tall, but not too. He runs marathons and scales mountains. And of course he has those gorgeous blue eyes. And on top of it all, he’s funny. Of course I didn’t think everything he did was so funny when he was a kid. I used to tell him “that’s not so funny” all over the house. Back then I called him a smart aleck but now I call him “creative.” If you make money from being a smart aleck, you’re creative. If you don’t make money, you’re a putz. So, he’s creative. Come on, girls, why would you break up with my creative son?
And a good time he’ll show you. You want fine restaurants? My Benjamin knows them all—and he isn’t afraid to spend his money. Not on me of course, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. You want travel and adventure? He’s been all over the world. Without me. A great communicator you want? Well, I know he’ll call you more than he calls me. You want someone who can sing and dance? Forget about it.
Catches like my Benjamin you don’t find every day. Did I mention he can cook? I’m not talking brisket or chicken soup. I’m talking very fancy food I’ve never heard of. He’ll make things so pretty you won’t know whether to eat them or wear them. And then he makes these funny little jokes about you not appreciating it on the same “level” as he does. I’m not sure what that means. But if you want to try organic fiddlehead ferns, he’s your man.
Whenever a girl would dump my son—and he had his share of heartbreak as a boy—I would always say the same thing to him: “Those girls are all fools and idiots. They don’t know what they’re missing.” He would always say, “You’re just saying that because you’re my mom.” He had me there.
But I’d like to think just because he’s my son, and I gave birth to him and fed him from my breast and raised him, doesn’t mean I can’t look at things objectively. Sure I can! I guess you can tell how much I love my son and what a great catch he is. So if you catch him, please tell him to call his mother.
by Nick Hornby
At the time of writing, I have been happily married for thirteen months, to a woman I have been living with for eight years. Thanks to the book you are currently holding in your hand, the implications of this are now clear to me: not only have I learned nothing whatsoever for the best part of a decade, but also the things I did learn are beginning to fade disastrously from the mind, in much the same way that the five or six facts gleaned from my formal education have almost disappeared. (I used to pride myself on being able to remember three of the Chartists’ six demands, but the three, I now realize, have become one: universal suffrage. That must have been a big one, though, right? The other five were surely all minor disgruntlements, by comparison.)
No, instead, reading about all this learning reconciles me to the future, when I have messed this marriage up and I’m back on the singles circuit, aged fifty-nine, say, or sixty-seven, or eighty-two; the success of institutions like the University of the Third Age demonstrates that our thirst for learning remains unquenched even in our twilight years.
It is perhaps best not to analyse too closely what exactly it is that these writers have gleaned from their romantic mishaps. Andy Selsberg, for example, has clasped to his bosom the lesson that holding grudges is fun. (Well, der! What did he think relationships were for? Mutual support, raising children, looking after each other in old age? And how old are you, Andy?) Rodney Rothman learns that the girl who broke his heart doesn’t actually remember dating him in the first place. Dan Savage found out that he wasn’t interested in women. This is all useful stuff, but one can see that anyone doubtful about the intellectual value of romantic trauma might still need a little more evidence of its efficacy.
What strikes one about these essays is that many of the authors seem to have found contentment in their relationships
, and there is a suggestion implicit in the book’s title that through dumping came wisdom, and through wisdom domestic bliss. I’m not so sure. A good, if tasteless, comparison (but one I am allowed to make because of my nationality) is with Londoners during the Blitz: did bombs stop dropping on us because we had somehow learned enough to prevent them from dropping? I would argue not. I would argue that other factors, too complicated to go into here (but see Winston Churchill,
The Second World War
, volumes two and three), were responsible. The major, but vital, contribution of Londoners was their refusal to let their morale be broken by the relentless bombings. And then, one day in May 1941, the Germans took their firepower elsewhere.
Well, isn’t that it? It seems that the major, but vital, contribution of men to the war of attrition that takes place between the ages of thirteen and about thirty-five, if you’re lucky, is our refusal to let our morale be broken. Cheese-eating surrender monkeys would open a packet of char-grilled steak-flavored peanuts, crawl under our sports-themed duvet covers, and stay there until we were certain that the last sparks of sexuality had withered and died. We didn’t do that, mostly because we were too stupid. We ignored the air-raid wardens and ran up and down the streets waving torches.
In those formative years, we got creamed, mashed, pissed on (I’m speaking figuratively here, but there are, of course, some people who like that sort of thing, and it’s not my intention to judge them); we got told we were stupid, feckless, reckless, scared, boring, unserious, too serious, too bookish, nerdy, unattractive, too drunk, too stoned, too sporty, too couch-potatoey, too outdoorsy, too political, too insular, too angry, too drippy, too suspicious, too complacent, too ambitious, not ambitious enough, too poor. I know I got told that, anyway. (I’ll bet you that somebody, somewhere, got told he was too handsome, too successful, too kind, too thoughtful, and too good in bed.)
It is only fair to point out that we gave as good as we got during this time. We sent the RAF out there night after night to cheat, lie, and refuse to commit. Most of the people in this book, creative types all, were refused admission on medical grounds, although I suspect the contributors who were in bands were involved in some of the terrible carpet-bombing that went on during the twenties. (Indeed, some of the zeal shown by our fellow males made some of us feel a little queasy.) There were no winners, and there was nobody who could seize the moral high ground. And then one day, maybe even one day in May, it stopped. We woke up in the morning, went to a bar or a party or onto the Internet, and somebody there liked us, and married us, and there was a new dawn of peace, prosperity, and babies.
Cynics might say that last word had a great deal to do with what happened. Cynics might say these beautiful, fantastic women who have taken us on actually looked at us a few years ago, found us wanting, and have since come back to us, having argued themselves into believing that, actually, we aren’t that bad, all things considered. I married the one who dumped you, and you married the one who dumped me, but that’s the story. Effectively we become the DVD of
that you ignore in the rental store at nine o’clock on a Friday night, on the presumption there will be something better (or at least, something more fulfilling, more complex, and that you haven’t seen twice before) on the shelves somewhere. And guess what you end up going home with? Well, that’s what we are to these beautiful, fantastic women: Elves.
Here are the titles of some e-mails my wife has sent me in the past few months: “Event reminder: The Wiggles”; “Catering Menu”; “Joint a/c”; “Various boring”; “New plans for car tax”; “Fishcakes??”; “No fishcakes”; “Fishcakes?!” E-mail hadn’t been invented when I was suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous Miss Fortune, of course. But if it had, I would never have believed that anybody for whom I had any kind of romantic feelings would communicate with me in this way. In life during wartime, there were neither fishcakes nor no fishcakes, and e-mails would have titles like “Sorry,” “Last night,” “My relationship with Michael,” “My actual relationship with Michael,” and “You bastard.” These might sound more interesting than the various borings, but they weren’t, not really, because they became life itself; there were no children, of course, but there wasn’t much else, either. I never had the time or the concentration to write books, and I never even had the time or the concentration to read them, either. Everything was focused on trying to get my romantic life right, and that turned out to be precisely the way to get it disastrously wrong. I get e-mails about fishcakes because there’s absolutely nothing to say about the other stuff: it just
, day after day, and that seems like a miracle. You get a lot more done during peacetime; you even get a love life thrown in.