For a long time I tried really hard in relationships. I tried earnestly to be fair, to be loving. I went to therapy and tried to figure out how to fix problems. I gave thoughtful gifts. I said I was sorry first. I tried to talk things through. And I stayed in relationships with mostly decent guys who sometimes withheld sex and affection, who ignored me, who cheated on me, who made me wait for hours when they said they’d be there, who ignored my birthday, who disregarded my principles about eating animal products, who tried to one-up me, who texted during dinner, who didn’t call when they said they would, who insulted me to my face.
And then, sometime after my 30th birthday, I turned thirty. And I stopped caring about having a boyfriend, and I stopped believing in magical, romantic thinking about relationships, and things got…different, mostly better for me.
He’s Just Not That Into You was a great book, although by the time I “read” it I pretty much already had the lesson down. It was a good confirmation, though. This is how I read it: I went to Amazon, looked at the table of contents, and read the titles of each chapter. The message was pretty straightforward. You don’t need to buy it. If you’re too lazy too even click over to Amazon, let me sum it up this way. If it’s not clear that a guy loves you, try getting rid of him. That should put your mind at ease.
I’d add a last but crucial chapter: if you’re not that into him, get rid of him. Ignore well-meaning family and friends in this case. You know the truth. If the sex isn’t mind-blowing and you don’t have to fight back an irresistible urge to jump on him in front of everyone when you see him, let him go so some other girl or guy can feel that way about him.
It worked great for me:
Calling, 20s. He doesn’t call or text for what seems like a long time. I get upset, worry, wait for his call. In certain cases, I worry that something bad’s happened to him and get all anxious.
Calling, 30s. He’s been calling or texting and then he stops. Has something bad happened to him? That would be unfortunate, but it’s not my problem at this stage. I don’t date hermits, so if he were dead, someone else would have found his body by now. Maybe I call him. Or I forget about him until he shows up again. That’s the best of all: a nice surprise, like finding a $20 in a coat pocket, only you can have hot sex with it.
Valentine’s day, 20s. You’ve been dating me for about a year. You sleep over and in the morning I present you with a flan in the shape of a heart.
Valentine’s day, 30s. Valentine’s Day? I’ve had magical Valentine’s Days where I felt like a queen, and I’ve had Valentine’s Days where I was an evil cut-off-his-head queen, my day ruined by silly overblown expectations. And I don’t care anymore. Maybe I go out with someone I’ve been seeing. Maybe I stay home and bake a doggie treat in the shape of a heart. Maybe I feel sorry for all those people in struggling relationships who have to cope with the expectations and comparisons that Valentine’s Day foists on them. But I don’t feel sad about being alone on Valentine’s Day. I save that for times that actually matter to me, like the night of the 2008 presidential elections, the annual Sly Fox Goat Races and Beer Fest, and prime camping season. Not “holidays” that shameless status symbol peddlers and impoverished worker exploiters like DeBeers tell me ought to matter.
Fight, 20s. I try to understand your point of view and try to get you to understand mine. Maybe I try to convince you that I’m right: “I understand your favorite philosopher says birthdays are another meaningless ritual of modern life. But in this case, it’s not a meaningless ritual. It’s showing you care about me. We’ve been together for four months and I would think you would like to take me out for it or at least call and say happy birthday.”
Fight, 30s. You ignore or forget my birthday? That’s great that you’re really practicing your favorite philosopher’s ideas. Will Hegel ride backwards cowboy, tonight, too? My favorite philosopher says, “We’re done, jackass.”
“Talking,” 20s: I think that we can talk our way out of a problem. If you’re doing something that bothers me or if there’s some problem in the relationship, I want to talk about it.
“Talking,” 30s: If there’s something I don’t like, and I decide I can’t live with it, I’ll tell you. Maybe once, maybe twice. And then I’ll just leave. For example, I hate generic terms of endearment. Please don’t call me sweetie, honey, cariño, sol, or worst, baby. It doesn’t make me feel special. It just makes me throw up a little in my mouth. If you persist after I tell you I don’t like it, I’m going to decide we’re incompatible, because you have some strange blockage to addressing me like an adult human. There’s nothing to talk about, baby.
“Public Scenes,” 20s. We have a disagreement in public, say in a restaurant or on the street. It’s not loud or dramatic, but it’s possible that other people will notice. You try to shut me down with this warning. I shut up, and later if I bring it up you try to make me feel bad that I ever said anything.
“Public Scenes,” 30s. If you disrespect me in a public place, I’m going to respond in a public place. Embarrassing you is not intentional—you embarrassed yourself. (Don’t worry, I’ve done it plenty!) I don’t give a shit what the next table at the restaurant or the college kids hackey-sacking in the park or the family waiting their turn at the windmill on the putt-putt course think. And the truth is, neither do you. You just want me to shut up, and I will, but first I’ll tell you what I think. And then I’ll walk out and leave you at the table with a full glass of wine, or in front of the Picasso to stand there and pretend to figure out what it means. It means you’re a jackass. You might as well finish your wine.
One shitty thing about consumer capitalism is the tendency to replace rather than repair. Nowadays if your blender or your space heater breaks, it’s usually cheaper to get a new one than to have it fixed. But I don’t want a new one. I want someone to fix the old one! It makes me sick to think the whole thing is going to waste because the people potentially fixing it in the US cost far more than the semi-slaves in China who make new ones. Add another black mark to my carbon footprint.
Now who knows, maybe your blender can be fixed with a new part. But if the frame on your sunglasses breaks, gluing it won’t work. I’ve tried it more than once. You can use your strongest glue, and even clamp on the frame, but soon after, the pieces just snap apart again. Short relationships are less like a blender and more like a pair of sunglasses. People are the parts, and if they don’t stay together right, the whole thing’s screwed. Get a new one.
“Magic words,” 20s. “I love you.” Uh-huh. Few things in life are so widely cited to justify decisions, yet as irrelevant to reality as the experience of romantic love. Yeah, it feels good. So does eating watermelon. You may as well say, “I like watermelon.” It has as much relevance to the trajectory of a relationship.
Real magic words, 30s. “This isn’t working.” When I say them, we both suddenly grow up. The action stops and the actors stop acting—proud or defensive or needy or caring. Both of you have to admit that when it comes down to it, you’re in a relationship it for the pleasure you get from it, and you’re not getting enough pleasure from this one. That simple fact overrules all objections. There might be a short question-and-answer period, and then everyone goes home. Because you’re professionals now, and that’s what professionals do. People might have relapses, e.g. drunken calls at 2 am, but assuming you’re both sane, the wisdom of the breakup prevails.
And unlike a new blender, getting a new part(ner) doesn’t burn fossil fuels.