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December 10, 2010

Back Atcha: The Question of Revenge

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 10:01 am

From Mesopotamia to Melrose, from Judah Maccabee to Judge Judy, the drive for revenge has been a primary force in human/Nielsen history. It is safe to say — though Breakup Girl’s college professors might have demanded some elaboration — that since the dawn of civilization, all wars (with the possible exception of the Cola Wars) have been fought on the basis of “No one does that to me and gets away with it!” or, put another way, “Nyah nyah!”

So, when you write to Breakup Girl and ask, “Hammurabi dumped me via tablet! How can I get revenge?” you are indeed participating in the grand course of earth-moving, life-changing, history-making human events.

Then again, you’ll notice that said course has not always been so grand. War is, like, bad. (When Breakup Girl wears her favorite Corcoran paratrooper boots, she is beingironic. Also see Double Standards.) And revenge is often, like, tacky. So BG is not going to Pentagon Paper any instructions for Oreo-ing cars or endorse any urban legends of vengeance like that one with the photos of the bride and the best man. This is not the Malcolm Ex (“by any means necessary”) school of revenge. If you want to do something truly dirty, hire Norm MacDonald, who, evidently, is not bitter. ) And that is why, when you ask the how-to-get Revenge question, my likely response is,”Well, actually, you can’t. Nyah nyah.”

Wait, come back. I’m going to explain. And I promise that the reward — if not the revenge — will be sweet.

First of all, what’s wrong with a little good old-fashioned revenge?

  • Revenge often makes you look bad. Bad as in psycho, lame, obsessed, immature, in need of a hobby.And when you look bad, you feel worse.
  • Also, indiscriminate revenge can flatter the oppressor. You are letting them know you’re smarting, letting them see you sweat.
  • Revenge — when reckless — is salt. In your wounds. And you’re the one pouring.

But Breakup Girl does not mean to — forgive the tired, downright disturbing phrase — throw out the baby with the bathwater. There is plenty right with good — emphasis added — old-fashioned (or, in many cases, high tech) revenge. Such as: closure, justice, the last laugh, a great story. Which is exactly my point: good revenge, while not a magic elixir, at least offers all of those possibilities.

So what is good revenge? Well, Breakup Girl’s technical classification for acceptable acts of revenge used to be “Getting Even without Getting in Trouble.” But ever-flexible, willing to bend and sway with the prevailing breeze (it is the only way she will ever be at all “willowy”), BG is going to gracefully amend her previous position. The “without getting in trouble” part still holds; it’s the “getting even” thing we need to tweak a little bit. Think about it: why would you want to be “even” with a scoundrel?

Let us instead use the handy double entendre “getting better.” That’s better as in feeling better — and better as in feeling secure in the knowledge that you are in fact a Better Person than your un-intended.

And so: stoop to nothing. Instead, raise the bar. Therein lies Breakup Girl’s core revenge strategy: “Immediately be successful in all areas of your life.” Yes, indeed. Living well is the second-best revenge. And moral superiority, mesdames et messieurs, is the best.

See, I’m not appealing directly to your sense of ethics, of right and wrong, of being Good for its own sake. I am appealing to your ego, your packed schedule, your bank account, and — yes — your blood-thirst for vengeance. I am not telling you to maintain dignity and decorum because it’s right; I am telling you to maintain decorum and dignity because it works.

Do not lose sight of the bottom line: revenge is about YOU. Don’t think for a second that you are going to Teach Them a Lesson or Make Them See The Error of Their Ways. I mean, you might, as a by-chance by-product of your plot, but it’s too risky to count on it. I’ve said it before in different contexts: you can’t makeanyone do anything. And more importantly: Better People have better things to do.

And here are a few.

  • Let’s coin a term: ReZENge. This is where you — brace yourselves — do NOTHING. Nothing in direct retaliation for the bad behavior, anyway. Trust me, this is an active response. Analogy: a friend of Breakup Girl’s, when little, pitched a just-for-the-hell-of-it fit in the back seat. Mom and Dad did nothing. He screamed louder; still nothing. Finally, he balled his fists in unbearable frustration and demanded, “ISN’T ANYBODY LISTENING?” And stopped. Brat: 0, Parents: 1. I’m telling you: ignore the tantrum. This is truly harsh, I promise. Nothing is more maddening to the fit-pitcher than the possibility that their bad behavior has had no effect. Send the supercilious message that Miss/Mr.Thang has no time even to acknowledge such a petty act of lameness/evil. Put another way: people, with the possible exception of “Cathy,” are fundamentally good. They know when they’ve done something bad. Their earthly purgatory is that they have to live with it. And being avenged, in an S/M “I deserve it” sort of way, can be oddly satisfying to them. Deny them this gift.
  • Do something really cool; send word. As saucy babe Regina Barreca, Ph.D. writes in Sweet Revenge: The Wicked Delights of Getting Even, “I, for one, have never met anybody who feels so good about himself or herself that a small but core part of the heart hasn’t at one time hankered after immediate and personal justice.” Point taken. Call it revenge on a need-to-know basis. Ideally, it should be enough that you are doing more than fine; but admittedly, your avengee needs to know this. Make sure the information gets to her/him. Are you listening, Dawson’s crew? These are the only circumstances under which you are allowed to rope a third party/messenger into your dirty work.
  • And yes, there’s always room for the whimsical and witty. The kind of things that make your target say “Damn, s/he’s clever!” Not “Damn, s/he’s really lost it over me.” Here’s one from the world of work: While wearing her reporter hat (and carrying a big fork), BG wrote an article for a local magazine about yummy salads in NYC restaurants. The following week, the food guy at a magazine that fancies itself a rival took it upon himself to write a mean, petty, personal article about how bad my article was. (Hi, it’s about salad. Slow news day?) My response: I had one of the salads in question delivered to him at his office at lunchtime the next day, with a note (penned by a willing co-conspirator at the revengealicious restaurant) that said, “Dear S., Eat me. Love, Lynn.” Brat:0, BG: 1.

In that spirit, here is Breakup Girl’s RAT (Revenge Aptitude Test). BG recommends drawing up an elaborate blueprint, assembling all necessary materials (such as that bad Hell Vortex guy on Buffy), making all required arrangment — and then shelving the whole damn thing until/unless you can answer yes to all questions in italics. If you can, then plot on, dude. If you truly can’t, well, then, remember that sometimes the sheer act of going through the motions, making the plans, and leaving it at that — and thus marveling at your own brilliance/self-restraint — is satisfying enough.

  1. Does the alleged bad behavior actually merit revenge? Or do I just feel hurt, lousy, wronged, restless? Hey, you guys: being dumped is in and of itself not venge-worthy. But were there actual lies, calculated betrayal, veritable crimes and misdemeanors, cruel digs at your writing style and knowledge of esoteric lettuces? Then we’ll talk.
  2. Will this really scratch the itch? Or just make it bleed?
  3. Ask a friend: “If I did [the revenge idea] to you, would you be embarrassed for yourself? Or for me?”
  4. Does the punishment I have in mind fit the crime? Measure: level of magnitude, possibility of catching perpetrator at own game (e.g. planting misinformation for a known snooper), opportunity to restore cosmic equilibrium, etc.
  5. Am I as cool as “Salvia? ” As a not-often-enough homage to the wise and wonderful gang over at the [now defunct] message board, here is an excerpt from her post on this very topic.

“The revenge? There’s always a sweet revenge. I’ve fantasized about a can of bright orange paint spilled across his windshield. Going to his boss with evidence of him screwing a student. Flying his schizophrenic mother out from New York and parking her on his doorstep. Instead I went to Europe. Walked from one corner of Paris to the other. I climbed the Duomo in Florence. I took an Italian lover. I lost 40 pounds. I got my hair cut. I called my friends and reclaimed them…and discovered that the Golden Boy was never so golden in their eyes. I went to a party hosted by his boss and found out he was not invited. I rediscovered so many friends who say I’m ever more golden with my own capacity to love and smile and play. I took an American lover and stood in the sunlight while he admired me. I planned a Christmas party and it was perfect. I planted spring bulbs in anticipation of the future. I heard from my hairdresser that he had seen me and had commented to her about how great, how really great, I looked. I got a promotion and a huge raise. I let other people know how much I really care about them because I was starved of that for so long. It’s not going to stop hurting anytime soon, but the hurt is slowly getting squeezed out by the life I’m living. It’s a cliche, but it’s the sweetest revenge.”

This, gentle readers, is the spirit. Actually, “Salvia” goes on to say that most of the above isn’t exactly true, but hey, that’s poetic license. I mean justice.


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