A lot of us singletons make the mistake of thinking that finding someone is the hard part. And that once you do, you’re set. We tend to forget that there is — ideally — a whole life-time of Relationship Maintenance that follows. And if you believe that that’s easy, I’ve got a ticket to “Your Friends and Neighbors” to sell you. Basically, it’s the story of two couples in/from hell. How brutal is it? Makes “Private Ryan” look like “Air Bud.” For further evidence that the relationship is the hard part, see … all of my columns.
To put it another way (and to quote myself): having a boy/girlfriend is like having a car with air conditioning. It may be more comfortable at times, but there’s a whole lot more stuff that can go wrong.
That is just one of several things I would like to point out to the many fine folks who write me to ask,
Dear Breakup Girl,
Why Don’t I Have a Boy/Girlfriend?
(Hi, Breakup Mom, I know you just sat up a little straighter in your seat.)
And here’s the problem: the folks who ask me that are fine folks. I mean, if they were saying: “Dear Breakup Girl, I have a second head in the shape of Boba Fett, my gums bleed when I’m nervous, and Kenneth Starr is my hero…why am I alone?” well, then we’d have a clear place to start (eg “online dating”). So I can’t necessarily tell each of you precisely why. But I can give you some perspective. Which is something everyone should have beforethey have a boy/girlfriend, anyway.
1. Why no ragazzo/a?* No rhyme or reason. Why, just think of all the excellent, admirable civilians (as opposed to superheroes) who are single. Like Winona Ry– no … Antonio Band– no, Barbra Strei– no, Will Smi– no. Okay, different tack. There’s no nice way to say this, but BG has made the acquaintance of plenty of people who were not conventionally “good-looking” or “socially adept” or, well, “interesting” — and they had B/GFs. Go figure. So quit wondering if you’re “normal.” A lot of people have girl/boyfriends … who are mean to them, or for reasons like “I’m afraid to drive on the highway.” How normal is that?
2. Dawson’s Creek is not reality. Your first tipoff should be the guy in a rowboat wearing a sport jacket. Your second tipoff should be that the guy in a rowboat wearing a sport jacket has no idea that Joey is in love with him. Look, you all know this, but I’ll say it anyway. Movies and songs and TV — even CNN, these days — fetishize love. Like, did you ever see the doctors on General Hospital actually doct? All you see and hear are people who yearn for it, who have it, who had it, who wear funny ties for it. All love, all the time. Which is kinda sorta how we feel deep down — and is what keeps BG in business — but maybe we’d be able to override it better and maybe get something freaking done around here if everything in our culture weren’t this big huge blinding yellow stickie in front of our face that says: LOVE! GOT ANY YET? HUH HUH HUH?
3. I know it’s fall, but B/GFs are not school supplies. (Hey, grownups, just because I’m making Dawson’s Creek references doesn’t mean I’m not talking to you. First of all, shut up, you totally watch it. Second, even if you haven’t been to school in years, I know you’ve been to Staples to look at the cute new notebooks and highlighters. Third, high school, is a metaphor for life, in a Lord of the Flies sort of way. So my analogies and advice should communicate loud and clear to everyone.) The point here being: there’s a lot of pressure — in culture and in “real life,” which, in a Truman Show sort of way, are not unrelated — to “get” (your verb, not mine) a boy/girlfriend. Having one “means” you are cool, attractive, popular, legit. But listen: if you get/have one just for those reasons, then you are NOT in the In Crowd at BG High, okay? I know this is really really easy — if not totally obvious — for me to say, but if you look on a boy/girlfriend as your own personal Self-Worth-o-Matic, well, let’s just say that’s one of those gadgets with planned obsolescence.
4. Approchable is better than “Stunning.” If you don’t believe me, see the clever article on this very topic in this month’s Marie Claire (I think). “Stunning” makes certain people’s knees weak, yes — that is, too weak to dare walk over and start a conversation. You get my drift; I’m not going to get into the whole looks thing again. (Note: “Approchable” — unlike “terrific” and “such a pretty face” — is totally a sincere, legit compliment; it really means pleasant, inviting, attractive.)
5. “Shy” is better than Loud. Just trust me.
6. Cheesy bottom line: it’s about chemistry. Barring certain non-negotiable matters of personal hygiene, manners, and taste in superheroes, your “appeal” does not occur in a vacuum. Granted, yes, there certain things (Society, Culture, Boobs, etc.) that mean that certain people get noticed first. But as far as anything longer than one awkward empty conversation is concerned, it’s the Reese’s effect: you could have perfectly good chocolate, but go figure, only certain people are going to trip over you with the peanut butter (see grownups, I’m talking to you too: teens will not remember those commercials). I am talking about that elusive “click.” (NOT, may I remind you, that exclusive clique that requires a boy/girlfriend for entry.) So what to do? Don’t shrink back, stung and defeated, into a spiny shell; step out and go places and do things where the odds are higher that the chemistry/peanut butter/click person will be there, too. And while you’re playing the odds, have a little trust in fate. If you don’t believe me, see “Next Stop, Wonderland.” Which, bless its heart — and yours, in the meantime — also makes a powerful, lovely case for being alone, all to a balmy bossa-nova beat. Rhyme/reason? No. Rhythm? Yes.
* Italian for boy/girl and boy/girlfriend. Empirically, appears to be synonymous with “hottie.”
This column was originally published August 31, 1998.