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Back Atcha: The Question of Revenge
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
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.
[We interrupt this paragraph to bring you this important message: in order
to serve this great metropolis and enjoy this great weekend, Breakup
Girl is writing this column out on the Breakup Stoop, where (NOT making this
up) she was just serenaded with a lilting rendition of "You are My Little
Star" by a nice old man with a hat and cane (it wasn't Stanley Donen).
Note to self: accessorize with PowerBook 2400 more often.]
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 make anyone 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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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 message
board, here is an excerpt from her post on this very topic.
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
And now, for those of you playing along at home, let's see if we can guess
which of the following scenarios pass the test.
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