What Can We Learn From Men Who Claim They Have "Learned"? (Hint: "That They Need To Be Schooled" Is Not That Off)

A few weeks ago, a talented writer named Emily Gould submitted a review of a "lad lit" anthology called Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me. The editor of the book is Daily Show/Colbert co-creator Ben Karlin. Wow! I thought upon reading the review. Men sure are jerks! In fact, I ventured further, maybe the men who would seem not to be jerks are the biggest jerks of all! I tucked the review away, wondering if maybe Emily could do something to "advance" this argument. Well, guess what happened in the intervening weeks? Well, for one, Emily's ex-boyfriend wrote an incredibly terrible essay about her in Page Six Magazine. The story was exactly like something out of Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me in that purported to convey how the author learned some sort of life lesson from a failed relationship but actually just made him look like a more self-obsessed prick than anyone thought he was in the first place. (But: it was also really bad.) And then! The editor of the anthology in question, Ben Karlin, turned out to be a really big jerk, according to this New York Observer story about how he screwed this guy* who moved into his building. You know what? I thought. Fuck it, my argument just advanced itself. Things Emily learned from Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me after the jump.




Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me

You'd think, based on the title of the anthology Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me, that the men who've contributed essays to it have learned something from women who've dumped them. Well, some of them have! Actually, as I flip through the book again now, I can only find one essay that has a thoughtful take-away that might help someone who finds him or herself in a similar situation. It's by Ok Go singer Damian Kulash, Jr. and it's called "A Dog Is No Reason To Stay Together," but an apter title might be, "Don't fool yourself into thinking you can make a long-distance relationship work, especially if you are in a band that has just recently become successful." Damian examines his relationship with former live-in love Amanda with sober maturity. "It was love - love like you see in movies. Except in movies, relationships don't change, or grow, or slowly fall apart. They either last forever or end mercifully fast with a thrown plate and a jump cut." That sentence is exactly as good as this anthology gets.

Things with Amanda didn't last forever, but Damian's bio notes that he's now married with two dogs. Actually, almost all of the men in this anthology are married, and Damian is one of the few who don't make a big deal about it in their stories. You know that thing Neal Pollack (oh, he's in here!) does where he's like "I'm married, did I mention that I'm married, I can't be that bad of a guy because someone married me, okay?" That's a recurring theme here.

Most of these guys are comedians or comedy writers or memoirists of the "I'm a lovable loser, haha" variety - Andy Richter, Nick Hornby, A.J. Jacobs, Will Forte, and a slew of former Onion and SNL writers are represented (Chuck Klosterman, where are you?) They often begin their essays, especially when writing about high-school or college-era rejections, by marveling that any woman has ever found them attractive. "God bless arty girls and booze!" Andy Richter writes of the factors that finally enabled his college-fatty self to get laid. "During the course of the evening - aided no doubt by generous portions of cheap beer - I tricked her into liking me," is how Will Forte describes meeting his first serious girlfriend. Whenever men write about getting laid despite being outwardly undesirable, I immediately get suspicious. It's so The Game, you know? It just seems like a weird kind of inverse bragging, especially when they talk about how attractive the girls they somehow managed to bone were, especially when said girls' attractiveness is the only thing about said girls that seems to merit mentioning. Okay, boys, we get it. Even before you were semifamous for being smart and funny, you could still get some. Probably you were smart and funny even then! Um, good job!

The only thing less appealing than false modesty is outright bragging, and there's some of that here too. In 'Things More Majestic And Terrible Than You Could Ever Imagine,' Onion writer Todd Hanson catalogues a litany of women who've dumped him that reads more like a sexual highlights reel. On a list entitled 'Things positive," he writes, "Sex with two heavily tattooed punk-rock drummer chicks whose breasts bounce hypnotically as they hammer away onstage is pretty much as amazing as you'd imagined. I cannot emphasize this point enough." Wow, Todd. Two.

But bragging is still more appealing than vengeful muckraking, and there are a couple of essays in this anthology that have to be filed under that heading. These are essays that seem designed with a single reader in mind - the girl who will glimpse this book on the 'new nonfiction' or maybe even the 'Valentine's Day' table, see her exboyfriend's name on the cover, and open it up to the essay about what a terrible person she is. Damian Kulash's admission that he misses his ex-dog far more than he misses his ex-girlfriend pales in comparison to Andy Selsberg's essay 'A Grudge Can Be Art." Andy details his affair with a nineteen year old aspiring actress eleven years his junior. To be fair, he doesn't seem to be taking any pains to portray himself as anything like a decent or mature person - he acknowledges that continuing to hate a woman with whom he spent less than forty-eight hours ("and that includes being asleep together") for fucking his roommates is pretty ridiculous.

But his parting shot is still kind of stunning in its naked vindictiveness: "I do know where I'll see her eventually: on a reality show. She is genetically and socially engineered to tear through one of those setups like an erotic tornado." There's no way the intervening years could've changed this girl, of course. After all, they haven't changed Andy! Some boys will never learn.

*Full disclosure: the "guy" is the fiance of my best friend and former Jezebel contributor "Heather" and he is not a jerk at all; in fact he is much better and nicer than I ever imagined he would be when he brutally ass-raped the first piece of mine he edited back in the day (;-) Ben!) so that fits right in with my thesis. Also, sorry Emily, for writing this. It needed to be done. That was some fucked Up ish. And readers, sorry for all the "meta." It's Friday. That is my only excuse.