"A Mild Jerk Or A Total Jerk": Vogue Writer Contacts, Disses His Exes

In October Vogue, Tad Friend pulls a High Fidelity by contacting all his exes. One of them reminds him that she didn't really sleep with him that many times — and from the article, you can kind of see why.

Friend, who by day is a New Yorker staff writer, went on his ex-quest as part of the research for his memoir Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor. And his stated goal — to ask them "about whether I was a mild jerk or a total jerk" — seems kind of self-absorbed. In a panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival, Rivka Galchen said memoirists often give away supposedly dirty secrets that they're actually kind of proud of, and being a jerk to ex-girlfriends seems like it may be one of these. At the very least, Friend is convinced he mattered, and he wants to find out how.

Some of his exes are obliging, saying flatteringly cryptic things like "I can't explain what you were to me, Taddles; I've thought about it a lot, but I haven't come to a conclusion." But one, whom he calls Kerry, says, "we slept together, what, twice? Three times?" He says, "it was more like eight," and she responds,

I don't really remember. I know you want to know what you were like, but, hmm — polite, well mannered? The sex was a nonstarter, I do remember that. And I was sleeping with Mel the whole time.

Ouch. But Friend retaliates, asking himself, "had her laugh always sounded that way? I used to love that laugh." He also gets in a little dig by saying that, when he and Kerry were hooking up, "I was also pursuing a woman named Sarah, who was prettier and much less interesting." There are ways to compliment a woman's personality — this is not it. To top it off, Friend opines,

Some of Kerry's implacability, her artist's selfishness, had surely been there in college. And if it had grown since then, it wasn't because I'd let her down or broken her heart.

Kerry appears to have moved on quite handily, but Friend is still reassuring himself that she's not that great, and that it's not his fault. This appears to be a pattern. Of another ex, Melanie, he writes,

I found myself wondering whether her hair would still be curly — a better, happier look, I thought — if we'd kept on. Probably not a sufficient reason to stay together, though, simply to keep the blow dryer at bay.

I'm sure Melanie would agree. Friend's wife — that would be Amanda Hesser, Times writer, founder of a new food website, and author of a book about her romance with Friend — was apparently not thrilled with his ex project, but he's mean enough about the women that she needn't have worried. The real hazard Friend encounters is that when you break up with someone, you often have to convince yourself that they kind of sucked in order to move on. You create an especially crappy version of your ex, the flipside of the glossy one you had when you were in love. And if you set this crappy version down in, say, a national magazine, you risk making yourself look immature and self-involved — and insulting another person in the process. Luckily, Kerry doesn't seem to give a shit.

Vogue [Official Site]