Every once in a while, I sit down with a book and I’m fully prepared to hate it. Eat, Pray, Love comes to mind.
I put off reading it for years mostly because I’m not that interested in the first two subjects and don’t care what most people have to say on the third. Besides, for all the attention the book got, I never met a person who actually thought it was good. Having just finished it, allow me to confirm: It’s not. But it’s also not that bad.
I mean, I couldn’t relate to the whole “eat” part and the “pray” section bored me to pieces, but I got through them. “Love” was better in that at least something happened, even if that something seemed entirely too convenient to ever be believable. Regardless, it was, for the most part, a well-written and thoughtful book, which is more than I can say about many of the others I’ve read so far this year.
Of course, it’s possible that I feel that way only because the bar was set so incredibly low. Not only did several people warn me that I wouldn’t like the book, but they also predicted that I would actively dislike the author, Elizabeth Gilbert. And there were points when I did. Sometimes, she appeared to be just as privileged and self-indulgent as I was led to believe. But maybe it was because I was reading Eat, Pray, Love on a beach in Madagascar fresh off a week of volunteering at a rural hospital, but I didn’t quite see what all the fuss was about. I mean, I understand that not everyone has the luxury of running off to Europe to eat her way out of a depression, but is it really so terrible that this person could? And are we really going to fault her for having the good sense to write a best-seller about it afterwards? (Asking for a friend.)
[Sidebar: I’ll grant you that her problems paled in comparison to what most people in this world have to deal with. But the fact that they were relatively insignificant doesn’t change the fact that she genuinely struggled with them. Whether anyone else thinks they were serious enough to warrant a nervous breakdown and an extended vacation is sort of beside the point. Here’s my philosophy: When someone confesses 50 pages in that she was so stressed out that she considered killing herself, and you find yourself with something snarky to say, don’t. Because if going through a sloppy divorce is enough to make someone that upset, then it’s probably for that best that you don’t try to explain to them why it shouldn’t or point out how lucky they are to even be able to get a divorce in the first place. Just shut up – and if you really have a problem with it, write your own book about how you’d do it better. Honestly.]
So that was Eat, Pray, Love. The nicest thing I could say about it is that it wasn’t a total waste of time. That and I got 500 words of a post out of it.
That said, by the end of it, I felt like I needed a palette cleanser. To which I turned to Julie Klausner’s, I Don’t Care About Your Band: Lessons Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I’ve Dated. It’s exactly what it sounds like.
I was ready to love this book. Because I already love Julie Klausner. She has an impressive career, but my favorite work of hers is, inexplicably, the weekly recaps she wrote about season five of the Real Housewives of New York City. It was the only redeeming thing about the franchise during the time that Bethenny Frankel wasn’t on the show.
Anyway. I figured this book was going to be a play-by-play of my twenties. And it was. Indie rockers? Check. Felons? Trust Funders? Hipsters? Check, check, check. Anyone dating in New York for more than a year has a handful of stories just like these. In fact, aside from the one about the pornographer, I could probably go toe-to-toe with Ms. Klausner. And unless she also dated a high school basketball coach with a possible drug problem who thew a lime wedge at her when she tried to break up with him at a taqueria, I could win at least one round.
I think that’s supposed to be the point. That readers can nod along with each chapter and say, “Well at least I’m not the only one.” Because, here, in this book, we meet a smart, successful, beautiful woman with good taste and a clean apartment and she’s having a really hard time finding someone who recognizes her for even half of those things.
And that worked for the first hundred pages or so. But then it started to bother me. Because, at some point, I had to admit that one person simply cannot be that unlucky. It’s statistically impossible for a reasonable woman to meet so many losers and lunatics and slobs. I hate to say it, but when someone drones on about ten years of dating struggles, I have to point out that there’s a common denominator and it’s you. And I don’t mean you as in, “You just haven’t met the right person yet!” I mean you as in, “You are doing this to yourself.” Sometimes the reason why you’re alone is not because every guy you meet ends up being a total moron – it’s because you just don’t want to be with anyone, most likely because your priorities lie elsewhere. And if I think that’s true of the writer, then it must also be true of me.
Here’s my confession: For the past several years, I was terrified that I would meet someone in New York who I actually wanted to be with and who also wanted to be with me. Because then I might have to make a choice – between staying in a city I didn’t like and keeping my life more or less as it was or having the option to do what I needed to make it better. (That I might meet someone who would help me do the latter never even occurred to me, which says a lot about the pool I was choosing from… and me.)
In any case, it wasn’t until I actually left that I realized that the people I dated whose company I enjoyed were those who were living the life I wanted – people who had the opportunity to travel often; people who wrote books and sold them; people who enjoyed their job and talked about their workday without first saying, “Let me get a drink.” It was all very attractive and more than once, I was ready to settle for someone who had what I was looking for. I had stalled on getting the life I wanted, so I figured I might as well try to get it by proxy.
That didn’t work.
And thank God because now here we are – typing in a public square in Barcelona and slowing working through that list of attributes and accomplishments I found so alluring in others.
And that’s sort of what I pieced together from I Don’t Care About Your Band. She wasn’t unlucky, she was just distracted. Regardless of whether or not that’s actually true, I was disappointed that she glossed over her own happy ending in the last couple of pages. Not just because I felt cheated to not get to meet this great guy that she found, but because I wanted to hear about how things were once she came out on the other side of all that shit.
But I guess I’ll have to follow my own advice. I’ll just have to write my own book and do it better.