Saturday, May 24, 2014

“What is Wrong with Me?”

Happier Hours

with Sara Eckel, author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single
and Heather Havrilesky, author of Disaster Preparedness


(Hosted by Jillian Lauren, author of Some Girls and Pretty, and Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The Rules of Inheritance)

I had the good fortune to spend the afternoon at Meghan Daum’s house (author of Life Would Be Perfect if I lived in That House and My Misspent Youth) with welcoming, intelligent, hilarious writers. Heather Havrilesky and Sara Eckel read from their books and led a conversation about singledom, the positivity of negativity, and how “inspiration” can be a turnoff. 

As a single woman who hasn’t been in a serious relationship in six years, I related to every joke and insight they shared. Below are some highlights of what transpired. By “highlights,” I mean “whatever I could get down on paper before my screwy brain completely forgot what was said.” My note-taking skills, while stellar, were no match for their rapid-fire, spot-on wit.

About how she came to write her book, Heather Havrilesky said she was writing an advice column that basically answered the question, “Why should I be alive?”

She said, “Someone wrote to me about a man problem. It turns out I had a lot of advice. I had a series of two-year relationships. I tried to kill them from the start.”

Heather talked about being attracted to “devil may care” men. She called the men she dated “Mr. flinch-y noncommittal stoner types.”

When starting a new relationship, she would “start a lecture series” with the men. In other words, her “winning formula” was to “advertise all my flaws at the start.”

About Sara Eckel, she said, “I stumbled on Sara a year ago. She had a book coming out I should have written. And it’s better…”

read from a chapter in her book, which is about “being crazy and wanting to get married pretty damn badly.”

Sara read from her book’s introduction, a piece that appeared in The New York Times “Modern Love.” It’s called “What’s Wrong with You?”

“How long has it been since your last relationship?” he asked, his voice clipped, a dental hygienist inquiring about my flossing routine.

“Three years,” I lied. The truth was closer to six.

He leaned back, looking at me in a cool and curious way, like I was a restaurant with too few customers, a house that had been listed too long.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Q & A

“What was the inspiration for the book?”

“I originally wrote a book proposal about women who marry after 35. Men married us even though we were the same.” [Men wanted to marry women even though they hadn’t fixed all their flaws yet.]

“I sent out the proposal. The feedback I got was, ‘This is inspiration, not journalism.’ The publisher asked me to write an inspirational book for single women.”

“And after you finished cleaning up the vomit on the floor…”

“I thought, ‘I’ll write something that would inspire me.’”

“It’s a fast read. While I was reading each chapter, I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’ve thought that about myself,’” and “thinking is bad.”

About the internal dialogue of a single woman, Heather asked, “What the fuck is wrong with me?”

“[Friends] want to help. The thing women hear most is, ‘You’re too picky.’  This assumes you’re getting lots of offers. I really wasn’t. This whole too picky thing—I don’t meet women who say, ‘I don’t like his car.’ I don’t know anyone like that.

About what she used to think before being married, Heather, said, “Well shit, I guess I’ll be alone forever and ever because the stoner without the job is moving the cutout of the Emperor out of my house. I need to live it up now because I’m going to settle for someone shitty. I need to be much more picky.”

Question from audience member:
“Who do you think you’re writing for?” [Who’s your audience?]

: “I just write for my friends. There are a few people I send stuff to, and they’re really smart. [The book is] extending that to women who would be my friends if I knew them. We have an aversion to the word ‘inspiration.’ We can be inspired without being insipid.”

“It’s almost like talking to your girlfriends: ‘Don’t fuck your boyfriend’s brother. Really, don’t do that.’

…and then I have 3,000 words.”

Comment from audience member:
“You get criticism or self-improvement, or you get inspiration.”

“Social media is what it fucking is: profound isolation. How does anyone build a community [when they move 3,000 miles away from their support system]? Everyone is eating each other alive in these little apartments by themselves. In the old days, someone would write a great novel. Now the publisher wants you to start with, ‘Rule number one.’ I find negativity inspiring.”

“Being positive is anxiety-producing because your brain scans for negative thoughts. ‘Gotta be positive. Gotta be positive.’ I started practicing meditation and Buddhism. Our goal is not to be happy all the time.”

Comment from audience member:
“We live in a culture that is utterly commitment phobic.”

[I used to think], “The ones I wanted to be with must have been commitment phobic, but those guys committed to other women.” (She also used to think the ones she didn’t want to be with who wanted to be with her may have been a sign that she was the commitment phobe.)

“There is this moment when you decide to welcome people who welcome you. I was used to it—a little bit of neglect feels like home. Women do have a moment when they look at the past: ‘What is the pattern here?’ When you’re chasing someone down, all you can see is a tail disappearing around the corner.”

“You don’t know if you have commitment phobia until this person comes along, and it works. You’re not commitment phobic if you meet the person you fit with.”

“I like to frames things in negative ways: Lead with your flaws.”

“These [dating] rules alienate us from our own instincts. [Friends and magazines] mean well.”

Sara ended with a Buddhist saying from someone she admires: “You’re the only one who’s been with you your entire life. You know what’s best for you.”

She concluded, “Cut through the chatter.”

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