Someone whom I respect suggested I see “Gone Girl.” I asked him if he really thought I’d like it.
“It’s very entertaining,” he assured me.
Having read the book, I was pretty sure I’d hate it. And what do you know? Lo, I did hate it, though not for the reasons I’d thought.
Yes, it was…uh…filmed well. Yes, the acting was okay. Never mind that Amy’s plan had about a 1 in 10,5768,000 of actually succeeding in the real world (yeah, yeah, suspension of disbelief, uh-huh), or that hubby was just a garden-variety cheatin’ dog rather than a genuinely nasty, evil, heartless abuser. No, I hated it for the reason that I hated both 50 Shades of Grey (and its two wretched sequels, soon to be movie, Goddess help us)and Twilight (and its three wretched sequels and five freaking movies). Ladies, have we no fucking respect for ourselves?
The answer seems to be no. We women seem to have returned wholesale to the era in which our mothers and grandmothers popped Dexies to get up in the morning, mothers’ little helpers to get through the day, and Nembies or ‘ludes to come down at night, except now it’s Ritalin and Xanax and Prozac and various opiates. We drug ourselves from one hour and one day to the next, to cope with—what? Over and over, women seem to get in bad relationships, put themselves in bad situations, develop destructive habits—and why?
The late Betty Friedan, the first president of the National Organization for Women, called it “the problem with no name.” Freud rooted it in what he believed was women’s inherent masochism, and defined the pattern as “repetition compulsion,” but even he could not explain it. Some more radical feminist types, like the late XXXL loon Andrea Dworkin, blamed it on the “patriarchy”—that in a male-dominated society no woman can ever truly make a choice that can be said to be “free” or in her best interest. Others blame the media, or socioeconomic factors. I believe there are elements of truth to all of these, but in all honesty, I’m less interested in root causes than cures. Perhaps some Ruthless Ladies can write an academic analysis of what happened and why, but in the meantime, here’s the cure: Grow a fucking spine, get a fucking life, be fucking careful, and tell any men who drain more than they add to your life to get the fuck lost.
That, really, is all. Not that it’ll stop me from ranting about it:
Mama Melissa is only going to say this once: There are no Edward Cullens or Christian Greys out there. That is, there are creepy stalkers, and men with bizarre fetishes, but they don’t magically turn into wonderful, sweet, devoted family men if you just love them enough. Get with one of these nutters, and if you’re lucky, you’ll just end up deserted, damaged, popping even more pills, eating Oreos, mooning over tripe like True Blood and wondering why there is no darling Vampire Bill on your horizon. Get unlucky, you may end up in his corpse collection in the river, remembered only on those “Missing” posters of anonymous women you see everywhere. Sometimes they turn up, sometimes they don’t; only rarely is anyone arrested for the crime. And if you get really, really unlucky, and you end up married to one of these guys, be prepared for a life of isolation, humiliation, and repeating the words: “Oh, that? I walked into a door.” Eventually Stockholm Syndrome will kick in and you will find yourself, in middle age, saying between bloodied lips: “But I love him!”
And despite the whole “chicks dig jerks” trope–really, there are men out there who will treat you with dignity and respect. You can have fun, and possibly even a life, together. Trust me, no matter how bizarre or fucked-up you think you are, no matter what your looks or handicaps, you can still find a decent mate. A swinger? Plenty of men would be into that. A cosplay pervert? You’re really in luck—just go about your business at some LARPing event and the world is yours. Polygamy? I’m not here to judge. I hear it works for some. Even S&M, as long as it’s consensual and degrades no one, is fine. Are you into something even stranger—a devout Catholic or Orthodox Jew? Still no problem. They’ve got dating services, so I hear. But if you are pining after the tall-dark-damaged stalkers With the Super-Secret Pain That Nobody Can Understand But You, or men otherwise unavailable for other reasons—well, you better enjoy wallowing in misery, because that’s all you’re going to get.
So here are Mama M’s “If You Want to Be Happy, Or At Least Not Completely Fucking Miserable, For The Rest of Your Life Tips for Women”:
1. Grow a fucking spine: You’d think this would be self-explanatory, but I’ve had to explain it enough times that I (sigh) know it’s not. Every time a man mistreats you and you put up with it, you are effectively teaching him just how much you’ll tolerate. And he’ll go further the the next time. Physical violence should be a one-strike policy; verbal abuse, firmly tell him that you’re not going to take it even if you have to get out your old Twisted Sister mix tapes to do it. See if he listens. If he genuinely apologises and from then on considers your feelings, you might give him the benefit of the doubt. If it becomes a regular thing–see #4. Note: I’m not talking here about ordinary bad days, or getting pissed because the other spouse forgot to pay the water bill or bounced a check—I’m talking about speech meant to humiliate and degrade. Either he knocks that shit off or he doesn’t, and if he doesn’t, kick him to the curb.
2. Get a fucking life: Women are their own worst enemies here. Whether they’re conditioned by the media, their families, or it’s something innate I really do not know, and I’m not going to try to find out. Simply put: If you don’t develop your own talents and interests, you don’t have much basis in which to get into any kind of meaningful relationship, much less maintain one. And if perchance you do luck into a tryst with a nice guy who treats you well, if you spend all your time pining after him and catering to him, you will eventually drive both yourself and your suitor mad.
I went through a version of this myself, so I know whereof I speak. When I wed my first spouse after a fairly brief courtship, he was doing his medical residency—known for brutal, demanding hours that do not leave much time or energy for lovin’. A week after the wedding, he was on call Saturday night. After walking him to the hospital, I wandered aimlessly around town awhile. Something seemed off, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. So I stopped off at the store, bought some Pringles, and went…well, home. I was still in university myself at the time, so I did some homework. I started reading some of my chess books—I had achieved the rank of Candidate Master a year before, but had kind of let the dream of moving up to Master slide. I slid a towel under the door, lit up, put Bob Dylan on the stereo and studied the games of Tigran Petrosian, all while aiming greedy handfuls of Pringles in the general direction of my mouth.
And then it hit me, as to what had seemed off earlier: This was the first Saturday night since I was thirteen years old that I hadn’t had a date. That I hadn’t had to dress up, make up, and be somewhere, even if I’d have rather been anywhere but there, with—whoever. And boy, was I mad. When my poor spouse finally got home, I was still awake, playing with the chessboard and angry beyond imagining. I’m sure he had no idea what I was even talking about when I said (or, rather, shrieked), “Men get to do this stuff ALL the time! I mean, if I was a guy I could have spent all that time doing…stuff! I could have…all the money I spent on makeup and pantyhose and..stuff, I could have spent on…stuff!” (Sleep deprivation makes me speak in gibberish.) He looked at me as if he weren’t sure whether he offer me a sedative, then mumbled something about men having social pressures too. What-ever.
Well, I never did make the rank of Master. Some dreams aren’t meant to be, and have nothing to do with sexism; I just wasn’t that fine a player. But I did finish university in two and a half years, made Phi Beta Kappa, earned several graduate fellowships, a few literary awards, developed hobbies and interests that ranged from Japanese anime to competitive shooting, and, in short, had a life. (And I’m not saying this to brag-if a lot of women put the same amount of time into ther own pursuits as they did worrying about their “relationships” and endlessly analyzing his every word with their girlfriends, they could easily do as much, and probably more.)
It’s not that I hadn’t a life before my “epiphany,” but (and this is quite possibly one of the hardest admissions I will ever make) except for chess, I’d geared my interests to what (I thought) guys might find appealing. Ladies, if you are doing this, stop right fucking now. Not only will you be more likely to find a compatible mate or at least entertaining friends and companions if you pursue what you find interesting, You will have earned satisfaction and self-respect. And no man is worth giving up either one. Nor will any man respect you for building your life around him because that shit gets really old, really fast. He may be flattered at first, but if you don’t have independent opinions and activities you can talk about, things will sink faster than the Titanic. (On a sad note, my first spouse died very young. Wonderful man, great memories–Merci, Pip.)
3. Be fucking careful: Often, when I state my views on this matter, I’m accused of “blaming the victim.” Not my intent at all. Perhaps my late father said it better, “Don’t take stupid chances.” You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind and you don’t go to Mike Tyson’s hotel room. You don’t get sloppy drunk in public places with people you barely know or can’t trust. You don’t, as Robert de Niro said in the movie Ronin, walk into a place you don’t know how to walk out of (or drive, as the case may be). Be aware of your surroundings. If you’re scared of something in a given situation, you probably should be, so get the fuck out of said situation. Be careful where you go and who you go with. Be careful what substances you swallow. Above all, know your limits—with alcohol, other chemicals, and sex. If you’re the kind of gal who can have casual sex and let the chips fall, more power to you (though be warned that even if you don’t get attached, the man in question might, so again, be careful.) If you’re going to have casual sex with a guy you met once and then drunk-dial the fellow for the next two weeks asking what went wrong, keep your panties on. For fuck’s sake, have some respect for yourself.
Now, I’m perfectly aware there are circumstances where there is not a whole lot you can do. If some muscle-bound, 6-4, 250 lb ex-con suddenly broke through my skylight and was determined to do whatever he wanted, there is really not a thing I could conceivably do to stop him, Krav Maga classes and the South’s liberal gun laws notwithstanding. If you’re in a public place when a crazed gunman starts shooting? Duck, cover and play dead is probably your best bet. But the reason situations like this make the news is because they are relatively rare.
Now I hear the whine, “But why is it my job to be careful? Why can’t I go where I want and wear what I want? Why don’t men just behave themselves?”
Because, my dears, there is a certain percentage of men (women too, but women tend to turn their anger inward on themselves rather than outward on others) who don’t behave themselves, who are never going to behave themselves, and cannot be taught to behave themselves. There are the serial rapists and killers, and there are also normal-seeming men who are either so deeply wounded or so sick (these categories can overlap) who are what they call “opportunistic” offenders. Just don’t put yourself in a situation that makes you their “opportunity.” Again, I’m not telling you to lock yourself in your house, wear a burqa and look at every man as a potential Ted Bundy. That’s no fun, and as a dedicated hedonist, I’m the last person to tell you not to have fun. Just be careful who you’re having fun with.
And those Krav Maga classes are not a bad idea.
4. Knowing when to tell a guy to fuck off and die: I’ve saved the hardest for the last. What makes a good relationship? Comfort, respect, and more pleasure than pain. That’s putting it simplistically, I know, but not a bad place to start. I’ve been married to my spouse now for almost 23 years, and we would be the first to tell you not all those years were what you’d call “good.” There’s a difference between a 6-week romance at summer camp and being in it for the long haul—no relationship can be maintained on the high C for long. But even in difficult times we always had fun together, enjoyed being together, and never ran out of things to talk about.
Too many women fall into the “My Love Will Change Him” trap (the whole 50 Shades of Grey premise). Yes, long-haul love involves compromise, occasionally unpleasant compromises. Again, know your limits. Personally, I can live with my father-in-law breathing bourbon fumes in my ear and getting us kicked out of restaurants and casinos for making obscene propositions to the cocktail waitresses, so long as the lunkhead keeps the milk and honey flowing unimpeded. If your man wants two kids and you want four, you can probably work something out to your mutual satisfaction. If, on the other hand, he wants to live as an urban Manhattanite and visit the Guggenheim on weekends and your deepest desire is to be a doomsday prepper in Montana, bid him adieu and find someone more appropriate. (Shouldn’t be too hard). And for fuck’s sake, discuss these issues before any long-term commitment. People can and do change their minds, but you can’t count on it happening, so it’s a very, very, good idea to have some idea of what’s negotiable and what isn’t.
But whatever you do, do not think, not for a second, that you can marry an alky, sex addict, abuser, compulsive gambler, cokehead, etc. and “change” him. A half-dozen rounds in rehab and lifelong attendance in “the rooms” with Friends of Bill or Whomever might, but not you. You are not some earth-mother goddess who can heal him because his mommy didn’t love him enough. Well, there are guys out there who are basically okay but whose mommies really didn’t love them enough, but these dudes often turn out to be bottomless pits of need and you won’t be healing them either. I’ve met a number of these specimens in my travels and strangely, they all seem to look just like Jim Cavaziel.
Obviously, as the old Eddie Murphy routine goes, none of us are perfect people. We all carry baggage and we’re all fucked up in some way. So find someone who can tolerate your baggage and fuck-ups as well as you can tolerate theirs, and as long as other things click into place, you’ve got a fighting chance.
But if there’s no way in hell? Ending things as amicably as possible is nice if you can manage it. Sometimes you can even still be friends. But, if the guy in question turns angry or weepy? Cut clean and stand your ground. None of that “let him down gently” crap, as mixed signals are the best way to drive a man (or a woman, for that matter) batshit insane and perhaps even into genuine “creepy stalker” or at least “annoying tweet” status. Simply tell him to bugger off and change your number.
If you’ve gotten this far, you might be thinking, “Damn, she’s angry.” Damn right I’m angry. I’m a woman, dammit; I’ve got skin in this game. I am sick to death of women being portrayed as either a) helpless victims, b) manipulative cunts, or c) irresponsible airheads. There’s a little of the three in all of us, men and women alike, but these one-dimensional caricatures, both in life and art, must stop. The stakes are far too high. We need to give ourselves the same rights men do to have fulfilling, independent lives, as I learned on that long-ago Saturday night in Vancouver. Be Ruthless when it comes to respecting yourself, your time, your interests, your safety, and your energy. Living well is, truly, the best revenge, not framing your not-worth-a-squirt-of piss spouse for murder.