Dating, non-responses and Nathaniel P
Something You Said’s Elaina Ransford explains that everyone knows Nathaniel:
Remember that awesome scene in Midnight in Paris when the Hemingway character says that he knows he’ll hate the main character’s book because “If it’s bad I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing. If it’s good I’ll be envious and hate it all the more.”
Not to liken myself to Hemingway (or Woody Allen’s version of Hemingway), but I understood this feeling perfectly while reading The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman. It’s a book so well written, so poignant, so accurate, that I hate the author, and made about ten Facebook statuses quoting it, much to the chagrin of my 800 or so “friends”.
I am not as intense as Hemingway. I’ll swallow my envy now and tell you all that this is the greatest contemporary book I’ve read, and that even though I’m jealous, I love this book.
For those unfortunates amongst you who haven’t read it, here’s a quick synopsis: Nathaniel is a writer on the cusp of success in Brooklyn. He has just landed a book deal, spends his mornings asleep and his nights out with beautiful editors and their assistants, and seems to always be doing some awesome bohemian thing that involves references to obscure authors and drunken debates about empathy. He is, we are told, a product of “a postfeminist, 1980s childhood and politically correct, 1990s college education.” The book starts with him being confronted on the street by an old hookup who had to have an abortion after a broken condom incident with Nate. Nate doesn’t understand her anger when they run into each other. We follow Nate through his next relationship with average but smart, and pretty-but-not-beautiful aspiring writer Hannah. It doesn’t go well. Nate moves on in a matter of weeks, Hannah is heartbroken.
So why did I love this book so fucking much? Because I know Nate and you know Nate and we both hate him.
I’ve spent years navigating hazy one night stands, veiled text message exchanges, and vague relationships that seem to just float in and out of existence. I’ve vacillated between angrily claiming that I’m too independent for men, drunkenly screaming at a guy for not texting me back after a day, sobbing on the phone with my ex, and trying to date the loser in the back of my Shakespeare class who I kind of hate.
Who was driving me to such insanity? Nathaniel P.
He thinks he’s doing the right thing by paying for the abortion, and doesn’t understand why he’s being persecuted for not calling the girl afterwards. He just didn’t like her that much, what’s the big deal? When he and Hannah break up she sends him a heartbroken email (that will make everyone reading it cringe with recognition) that Nate, frozen with indecision as to how to respond, ends up not responding to. Hannah is humiliated.
Now, this isn’t a rant about men. There are some great men out there (the one I’m currently dating, for instance. See? This isn’t a sob story), but the reality is that people are shady and vague and they use venues of communication like email and text to be extra cruel.
This isn’t anything new. Jane Austen addressed the cruelty of a non-response in Sense and Sensibility with the exchange of notes and letters. People, and let’s be real, men especially, don’t like to reject other people outright. It’s so much easier to just pretend like the girl or woman or other man or whatever just doesn’t exist anymore. But God, it hurts to be on the receiving end.
About a year ago I went on the most wonderful date. He, Stephen/Nathaniel P., picked me up on his motorcycle (swoooooon), took me to the best hole in the wall Mexican restaurant ever, took me to a ridiculously hip bar where we drank margaritas, and then we rode back to his apartment, fucked, and had a lavish breakfast with strong coffee in the morning, all of which he made. And then we got back on the motorcycle; he took me home, I texted him the next day, and never heard from him again.
Yeah, it was sad. I cried and drank a bottle of wine.
What’s my point? That it’s just so much nicer to respond. Even if it’s a negative response, just call someone back, respond to their text, just say, “I had a good time, but I don’t want to go out again.” Fine. That’s it.
Seriously, Nate, why didn’t you just respond to Hannah’s email?
Dating always feels so murky. It’s a series of little interactions, the value of which you’re never sure of. Calling them “Love Affairs” as Adelle Waldman does in her title is rather generous. They’re more like intimate brushes with another person, which might or might not be repeated. They’re hangovers that you’re never sure are regretful or full of hope (albeit headachey hope).
Waldman does a terrific job of writing from the perspective of “that guy”. It all seems so reasonable from his perspective, the non-responsiveness, the cheating, the million little betrayals or slights. But at the same time, it’s so easy to take a step back and fucking hate Nate.
In an interview, Waldman said that sometimes while writing the novel she would get angry at her husband, just because he was a guy. I feel that. We all know Nate, and though I’m sure he was a formative part of our romantic education, he still brings us that gross cringey feeling of humiliation and hurt every time we’re reminded of him.
The book reminds us that men of upstanding principles and impressive educational pedigrees, can act like absolute dogs. Jane Austen knew it, I know it, and you know it. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. might inspire outrage and painful memories, but it’s worth it. Even jealously, I can’t help passionately urging every single one of you, man or woman, to read this book.
Words by Elaina Ransford.