Ranging from hilarious to pathetic, the true tales of "What Was I Thinking? 58 Bad Boyfriend Stories" all describe the moment when logic, common sense and simple self-respect triumph over the need to be loved. Basically, the moment when a woman finally realizes, "It's over." An excerpt.
"Junk in the Trunk" by Amy Wruble
I knew it wasn’t going to work out with Phil about halfway through our first date. Bobby, eager to pair off his single friends, had invited both of us to dinner in SoHo without much thought to our compatibility. Phil was short and slender, with small, pointy, feminine features, like a ferret in drag. I wasn’t going to let his looks thwart the possibility of romantic connection. It was January and I’d just made a resolution to be less superficial in the New Year. All my life, I’d been a single white female seeking an intellectual male supermodel. (Have you met my husband, Dr. Matthew McConaughey, M.D., Ph.D.?) This was a lot like trying to date the Loch Ness Monster. I was ready to admit that the species was just a myth.
Along the way, I’d dated a string of sexy scarecrows, still waiting for The Wizard to grant them a brain. There was the chiseled musician who can best be described as half-lingual. His rock band should have been called Malapropism. He once ordered the “cheese fondude.” There are only so many times you can shut somebody up with kisses, especially in a restaurant. Then came the adorable pot dealer whose remedial math skills almost got him beat up when he shortchanged a client by confusing a pound with two half ounces. A high school drop-out, he lacked book knowledge. (His Achilles’ heel was not knowing where his Achilles’ heel was.) Dating these cute dopes had left me with nothing but pretty photographs, huge credit card bills, and an STD scare. But Phil, my blind date, came from a nice family, went to a good school and had a big-boy job in finance, so I was going to look right past that girlish rodent face into his beautiful (I hoped) soul.
The restaurant was small and unpopular. We ordered drinks and appetizers and got to know each other a bit, with Bobby playing host. “Phil, you and Amy have something in common. You’re both from Connecticut.” Me: “Really, what part?” Him: “Westport.” Me: “I’m from Stamford.” Him: “Oh.” So maybe we didn’t have a cosmic connection, but I was still cheerily optimistic that Phil had something charming or special about him waiting to be revealed.
At some point I got up to pee, locating the tiny, drafty bathroom across the way. There I was, jeans down around my ankles in the stall, when I heard voices, loud and clear, like they were next to me. It was Bobby asking Phil, “So what do you think of Amy?” Through some trick of the acoustics, the sound of their conversation had traveled up into the ceiling rafters and down into the bathroom as easily as water through pipes. “She’s a nice girl … ” Phil began. I stopped peeing so I could hear even better. This was a rare opportunity, the realization of that fantasy where I’m invisible and can hear what everyone’s saying about me. “But you know,” Phil continued, “she’s got a lot of junk in the trunk.” I was stunned. If this had been a reality show, one of those record-scratching sound effects would have really captured the moment.
For anyone not familiar, “junk in the trunk” is a derogatory reference to the size of a woman’s behind. So let me set the record straight about my ass, before it sues me for slander. My ass is one of the least objectionable parts of my body. It’s round, it’s firm, it has pizzazz. And ever since J-Lo and Beyonce embraced bootyliciousness, it’s even trendy. If my ass had a job, it would be entertaining the troops in the USO. If my ass had a name, it would be Lola. My trunk has spunk. Now, had Phil directed his critique elsewhere, say, my training bra boobs or the premenstrual volcano on my chin, I might have stayed locked in the bathroom all night, tearful and humiliated. But his critique wasn’t so much hurtful as ironic. Here I was, renouncing my superficiality, pledging to embrace inner beauty, and the ferret face thinks I’ve got a big butt.
I returned to the table, wondering how and when to expose my secret knowledge. (You didn’t think I was going to let this one slide, did you?) The opportunity presented when the waitress asked if we wanted dessert. Phil turned to me: “Do you want to split something?” I paused, looked deeply into his eyes, and told him, “I don’t think so. I want to be careful not to put too much … junk in my trunk.” Something flickered in his face. Phil didn’t acknowledge my comment, but I knew he’d heard me. I wondered if he thought I was psychic, or just had supersonic ears. I wondered if he felt guilty or was simply relieved to know our brief relationship had come to an end. (Insert record-scratching sound here again.)
In that moment I reevaluated my New Year’s resolution. Maybe it’s okay to be a little superficial. When I’m genuinely attracted to a man, I’m flirtier, warmer, and a better date, making him more likely to appreciate my total package instead of appraising my parts. Maybe I just need to balance physical attraction with some deeper qualities like kindness and being good at Scrabble. Months later, I heard Phil turned gay. Okay, that’s not strictly true, but it’s what I like to tell myself, and Lola.
"Norm Crosby Syndrome" by Lynn Snowden Picket
Sometimes you fall in love, and the object of your affection does something unexpected, and suddenly you feel all the love just drain out of you right onto the floor. Most people can understand this kind of instant change of heart if the loved one did something big and horrible, infidelity maybe, or certainly murder, but occasionally it’s something quite small. Sometimes it’s something so minor you can’t even bring yourself to tell the person you fell out of love with exactly what it was that just ended any thoughts of a future together. Because if you did, you would sound, well, crazy.
I had a moment like this once. I had been dating a man I’ll call John Travolta. Just to be clear, I’m not calling him John Travolta because he actually was John Travolta, I’m calling him that because he was, in many ways, very similar to the guy John Travolta played in Saturday Night Fever. My John Travolta also lived in Brooklyn with his parents, he was good-looking, it was the late 1970s, and his first name was John. The other stuff didn’t match up so well, since he wasn’t a good dancer, and his last name wasn’t Travolta. Anyway, we’d been dating for a year, and he had actually proposed at one point, right in the middle of Saturday Night Fever, which is another reason it makes sense for me to call him John Travolta. He said, “If we’re still like this,” meaning happy, “in a year or two, you want to get married?” Flattered, I said yes, and we went back to our popcorn.
It’s probably obvious at this point we were both still in college, the last time in a woman’s life when it’s still semiacceptable, if not technically desirable, to date a man still living with his parents. It’s also the only time in a woman’s life when a marriage proposal can be quickly classified as noting more serious than a compliment. So John Travolta and I were sitting in a cozy little café one fine afternoon, and he said it might be nice if we ordered “a crèche” of wine. Fearing he would actually say this to the waiter, who might think he was stupid, or worse, that the waiter would think I was stupid, I said, “You mean carafe. A crèche is one of those little depictions of the birth of Christ that you see on people’s lawns at Christmas.” John Travolta gave me a stern look and said, “Lynn. I’m a writer. I play with words.” That did it.
Years later, I told another woman this story, and she said she had a similar epiphany. Her boyfriend was telling her about something he read in a magazine, but said he didn’t buy the magazine because he was “an invertebrate newsstand browser.” Okay, invertebrate, inveterate, it’s practically a typo. Except this woman could now only picture this man as a giant jellyfish, flopping around, getting the stacks of newspapers soggy. Another friend told me about running under an awning with a man she was dating to wait out a sudden thunderstorm. He made a remark about how much fun it was to look at everyone running through puddles while the two of them stood there, not with impunity, mind you, but with “alacrity.” Her interest in him waned right along with the rain.
None of us told these men the relationship died from what should be called Norm Crosby Syndrome, named for the comedian whose entire act involved malapropisms, so there are probably hundreds of men out there who are confused about the details on why a girlfriend broke up with him. I’m wondering if one guy in particular is sitting at a bar right now telling his buddy that one minute he and his gal were having a conversation about how being divorced doesn’t carry the same stigmata it used to, and the next she was packing her bags! Go figure.
In case you’re wondering what happened to John Travolta after that day in the restaurant, I eventually found out he went on to become a copywriter in an ad agency. So next time you see an ad that’s kind of stupid and doesn’t make any sense and you find yourself wondering, “Jesus, who wrote this crap?” it’s probably written by the kind of guy who thinks a carafe can also be called a crèche. He’s a writer. He plays with words.
Excerpted from "What Was I Thinking? 58 Bad Boyfriend Stories," edited by Barbara Davilman and Liz Dubelman, published by St. Martin’s Press.