I never really cared until I met you

11:30 pm on a Friday night is a certain kind of witching hour on the platform of the Brooklyn-bound Q train at Union Square. One couple is pressed up against the wall at the end of the platform making out like teenagers, probably because they are teenagers. Over by the benches there are four other couples — the whole platform, actually, is couples (except for the person observing the couples). A man puts a proprietary hand on his girl’s face and says something that makes her wrinkle her nose, faux-mad. Another couple holds hands as they stare down the tunnel in the direction of the approaching train. No first dates here — the first dates are headed over the river in cabs. Everyone is smiling, a little drunk from the wine at dinner or still laughing about the funny thing at the end of the movie. Everyone seems happy to be going home to a sure thing instead of heading back out into the night in search of something. Three hours from now the platform will be crowded again with those seekers, heading home alone.

Speaking of Love, during my haircut today I read Philip Nobel’s article ‘Danger Man‘ in last month’s Elle and got all worked up over it, just as Elle intended. As you probably already know — I missed the hubbub about this because it occurred during my August Internet fast (Mac-ster Cleanse? RSSamadan?) — Nobel wrote about leaving his college-sweetheart wife and their two-kid Park Slope lifestyle, after the wife had worked a full-time job so that he could pursue his writing career, for his 22 year old research assistant, who understood him. Yes, he says: he’s “That Guy.”

From the moment Nobel mentioned the 22 year old’s “big tits,” the piece became almost comic in how explicitly it seemed engineered to push women’s buttons:

“I was also bored. Just bored. For years, I later realized, I had been adjusting my diction with my wife, self-censoring, editing out of conversation the allusions I didn’t think she would get. I see it now with my kids: When their little brains aren’t engaged, they act out.”

Yikes. Ohmygod no one will ever marry me and I’ll die alone and even if I do somehow ever get married and live my brownstoney dreams my husband will spend years being secretly bored by my inferior intellect and then he’ll leave me for basically Scarlett Johannsen and write about it for a national magazine and I won’t even see any of his $2/word because I will have gotten screwed in the divorce settlement, is the response the editors who assigned this piece were looking to evoke in their readers, and they got it. They got it from me, too — I mean, I’m not immune to having my strings pulled.

Jezebel talked to the ex-girlfriend, who acquitted herself brilliantly — while she admitted that her memory of events diverged from Nobel’s, she eschewed sour grapes in order to muse about narrative and memory. They also talked to Nobel, who mostly came off as confused: “There’s a poor fit between societal institutions and biological fact,” he said, but then he said that he didn’t think those institutions could be fixed by “the introduction of loopholes that would allow infidelity.” He also said, “I believe in love, and I believe in children, and I believe in commitments, and I believe in lifetime commitments.”

That interview, and a little bit of perusal of his Tumblr, has convinced me that Nobel isn’t, like, the “World’s Worst Person,” though I’d like to know whether he yet regrets this post. A few hours post-read, I’m mostly over being scandalized by the idea that a 35 year old Brooklynite writer-man who got married at 25 might leave his wife for a younger woman and then have trouble justifying his new bedhopping lifestyle to his married friends because, duh and yawn.

What remains interesting to me is the specific way the commenters — on Jezebel and other blogs — ripped Nobel a new one. “Dear God, what a schmuck. What a mish-mash of self-involvement and self-delusion. This sucker’s a Danger Man, all right–a danger to any other human being who comes in contact with him. My only question is, what in Hell is he doing publishing this in a fashion magazine?” is a representative, fairly mild example. Also, “Own up to being an asshole, Nobel – not an ironic, witty, brilliant rascal of an asshole, but just a garden-variety asshole who hurt and betrayed a number of people to get his rocks off. Then man up, spend a lot of time with your kids, try not to be a continuing prick to your ex-wife – oh, and shut the fuck up, please.”

Also people tossed the ‘narcissism’ word around a lot.

If this story has a moral, and I’m not sure that it does, I guess it’s that the Internet, in addition to being good for porn and looking up movie times, is now our #1 place to go when we want to offer strangers who’ve written about their lives our most vicious judgment and most witless unsolicited advice. I’m not defending Nobel — at the risk of engaging in the behavior I’ve just criticized, I’ll say that I think that he cut himself a lot of slack while failing to extend the same courtesy to the women he was writing about. But I do think that the way he wrote that article was, essentially, brave. Sometimes you can be honest and an asshole at the same time.

15 comments to I never really cared until I met you

  • I have nothing interesting to comment, just thank you for this post. I like the dealing with conflicting judgments. And since I don’t read Elle, thanks for bringing up the story.

  • meer

    I’m not sure whether this guy was being brave, but I disagree with your statement about the Internet being the number 1 place to go to offer strangers advice, etc.

    The thing is, most of the stuff that people said on Jezebel about Nobel–they probably would have said it (perhaps without all the profanity, or maybe so) in conversation with a friend, right, if talking about the article. Stuff written on Jezebel–that seems more like just another conversation a group of people are having, except that they post online and they’ve never met before. But lots of Jezebel users, and users of sites similar to it, see the site as a “community.” They’re talking to–or at–each other. I’m not sure most of them really think about Nobel reading their anonymous comments and I don’t really think those comments are *for* him. They’re part of a conversation–one that the subject could, if they wanted to, read. But that’s the medium. Though I’m not saying that this is the case for every subject (as you know better than anyone).

  • Be sure not to debate a controversial subject with anyone from September 13 to 18.

  • But I mean, you could say that any kind of assholic behavior could be considered brave. Publicly badmouthing your ex-wife on the internet or being Tucker Max is is indeed brave—both parties know full well that they are going to be pelted from all angles with attacks but they keep on trucking along regardless. I just don’t think bravery is commendable or even worth recognizing when absolutely no greater good comes out of it. Maybe I’m being melodramatic here but being Hitler, Musolini, Stalin etc. is brave. Running someone over with your bike is brave.

  • owapapercut

    Once I went to a hair stylist who was in the midst of a nasty divorce. As she told her tale of woe, each mention of her ex’s transgressions was accentuated by a loud “snip!” My head was a monument to his shortcomings.

  • TC

    This reminds me of that behavior that I myself (and most people I know) have engaged in wherein we KNOW we’ve done something fucked up and keep telling people about it, hoping to find the person that’ll say, “No man, that wasn’t such a bad thing–extortion is like, really common these days…I’m sure you had a good reason…”

    In that respect, I’m not sure if its bravery or desperation that led him to share. Maybe if he takes enough virtual bashing he feels his karmic score will even up.

    Additionally, if this is the level of competition I’m facing out there from other guys, I really have no excuse for being single…sad to say this guy isn’t really atypical.

  • Tim

    I went through a period of severe depression during my late twenties for an entirely different reason than Noble. Unlike him I was all alone. I recall Noble mentioning in the Elle piece that his bedhopping exploits were a way of running from singleness, which he equates with, “loneliness, disaster, death of the soul.” Being alone is a bitter pill to swallow, but it does have its perks, not the least of which is knowing that half the world shares your longing.

    A recent book entitled Guyland explores how young men mature into adulthood these days. What used to be a transitional phase has turned into a prolonged life stage. Noble’s article is a testament to this new phenomenon because it shows how bypassing an important step of physical and emotional development hobbled his maturity. There are countless incomplete adults populating the planet who are all trying to deal with their life gaps in different ways. Like the prodigal son story, we all need something to come home to.

  • JMc

    I’m not that old, but still remember a time when “airing one’s dirty laundry” in public was not a good thing. Maybe the rules have changed in this era of tabloids and blogging.

    While I’m on the subject, I’ve thought for a while that The Youngs might benefit from looking up the word “modest” in the dictionary, possibly relating to their dress and attitudes.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like pop culture as much as anyone, but there are plenty of good writers who valued a certain sense of decorum. Maybe I’m just old fashioned.

  • arthur

    Great post. I never imagined I would read an article from Elle Magazine. I am glad I did.

    I agree, you can be honest and an asshole at the same time.

    I found this man to be extremely courageous in telling his story. Brutally so.

    I have to admit that if I were ever to be wrapped up in such a scenario, the last thing I would ever do is tell anyone the gory details. I pride myself on being honest and I would lie through my teeth to avoid letting anyone know what a shallow self-centered dick head I was. I feel a wee bit sorry for this lad in that I believe the choices he has made will cost him dearly and he seems sensitive enough to care.

    He has also brought to light that which is ever present in all monogamous relationships, that is no one is completely satisfied with them.

  • smallstatic

    There is a reason people feel compelled to share the details of their lives that are so personal and intimate as the ones shared by Nobel and I don’t think it’s usually for the greater good or to better humanity in any way. Much like his behavior towards his wife, it’s inherentely selfish and ego driven. I’m in camp ‘he’s a narcissist’ (the armchair psych. diagnostic variety) without a doubt.

    From what I understand, you support writers who share their personal stories online and you defend their right to do so even if the information shared involves the personal details of other people’s lives with whom they are involved. I support their right to tell their stories as well. But I don’t think we owe someone like Nobel a safe haven from reprimand when he is essentially describing what a selfish a** he is. He doesn’t get a pass because he’s “sharing”. That’s taking it too far. It’s not all that brave to describe in detail the reasons you feel justified in cheating on your wife and the degree to which it is is drastically overshadowed by how self serving it is. It really just seems like a desperate attempt to get someone, somewhere to support his choices, as TC said.

  • m

    I think maybe the real issue is in the passing of judgment by people in a position to influence the opinions of others. Maybe his wife was fucking around and he didn’t want his kids to know about it. Maybe his wife was fucking her boss and embezzled $20k from her place of employment and gave it to her pimp who used it to buy her a mountain of blow and only the pimp and Nobel know that it (blow) has a hypnotic effect on her that makes her engage in anal with everyone in the room. (And again, maybe he doesn’t want his kids to know and/or for their mother to go to jail. Maybe she gave him a cut of the $20k, and so-on, and so-forth.)

    I’m not chastising you (for real – I haven’t familiarized myself with the Nobel story and doubt I’ll have time to), but it’s worth mentioning that the last thing I remember reading from your entry was the passing of judgment. I know it’s Totally Uncool to say, “Maybe people shouldn’t be so judgmental,” but that’s stupid. I think it goes hand in hand with your remark that said something to the effect of “Just because we can sell someone out and air their dirty laundry all over the internet doesn’t mean we should.”

    This is your blog and thus probably has a little more ethical lee-way (though the passing of judgment may do something similar to what you told others not to do with your blog – it might turn EmMag into the equivalent of a Comment) than one of your published pieces would, but I’ve come to realize that it’s a Red Flag every time a writer (especially journalists, but other types of writers, as well) pass judgment on the private life of a public figure.

    Again, I’m not chastising you. Whether factually or theoretically, I could be wrong. But it’s worth mentioning.


  • m

    (Thanks for using a capital “L”.)

  • kittywright

    Although I’m not going to defend Nobel (nor do I think you were either) can I give you three cheers for “now our #1 place to go when we want to offer strangers who’ve written about their lives our most vicious judgment and most witless unsolicited advice.”
    I guess I should be used to reading people’s ridiculous comments on blog posts. But it never ceases to amaze me how someone can disregard any inkling that authors will read those comments. And maybe I’m still developing that thick skin I should already have-some of the most negative words have stuck with me entirely too long. Say it to my face interweb.

    You’re preaching to the choir girl. Thank you Emily.

  • Tim

    About all the narcissism comments, Gay Blade has this to say:

    Clinical depression is a selfish and narcisstic condition. I should know because I’ve spent the last 16 years in therapy for (among other things) clinical depression. Many, many people suffer from periods of depression. Animals go through phases of depression. Children. The elderly. Single people…

    Since so many who commented attacked Nobel for being a “narcissist,” I assume you people are really just indirectly venting against your own internal depressed architectures. Depression causes a claustrophobic sense of feeling imprisoned. Wherever you identify your power source as coming from (from within you or from without) it can feel like an unfair, karmic punishment at times, or an unconscious anchor of apathy that is ruining your life.

    Philip Roth talked recently to the Wall Street Journal about indignation. “I think people are full of indignation. They walk the streets in indignation, ride the subways with indignation. It’s a common, human motive.” I think some of this collective indignation is aimed at the paraphysical haze of depression clouding our thinking and emotions. Because, really, this cryptic pandemic must have a source, something feeding it, something causing it to grow and adapt and matastasize. It is only righteous to hate the mysterious source and want to free yourself from the blindness.

    In the world of depression you are the most important person, the protagonist, the antihero, the narrator of you life. You eclipse everything and everyone else. In light of this, how could Nobel (or any of us) not write a narcisstic piece about a marital problem? Why should we pounce on him for exhibiting the same selfishness which we project with our blog and iPod fueled lifestyles? Our celebrity worshipping lifestyles? Our autonomy espousing lifestyles?

  • Gay Blade

    @ Tim- I didn’t know you were me now. Your solipsistic drivel asserts that we can only know ourselves in our selfish little worlds. I assumes this means we can only BE ourselves as well, right? Or are you the only person who can understand the things you say? I admit that I am a solipsism junkie myself, but I don’t go around leaving comments on blogs or scribbling on bathroom walls pretending to be somebody I’m not.

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