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Blythe Roberson entertains with essays

By KANAK GUPTA | March 14, 2019

How To Date Men When You Hate Men. No, that’s not an advice column. That is the title of humorist Blythe Roberson’s first book, a collection of comedic essays about the dilemmas of dating men in a modern world. I went to Bird in Hand on Saturday, March 9 to ask Roberson this question in person at her reading of the book, where the urgency for the answer increased exponentially when I, ironically, found myself sitting next to an old, white man with boundary issues. 

Long story short, Blythe had no idea either. But through her honest and hilarious discussion about her personal experiences dating men — the flirtation techniques, the exes, the expectations of marriage — she helps you, if only momentarily, to come to terms with the dichotomy of loving your own oppressors (or our collective Stockholm syndrome). 

Roberson, who works as a researcher for The Stephen Colbert Show, has written several humor pieces for The Onion, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, its parody issue The Neu Jorker and the limited edition Paul Ryan magazine (yes, it is exactly what it says it is). 

Her experience as a comedy writer was palpable as she read two essays and a humor piece. She read with the charm and confidence of a seasoned stand-up comic. 

The first essay she read was called “Stealing,” titled so because it was about how stealing from your crush was a way of flirtation. Roberson also confessed that she wrote it because she loves drama. 

Her first topic was the psychology behind stealing hoodies from crushes. She wondered why it was such a popular high school move. Was it because of the feeling of mischief? Or was it because it was a way of “externalizing your feelings onto a dumb hoodie and turning that hoodie into physical proof of your connection with your crush... tangible evidence that they prefer you not die of hypothermia.” 

Or was it just the secondhand physical contact that made the gift so special? 

Roberson moved from the topic of stealing things to leaving things behind, as she spoke about a friend who always leaves behind inexpensive things like hair ties and pins because it sends the message that no matter how casual the liaison, her friend had, in fact, existed. 

She recalled an incident in which she accidentally left behind a necklace at a man’s place. Unintentionally put in this perfect scenario, Roberson asked the man how ever would she get it back, to which he replied, “My roommate has a drone.” 

Toward the end of the essay, she wondered why this game of stealing and forgetting seems gender-specific and concluded that it’s likely because “it’s not as cute for the person with all the structural power to steal from a person with less. Or maybe men don’t have the evolutionary need to incrementally close the pay gap through the theft of things.”

After her thoughtful analysis of a common dating practice, she moved on to a comedy piece titled, “Hello, It’s Mr. Nasty — Definitive Proof That Tom Hanks’s Character is the Villain of You’ve Got Mail.” 

In the piece she explained why Joe Fox, Hanks’ character in the rom-com, was evil. The reasons ranged from him thinking a tall decaf cappuccino is a complicated coffee order; to his ill-treatment of Parker Posey, his pre-Meg Ryan girlfriend and the supposed antagonist of the movie; to Fox just being an entitled, rich, white, “het-cis-dullard” who was so capitalistic he would’ve had a place in the Trump administration. 

Though the listicle was entertaining, with some of the points being downright hilarious, I found it to be one of the weaker parts of the reading. Perhaps because, as a citizen of the internet, I am flooded with five listicles busting the problematic tropes and representations in romantic comedies on the daily, or perhaps because I’m just too young to be as invested in a movie that was released the year I was born.

Roberson, however, quickly managed to recapture my attention with her final essay: “Marriage is Bad and I am For Sure Going to End Up Married to the First Person That Asks Me.” She said that even though she knows that marriage is objectively bad and stacked against women, she thinks of it like the saltine challenge, as if, despite a million others having tried and failed, she believes that she can be “the one person who can defy the odds.” The one person who cannot end up with the man who loves oppressing her and causing an early death.

And she meant early death literally, she clarified, quoting Elizabeth Gilbert from her book Committed, in which she says that studies show that married men live longer; accumulate more wealth; do better in their careers; are less likely to suffer from alcoholism, addiction or depression; are less likely to die a violent death; and generally report being happier. Roberson then asked the audience to envision the next sentence with hand-clap emojis between each word — “All of the that is the exact opposite for women.” 

This imbalance is probably why girls are taught to be so boy crazy, she concluded. But she confessed that, despite knowing this, she still knew three guys she would say yes to if they asked. The essay explored the reasons for this — her need to be good at everything (including marriage, eventually); the external validation of someone “finding you interesting and fuckable” enough to spend all their life with you; the want for romantic stability; and her father’s cancer wish of walking her down the aisle. (Don’t worry, he’s fine now.) She hopes the sum-cost fallacy of having signed papers in court and promising to love one another in front of people will end up working in her favor and that the evolving society will increase her chances of success. Regardless, she’s glad that we no longer have to plan our lives as a road toward marriage.

After much thought, Roberson said, she had finally come to the conclusion that she would marry the first rich person that asked her, convince her friends to move to New Mexico — her reasons for which were not explained — and die. Though this conclusion, like the unanswered question of the book, left much to be desired (such as a way to play the system in your favor or some revolutionary idea against the institution of marriage); it seemed to echo the sentiments of many other women in the room. And by talking about this very honest exploration into our constant dissonance between emotions, rationale, societal and personal expectations and laughing at the absurdity of it all, Roberson seemed to make us all lighter together. 

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