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Assholedom, Henry James on Facebook

June 11, 2010 | by

Boy Reading, by Thomas Pollack Anshutz.

I am leaving my girlfriend and I keep trying to be “nice” about it, but I don't think it's helping either of us. In fact, it's just making this painful process take longer. I really need to be an asshole and steep myself in assholedom. Any suggestions for where to start? —E. Stigler, New York City

“Where to start"? Where to start? What kind of asshole are you? You could try to pick up another woman and install her in your apartment, like Jean-Pierre Léaud in The Mother and the Whore. This will require a sidewalk cafe. Or you can nerve yourself up with Leonard Michaels's novella Sylvia, all about a “nice” young man who stays in a miserable marriage, with disastrous consequences. Some guys swear by The Genealogy of Morals or the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld, or you could wallow in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men or that godawful Neil LaBute movie In the Company of Men. But if assholery doesn't come naturally to you (and clearly it doesn't), I recommend the eccentric but wise (and utterly absorbing) study Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, by the late Dorothy Tennov. Dr. Tennov argues persuasively that the kindest breakups are those that leave no room for hope. Be a mensch—pull the plug.

My younger, twentysomething sister posts way too much on Facebook. Too many photos, too many (repetitive) status updates about her pet dogs, and our baby nephew, and so on. How do I gently tell her to rein it in a little bit and to think about putting forward a more edited version of herself (in one recent pic, she had some food clearly visible in her teeth) without being mean? It's getting a little weird at this point. —M. B., New York City

Most younger siblings are born with a touch of Williams syndrome, or something like it. But you can't protect your sister forever—after all, they're her teeth. If she's loving and un-cynical, her friends probably love her gaucherie (because they're not her sibling). In any case, don't turn yourself into the bad guy. Just think of that Henry James novel Washington Square. If Catherine Sloper was on Facebook, her father would feel exactly the way you do, he'd quash her status updates ... and live to regret it!

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  1. Susan | June 11, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Thanks for the literate laugh.

    Seriously, guy about breaking up – the “nice” thing can border on cruelty (not saying you are, just saying). You don’t have to be an ass-ahem. You probably just don’t want to think of yourself as the “bad guy.” Maybe you’re not–she’ll think so. But you know what? Better that than the a-hole who pulled a year-long string-along festival. ‘Cause that’s what she’ll say. (I’m a woman who had similar experience.)

    Person with sibling-without-borders: I feel your pain as oldest of five. The only one with a blog & somehow they’re the ones who can’t self-censor. (I suspect having been a reporter has helped me.)

    TPR so on the money with the WSquare example. Maybe change settings so you see less of the over-sharing? I did & if asked “but didn’t you see…?” I can say (truthfully), “No, I have too many other feeds to look at…send me a personal email if you need me to see something for sure.”

    Buona fortuna to you both.

  2. Rivka | June 12, 2010 at 9:54 am

    E. Stigler: uuuurgh! Stop being so wet!!!! And don’t be a coward, which is sounds like you are. Be honest and kind and leave no room for hope, whoever said that is totally right. You sound like you are afraid to not be liked, well you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette!

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