Assholedom, Henry James on Facebook


Ask The Paris Review

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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