Sunday, March 14, 2010

Neurasthenics Dot Com

While spending the past week stymied by mucous and guzzling Nyquil to not one avail, it occurred to me that I’d spent my childhood in much the same way, as well as vast parts of my stupid adulthood. My next revelation was how grossly I’d lied on my personal profile for Match Death Dot Com, not to mention my equally libelous work on Jew Date Dot Com, a.k.a. JDate. 

I'm not referring to the requisite lies--the frenzied halving of both weight and age--but the more insidious lie of omission. I’d forgotten to mention what I really was: a nineteenth-century shrill neurasthenic. A slacker who, instead of joining the volley ball game, drops into a lawn chair a mile away and drapes her knees with a Civil War blanket. Or, since I only seem to have sprung from the most tedious parts of a Henry James novel, with the latest issue of the New Yorker. My only defense is that Jackie O did much the same thing when the Kennedys tried to make her play football. Then again, Jackie ran miles around Central Park, and I wouldn’t run if God herself set my lawn chair on fire. I’d just mince away, taking a pause every now and again to search my purse for more aspirin. 

My sister, the very robust Mrs. Pep, is most emphatically not neurasthenic. Or, rather, she might complain like a real neurasthenic (“I’m tired and achey and I can’t breathe”) but she does it while either swimming the Hudson (the river she lives by in upstate New York) or taking confident strides all the way up to the peak of Mount Howard. I don’t know what the verbal complaints are about (when I offer her Advil, she shrinks like a slug who’s been sprinkled with salt) unless she does it just to imitate me, which I only now realize must be the case, because that is how I talk all the time. Which is just one more thing you can’t admit on Match Death Dot Com or Kayak Dot Jew—that even if you had been blessed with real pep, you’d only ever use it for whining. 

My mother, who feigned housewife normalcy most of her life, never complained of her own neurasthenia, but you could tell she was having it anyway. It wasn’t just that she wouldn’t play volleyball, she declined, every time, to even play Scrabble. As for lawn chairs and blankets, she kept a chaise lounge in our sunny back yard and lay on it daily with her Ladies Home Journal. It seemed to me she read one feature only, the one I read as soon as she’d finished, the eternal “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”.

Its format gave you three points of view—first the wife’s, then the polarized husband’s—and then the marriage counselor’s solution, which not only worked every time, but, like Jell-O's new chocolate pudding mix, worked right that instant.  Looking back, I think this is where my mom might have learned some marital lessons, in particular not to express her displeasures in actual, recordable words, but to keep instead to the mordant sigh and the shattering grimace. When I was ten she came to dinner one night and ate it all, without explanation, with both her eyes closed, and I don’t mean just closed, but fiercely slammed shut, as if she’d been caught in the world’s fiercest sand storm. She must have thought that not seeing what she usually saw (the face of my father, whose seat was opposite hers) would help ensure that she didn’t speak to him either, lest she utter words she’d be sorry for later when she was standing alone in some vile Divorce Court. Thus, perhaps, did she save her own marriage without even having to pay for a counselor.

Unfortunately for me, I don’t think tactics like that work any more. If I dated a stranger who made me feel crazy by, say, declaring his Starbucks coffee “amazing,” I really might feel the need to shut both my eyes. And if I gave in to this need, he’d surely reject me for being a mental, or at least for having some eye condition that would force him to drive me around all the time.  And I very well might give in to that need, because here’s the real horror: Even when I’m home alone, I sometimes drape cardigans over my head in case my eyes won’t close well enough to vanquish each and every visual stimulus. 

See what I mean? The lies on my profiles don’t even matter—if you spend any real time with a person, the truth always outs and it outs pretty quick. Neurasthenics Dot Com—that’s the group I should sign up with.

Except that I can't, 'cause even I would rather play football than date one.


  1. Welcome back! Missed your unique voice in the Chronicle.

  2. You are my favorite internet date!

  3. "...the mordant sigh and the shattering grimace."

    my mother could control the house with these...

    great read!

  4. But, knowing what you know ... why, Dear Ms. G, are you signing up on those dating sites? Everyone lies on them, and by the time you get around to their truths you've usually already slept with them and then it's nuttin' but trouble extricating yourself. Call me a crazy cat lady, but my cat makes me laugh and doesn't lie or play head games. Kibble is a small price to pay for honest affection.

  5. Ah Rose! The only reason i did it was so that I could honestly say that I'd TRIED. Now I'll have it engraved on my tombstone: SHE TRIED TO GET DATES BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! Call me a crazy cat lady too. Mine eats Friskies. So be it.

  6. Trite but true: men are like parking places ... the good ones are already taken and the ones left over are handicapped. Sigh.

  7. Hahahaha, enjoyed the posts and the comments. Thanks!

  8. I don't even MIND that the men who are left are all utterly handicapped. I MYSELF am utterly handicapped. What I mind is . . . oh yeah, what IS it I mind? Oh yeah. That Mack the Republican Born Again Cowboy won't fall in love with me. And HE has a bona fide handicap parking permit.

  9. I had a Republican boyfriend named Mack (I kid you not), but that was in the Jerry Ford days, so it wasn't hideous like now. He married someone else and they now winter in Arizona and take cruises and live the life. It was great THEN, but we wouldn't have survived the Bush years.