I met Thomas online. I was enjoying being single (i.e., drunkenly making out with my male friends), but had left myself open and receptive to the possibility of a new relationship — a state of mind I'd learned in self-help books such as Return to Love by Marianne Williamson.
I was checking my email before going to bed when I got an email from Thomas. It was titled, "Superfudge." He wrote, "Hi. We've never met but we have a mutual friend in common, Sharon. She asked me to go to a party this weekend so we could be set up, but you left before I got there. I asked Sharon what your favorite book from childhood is so I'd have something to write you about. She said it was Superfudge by Judy Blume. You're not going to believe me, but that's my favorite book too. I don't even remember what it's about. I just know that I loved it and my life was never the same after I read it. Just like how your life isn't going to be the same after reading this. Ha. Ha."
I wrote back instantly. I already knew, in the way that girls just do, that Thomas would be my new boyfriend right after I hit send.
At work the next morning, I had a hangover after staying up all night IM'ing with Thomas. I gushed to the receptionist, listing all the reasons Thomas was perfect for me. "We agree on so much about life. He loves the Red Sox, margaritas and Johnny Depp!" It didn't escape me that, aside from the margaritas, these were the same reasons I crushed on boys when I was twelve.
Thanks to my self-help books, I believed that Thomas had been brought to me because I'd cleared out some space in my bedroom closet to "make room for a man." I had become a dedicated self-helper back when I couldn't afford therapy but desperately needed to get over being dumped by Ben, the love of my life. I read The Journey From Abandonment to Healing, and the even more trite, Don't Call That Man! I had needed a book to tell me I was stalking my ex. I had been camping out in the hallway of Ben's apartment, like the Cindy Sheehan of breakups. I wondered if the neighbors at Ben's apartment complex ever thought, "Whatever happened to that nice girl who used to lie down in our hallway and cry?"
Three weeks after we met, things were going well with Thomas. We played hooky from work one sunny summer day and drank margaritas at a dark Mexican restaurant. He crafted a homemade horoscope book for me about how cosmically perfect we were together.
Was Thomas unhappy with a short, average brunette? I consulted my library. You Can Heal Your Life taught me, "There is no competition and no comparison, for we are all different and meant to be that way."
Thomas was a brilliant photographer. He had the ability to make me look like I had high cheekbones and a regal nose in photos. I pushed him to try to showcase his photographs in galleries but he preferred to keep his work boxed up and hidden in his hall closet.
On one of our first dates I thought I'd found a dealbreaker — a stack of Playboy magazines under his bed. Instead of starting a fight, like pre-self-help me would have, I pretended I was fine with it. It's not that I have a problem with porn — and admittedly Playboy is quaint — but those small-waisted, big-boobed blondes make me a bit paranoid. Was Thomas unhappy with a short, average brunette? I consulted my library. You Can Heal Your Life taught me, "There is no competition and no comparison, for we are all different and meant to be that way." Thomas explained that his subscription was a birthday gift from a friend and that, as improbable as it sounded, he really did read Playboy for the articles — those women weren't his type.
Within three months, I'd met his parents and won over his skittish cat, Ms. Franny, who apparently had never previously joined him in bed if there was a woman there. I loved a man who owned a cat and confidently talked to it in a baby voice. One night when we were snuggling up in bed with Ms. Franny, Thomas said, "I'm gonna marry you, you know." It was pretty romantic — and pretty soon. Was Thomas in love with me or codependant? I decided to just let him love me and whispered back, "I know."
I rolled over to grab a book out of my bag and snuggle with my someday-to-be husband and stepcat. I know reading in bed sounds like the kiss of death, but we were morning-sex people. I liked doing it in the morning, before work. It was my way of sticking it to the man. I never came into work late with tangled hair and my blouse buttoned wrong, but just taking the time to get laid in the morning made me feel like I had a certain edge when I sat in meetings.
I pulled out a self-help book and started reading about manifesting abundance. Did you know that if you want a new job you should send good vibes to the unknown person who will replace you at your current job and let them know the position is opening? I was so busy picturing how to send vibes to someone I'd never met that I didn't hear Thomas' question until the second time he asked it.
"What are you reading? Is that a joke?"
"No. I'm trying to manifest good things in my life."
"Isn't your life already good?"
"Well, sure but — it could always be better."
Thomas didn't say anything. He just reached under his bed and retrieved a Playboy. He sprawled out on the bed next to me, held the magazine up and read adamantly. While I read about being totally open and receptive to a wonderful new work position there was an airbrushed pussy right in my face.
I knew he was trying to make me jealous, but I couldn't figure out why. As I resumed reading about how I should write out twenty times a day, "My income is constantly increasing," Thomas threw his Playboy to the ground.
"I should be the only thing that makes you happy. Why do you need that book?"
"Thomas, I'll have you know that I found you because I was open enough to have a relationship. That empty space in my closet? I'd cleared that out before we met in anticipation of a new relationship."
"So you cleaned your closet, and you think that's why we met? If you clean more of your closet, will another guy show up, and you'll go out with him too?"
"It's not like that. If you want, I can help you clean out your closet. You'd be surprised how your photography career will take off if you do that."
Thomas reached for his nightstand and pulled out an emergency cigarette. He was a sometimes-smoker. Between puffs he said, "I accept life as it is. It sucks. If you keep trying to improve yourself eventually you're going to want a better guy."
"Why do these books threaten you so much?"
Thomas rolled his eyes. "It's just that if we have kids I don't want them finding these books in our house."
I realized this was probably not the right time to tell Thomas that I don't even want to have kids.
I slept over but there was no morning sex — just quiet toothbrushing. An email from Thomas was waiting for me when I got to work. It simply said, "I'm sorry it had to end this way. Can you come and get your things tonight?" After work, I rushed over to the bookstore and bought a copy of Superfudge. I wrote an inscription inside the cover: "Thomas, use this as your self-help book. Get back to that inspired kid you once were."
I went to his apartment. I knocked. Thomas opened the door stone-faced. I handed him the book, and he softened in that way that recent exes do when they begin to miss you and reconsider. Then he read the inscription. "Who I once was? Stop trying to change me!" Thomas handed me back the book and slammed the door. I dumped Superfudge in the recycling bin outside.
A few weeks later I already had found myself a rebound boy. I took him back to my house. As we went into my bedroom, I panicked because I realized I'd left my self-help book by the bed. I was starting to realize that if you leave the wrong books lying around, a guy's not going to fuck you. But Rebound Boy picked up my self-help book and said, "I've read this book a million times. It's the reason I started keeping a diary!"
I immediately lost my boner. If Rebound Boy was going to talk about his feelings all the time who would I get to be? I realized how Thomas must have felt. They call it self-help for a reason — you've got to keep it to yourself. n°