Margo* is a successful writer. She's smart, funny, attractive and not in the least inclined toward Fatal Attraction-like behavior. On a recent business trip, she met a man. They had a brief but intense flirtation, which continued via text once she was back in L.A. She'd just gone through a breakup, and this was exactly the distraction she needed.
It was fun at first, when she was simply enjoying the interaction. But then she started to rely on the exchanges. Heavily. Then, she began to analyze each one. Fanatically. Five weeks later, her “pleasant diversion” has become an agonizing obsession. She's lost weight, can't concentrate on work, is crunching Xanax and Ambien like candy.
She's 32 years old.
How, 20 years after the phase of being “boy crazy” begins, are we still being driven crazy by boys? How, after 20 years of being in and dealing with relationships, do we not know better?
Not being able to stand another day pacing in her apartment, we met up to work in a cafe. She handed me her phone and made me read the most recent string of text messages. “Should I have said, 'I'm glad,' period, or 'I'm glad you still feel that way'?” she said, gnawing on her lip. She was dead serious. It takes a village to write a text message.
Fact is, most women do this on a regular basis, even grown women who have their shit together in every other aspect of life. We hide it from men not because we fear it will make us look crazy — we actually feel crazy. Like, clinically insane.
What drives us out of our minds has changed since we were 20. Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction probably was that age, emotionally. We figured out a long time ago if a guy wasn't into us, no big deal; our desire died when it met his nonchalance. What's the point in forcing someone who doesn't want you to be with you?
Now, in our 30s, it's about delaying the inevitable with the man you do have a relationship with. We're old enough to have had breakups so excruciating that we'll do literally anything — even behavior that begins to resemble mental illness — to stave off the emptiness and deflation of “the end.” Margo knows this long-distance texting thing is doomed. But she can't bear to let go yet, and so in the interest of making this game fun like it used to be, she's neglecting everything in order to deconstruct and spend 45 minutes composing text messages. Of course it will never be so light and carefree as when she didn't really care. But that feeling is a drug. Even though it can't be recaptured, she'll keep chasing after it.
Everybody loves to quote the saying that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But maybe we aren't expecting different results. We're just addicted to this particular one.
Subconsciously, we love madness, at least a little. Madness makes life unpredictable and thrilling, even if also paralyzes and tortures us. The opposite of living madly is living boringly. The monotony of boredom is a far worse fate than spiraling out of control. We'd rather be insanely high, even if it's on a terrible drug like anxiety, than ho-hum with our feet on the ground.
So hey — it's not you, boys. It's us.
*Name has been changed.