Here is Lorrie Moore’s version of advice: “Whisper, ‘Don’t go yet,’ as he glides out of your bed before sunrise and you lie there on your back cooling, naked between the sheets and smelling of musky, oniony sweat. Feel gray, like an abandoned locker room towel…Wonder who you are.”
That’s from the story “How to Be an Other Woman” in her aptly, ironically named collection, Self-Help. It was published in 1985, but I first read it twenty years later as I forged an adult life for myself in New York City. I was not, never have been, and hope to never be an “other woman,” but it got to me anyway. I felt like I’d been another woman, having read this. Not just because Moore is an extraordinary writer who can make you feel things, but because it spoke to me even in my non–other–woman–ness. It spoke to the heartache of loving a man who doesn’t love you back quite enough, to the messiness of sex and love, to the absurdity of being a young woman without all the answers (without any answers).
Moore’s work, and this particular book, came to my attention thanks to a particularly messy paramour of mine, a significantly younger, impossibly smart author I sort-of dated after ending a longtime engagement. I was searching for female voices to emulate, women writers who did more than squeal, “Yay, shoes! Yay, men!” This guy said Moore would do the trick. He was, obviously, right. At least he gave me that.
Now, six years later, re-reading that story nauseates me, taking me right back to a time when I did at least one embarrassing thing per week in the interest of getting or keeping a man’s attention. I just didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know you don’t do it; it just happens when you don’t do it. Every day then, I was following Moore’s take on “self-help” without even trying: “Feel gray, like an abandoned locker room towel.” “Be strange and awkward.” “Use his toothbrush.” “Wonder who you are.”
I’m so grateful to be far past that phase in my life, to be in a relationship that doesn’t make me feel like a locker room towel. But reading it again, it still gets to me in the same places. It makes me ill, and yet it makes me want a thousand drinks and a big cry. It is a great story.
Good stories put us in someone else’s skin. Great stories make us think someone else’s skin is ours.
To read an excerpt of Jennifer’s short story, “Dating Writers”, CLICK HERE.
“Dating Writers” is now available in its entirety in MEMOIR, VOL. 1.