January 12, 2004

Mr. Butternut

Many years ago a guy named Charlie L. borrowed my friend Alisa’s copy of A Lover’s Discourse. Recently Alisa asked for it back and Charlie L. said, very irritated, “Well, do you need it?” Alisa was frightened and didn’t reply. A few days later she read a quote on my website by Roland Barthes – “I am like those children who take a clock apart to find out what time it is” – which made her realize she’s afflicted with a love curse. A love curse meaning a curse that prevents one from having love. The curse began when Charlie L. borrowed her copy of A Lover’s Discourse. Alisa told me all this in an email and then wrote:

What do I do? Should I buy a new copy? Should I go to the gypsy fortune teller and bring this new copy and for $100 they will do something to it to remove the curse? Bury or burn it, I imagine?

This guy lives in New York now with his longtime girlfriend, so there’s no curse on him.

What do you think?

For some reason people often ask my advice about their romantic problems. Given my own romantic history, this is both strange and, to use an overused word, ironic. Nonetheless I always try to craft a thoughtful reply. Here’s what I wrote to Alisa:

Knowing just one thing about Charlie L., I feel safe to say that he’s a bad person. Thus I recommend that you buy a new copy of A Lover’s Discourse and put Charlie L. behind you. One way I’ve changed over the years is that I don’t hesitate to drop stuff that isn’t working. Like Charlie L.

Mr. Butternut1 goes in the same category as Charlie L. Or rather, he goes in a similar but different category, since he’s not a bad person. Still he’s not working so I say drop him.

Knowing nothing about Charlie L.’s relationship with his longtime girlfriend, it’s hard to say if he’s cursed. That aside, I don’t believe in curses. You get what you pay for. Or not. But there are no curses.

  1. Mr. Butternut is my name for a man who last month brought Alisa a bowl of soup at a party and talked to her a lot. The problem with Mr. Butternut is that he’s really nice. At first Alisa had some hope about him because he kept seeking her out and bringing her food as gifts. But now she realizes he’s just nice and isn’t interested in her romantically. When she was confused about this, she asked if I would ever bring a woman a bowl of butternut squash soup at a party for a neutral reason, and I said absolutely not. But then I wondered if it was possible that Mr. Butternut was in fact romantically interested in Alisa but was operating according to an idiosyncratic model of a romantic relationship. As it turns out I was wrong to wonder this. Mr. Butternut isn’t romantically interested in Alisa. I know this because Alisa subsequently flew to Utah for the holidays and wrote to Mr. Butternut about a rodeo she went to there, having always dreamed of attending a rodeo. Mr. Butternut showed zero interest in the rodeo – not the bareback riding, nor the steer wrestling, nor even the barrel racing – and merely asked Alisa to keep him on her mailing list.