Thought Catalog

You Should Date An Illiterate Girl

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God & Man

Date a girl who doesn’t read. Find her in the weary squalor of a Midwestern bar. Find her in the smoke, drunken sweat, and varicolored light of an upscale nightclub. Wherever you find her, find her smiling. Make sure that it lingers when the people that are talking to her look away. Engage her with unsentimental trivialities. Use pick-up lines and laugh inwardly. Take her outside when the night overstays its welcome. Ignore the palpable weight of fatigue. Kiss her in the rain under the weak glow of a streetlamp because you’ve seen it in film. Remark at its lack of significance. Take her to your apartment. Dispatch with making love. Fuck her.

Let the anxious contract you’ve unwittingly written evolve slowly and uncomfortably into a relationship. Find shared interests and common ground like sushi, and folk music. Build an impenetrable bastion upon that ground. Make it sacred. Retreat into it every time the air gets stale, or the evenings get long. Talk about nothing of significance. Do little thinking. Let the months pass unnoticed. Ask her to move in. Let her decorate. Get into fights about inconsequential things like how the fucking shower curtain needs to be closed so that it doesn’t fucking collect mold. Let a year pass unnoticed. Begin to notice.

Figure that you should probably get married because you will have wasted a lot of time otherwise. Take her to dinner on the forty-fifth floor at a restaurant far beyond your means. Make sure there is a beautiful view of the city. Sheepishly ask a waiter to bring her a glass of champagne with a modest ring in it. When she notices, propose to her with all of the enthusiasm and sincerity you can muster. Do not be overly concerned if you feel your heart leap through a pane of sheet glass. For that matter, do not be overly concerned if you cannot feel it at all. If there is applause, let it stagnate. If she cries, smile as if you’ve never been happier. If she doesn’t, smile all the same.

Let the years pass unnoticed. Get a career, not a job. Buy a house. Have two striking children. Try to raise them well. Fail, frequently. Lapse into a bored indifference. Lapse into an indifferent sadness. Have a mid-life crisis. Grow old. Wonder at your lack of achievement. Feel sometimes contented, but mostly vacant and ethereal. Feel, during walks, as if you might never return, or as if you might blow away on the wind. Contract a terminal illness. Die, but only after you observe that the girl who didn’t read never made your heart oscillate with any significant passion, that no one will write the story of your lives, and that she will die, too, with only a mild and tempered regret that nothing ever came of her capacity to love.

Do those things, god damnit, because nothing sucks worse than a girl who reads. Do it, I say, because a life in purgatory is better than a life in hell. Do it, because a girl who reads possesses a vocabulary that can describe that amorphous discontent as a life unfulfilled—a vocabulary that parses the innate beauty of the world and makes it an accessible necessity instead of an alien wonder. A girl who reads lays claim to a vocabulary that distinguishes between the specious and soulless rhetoric of someone who cannot love her, and the inarticulate desperation of someone who loves her too much. A vocabulary, god damnit, that makes my vacuous sophistry a cheap trick.

Do it, because a girl who reads understands syntax. Literature has taught her that moments of tenderness come in sporadic but knowable intervals. A girl who reads knows that life is not planar; she knows, and rightly demands, that the ebb comes along with the flow of disappointment. A girl who has read up on her syntax senses the irregular pauses—the hesitation of breath—endemic to a lie. A girl who reads perceives the difference between a parenthetical moment of anger and the entrenched habits of someone whose bitter cynicism will run on, run on well past any point of reason, or purpose, run on far after she has packed a suitcase and said a reluctant goodbye and she has decided that I am an ellipsis and not a period and run on and run on. Syntax that knows the rhythm and cadence of a life well lived.

Date a girl who doesn’t read because the girl who reads knows the importance of plot. She can trace out the demarcations of a prologue and the sharp ridges of a climax. She feels them in her skin. The girl who reads will be patient with an intermission and expedite a denouement. But of all things, the girl who reads knows most the ineluctable significance of an end. She is comfortable with them. She has bid farewell to a thousand heroes with only a twinge of sadness.

Don’t date a girl who reads because girls who read are the storytellers. You with the Joyce, you with the Nabokov, you with the Woolf. You there in the library, on the platform of the metro, you in the corner of the café, you in the window of your room. You, who make my life so god damned difficult. The girl who reads has spun out the account of her life and it is bursting with meaning. She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. You, the girl who reads, make me want to be everything that I am not. But I am weak and I will fail you, because you have dreamed, properly, of someone who is better than I am. You will not accept the life that I told of at the beginning of this piece. You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied. So out with you, girl who reads. Take the next southbound train and take your Hemingway with you. I hate you. I really, really, really hate you. TC mark

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    • A girl who reads...

      I liked this. I really, really, really liked this.

      • http://twitter.com/jessdutschmann Jess Dutschmann

        This is probably the first thing on thought catalog that made me feel an emotion strongly. My heart is breaking.

        • Elizabeth

          Seconded.

        • http://twitter.com/MollyWest12th Molly Oswaks

          cosign.

        • Gisela

          yup.

        • http://twitter.com/srslydrew Andrew Farr

          tears on my keyboard.

        • http://twitter.com/john__dorian john dorian marshall

          lol

      • Nameee

        yeah thats right, dont date a girl who reads because she wont let you get away with anything! Just choose someone who doesnt read, and live an unadventurous, boring, terrible life…Or you could date a girl who reads and actually be something. Stop being a wimp. Only the weak can’t deal with someone who has happiness. Only the weak, boring, people, who by the way, a girl that reads would want nothing to do with.

        Girls who read are much better than those who dont.

    • http://justyourusual.blogspot.com Esra

      Ouch!

      Or you could become a monk.

      Enjoyed the read!

    • Stephen

      Amazingly bleak

      • http://thevastnothing.wordpress.com Raj

        gREAAAAAAAAAAAT

    • Sedona

      Well done, this is stunning.

    • Katie

      I liked this, but then again, I sense these are simply the musings of another tortured indie-llectual waiting for his manic pixie dream girl to come along.

      • bannef

        Hmm, I feel like it's instead acknowledging that all those pixie dream girls who pick the boring guys in movies would actually know enough to keep going… But yeah, I'd agree that's what the narrator was hoping for.

    • http://twitter.com/MollyWest12th Molly Oswaks

      This was beautifully written. I sort of hated you throughout most of it. By the end, though, I'd changed my mind. Completely. The best thing TC's published since…since I don't know what.

      • sowmyace

        totally agree. I wasn’t anticipating the ending. Beautiful!

        • http://susannahailenemartin.wordpress.com Susannah Ailene Martin

          Same.

    • http://sarahalaoui.blogspot.com/ Sarah

      Love.

    • ...

      probably going to get hated on for saying all of this, but, i don't buy your ode as anti-ode gimmick. the prose itself is well-crafted but your description of what makes up a “challenging female partner” just…grosses me out. came off as close-minded, one-dimensional, etc. i'm not sure what's intended to be offensive on purpose here and what's intended to be worshipful. would like to know why you picked only male authors as her “challenging reading content.”

      • Elizabeth

        Virginia Woolf?

      • ...

        *lame male authors

      • http://twitter.com/MollyWest12th Molly Oswaks

        Read it again. You missed something.

        • Lemonsherry

          you're really obtuse and annoying. also, a fangirl.

        • Jen

          Don’t be a dick.

        • person

          If you're going to say that, can you at least write what you think the person missed?

        • http://twitter.com/MollyWest12th Molly Oswaks

          See my super long comment a bit above; it's all in there.

      • duanereade

        agreed! also, hemingway?! i side-eyed that.

    • http://twitter.com/rislynsey christopher lynsey

      2011 is the year of feeling.

    • Val

      You use words nicely, but do some happier stuff for goodness sake. Go, for example, to the gym.

    • MEOW

      Very powerful piece–it made me feel, as much as any literature ever has.

    • Page Turner

      This piece was a compelling 'read', but made me want to reach for the Zanax…. it seems that either 'option'…..literate vs. illiterate, is soul-less. The protagonist despairs, yet would choose the illiterate girl with the life-potential of a barren oyster over the Reader with the heart of Magellan. Is it really the girl who reads that he hates, or is it his own impotence?

      • katie

        I think you missed something.

        • John

          Actually seems pretty spot on to me. Phenomenal read!

        • Page Turner

          thanks!

        • Page Turner

          It's a well-written piece, no question. The message is the age-old curse of the misogynist… he hates the fact that he needs a woman.

        • natalie

          feel like the sentiments here are universal; any person could experience anxiety and insecurity over not achieving an ideal; any person could just as easily spend their life with “someone who doesn't read” and feel the same sort of emptiness. i don't understand why this is misogynistic.

        • Ann

          I agree. This doesn't read as misogynistic to me at all. Kind of perfect, though.

        • Page Turner

          In this piece, he presents two options: a meaningless life with an illiterate or life with a reader whom he hates. His advice is to choose an illiterate “because a life in purgatory is better than a life in hell.” How can you not see the misogyny?

        • http://twitter.com/MollyWest12th Molly Oswaks

          He proposes hypotheticals, not options. In the end, the girl who reads has the control: they will not end up together because she is smarter, more confident, more perceptive, and more ambitious in what she wants for herself, (“You will not accept the life that I told of at the beginning of this piece. You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied.”) She is the one unwilling to settle for and with this shallow but seemingly tolerant narrator; he doesn’t have any say.

          And I don't think he hates her, either; I think what he hates is how she “makes” him feel–inadequate. He hates that he isn't enough for her. (“You, the girl who reads, make me want to be everything that I am not. But I am weak and I will fail you, because you have dreamed, properly, of someone who is better than I am.”) In other words, he recognizes that she wants and deserves more, and he validates it. Basically, this is a guy who hates himself.

          If the piece were misogynistic, it would just rail against women in general, about all women, however vacuous, because misogyny is hating women for the mere fact that they are women. And, really, that's not what this piece does.

          If anything’s being bashed, it’s elitism–and even that, for the wrong reason, entirely.

        • Page Turner

          The term misogynist certainly stirs things up! It may be too strong a term, but I wouldn't assume that he would rail against women in general — if he were a misogynist. By strongly urging the path of least resistance, it appears he is addressing other men… even as a warning from his own failure to pursue passion.
          I don't think we differ that much… in my original post I asked “Is it really the girl who reads that
          he hates, or is it his own impotence?”

        • http://twitter.com/rislynsey christopher lynsey

          This comment seems highly ironic.

        • Billh

          So this person's views on it are wrong, but yours are right? Your view and assumptions are right, and the other person's wrong?

        • Bobby Tables

          You realize this is the Internet, right?

        • Billh

          Oh yeah, I forgot that even people who can construct sentences and use words with more than three syllables act like pretentious know-it-alls here in the interwebs.

        • Thomas

          There's a difference between having a different opinion and misinterpreting what the author is trying to say. If you read this and think that he hates the woman simply because she reads, then yes, you missed something. I completely agree with Molly; he “hates” the reader because she makes him feel inadequate. In other words, he's admitting that she's better than him. That's not misogynistic, and to say so would be–try not to explode–wrong.

        • Billh

          And who is to say YOU are interpreting what he said correctly? Why does this other person have to be misinterpreting it? God forbid that is you who is – try not to explode – wrong.

        • gluefingers

          i must have missed the ceremony at which you were appointed thoughcatalog policeman.

          maybe back the fuck off, billh, and an actual dialogue can develop. it will be that much easier if you can refrain from crashtackling anyone who seems to have gained something by reading the piece.

        • Bill H

          “i must have missed the ceremony at which you were appointed thoughcatalog policeman”

          Kind of hilarious saying that to me, and then suggesting I should “back the fuck off”. You see the irony there? How about you back the fuck off with telling people what to do, yeah?

          Boohoo! Someone doesn't agree with me or others, he needs to back the fuck off. Grow up, moron.

        • bannef

          Well if you can point to evidence in the text that supports what you're saying then I would say you are more likely to be right? No one's claiming to know 100% here, but that doesn't seem so unreasonable to me.

        • http://twitter.com/MollyWest12th Molly Oswaks

          Thanks, Thomas. I think we're simpatico, here. I'm with you on all of the above.

        • NotAnElitistprick

          The idea that a reader is better than someone who doesn't is preposterous. There's far more to humankind than the ability to read.

        • Bobby Tables

          I'm a little confused by your one-man crusade to extinguish the entire basis for any kind of debate, argument, discussion, conversation, or…really, any general exchange of ideas. It's not like we're arguing about a scientific paper, this is a written piece submitted as art, and therefore open to interpretations as varied as the people who are reading it. I asked you if you'd forgotten that this is the Internet, where pissants endlessly quibbling over nuances are pretty much de rigeur, and you should probably let it roll off your back.

        • natalie

          i don't see this piece in terms of MEN WHO READ vs WOMEN WHO READ vs WOMEN WHO DON'T, but more in terms of PEOPLE WHO THINK vs PEOPLE WHO DON'T. feel like sex and or gender is pretty irrelevant—seems like it’s about confronting expectations/ideals that seem entirely unattainable (to the point they may not even exist) and also like it's really the idea that matters; even if it's not real; “the idea” is always going to make the protagonist feel inadequate and like he “choose” mediocrity, even if that's all there ever was.

          don't see misogyny though; calling this “misogynistic” seems limited/missing the point

        • Tribbeltrouble1

          except you can't erase context. man writing about women as fungible accessories to their lives, as forces of good or evil, as one-dimensional, virgins/whores, etc has been done to death, for fucking ever. the author's reference to hemingway and other Important Writers, all of whom are white dudes (always!) is just another tell. you act as though this guy just sat down to write some totally abstract internets piece and flipped a coin and said “oh yeah, i guess i'll write from the perspective of a Nice Guy jilted by a Comlicated Woman because the penny came up tails.”

          women, “literate” or otherwise are sick and tired of being reduced to stereotypical supporting cast roles in the Very Important Lives of Dudes, everywhere and that really is the problem.

        • Tori

          The life in Purgatory is the life with the thoughtless dimwit. The life in Hell is the life without the woman who reads because she will not stay with him because she knows she deserves better. His Hell is that he is not good enough for her. He doesn't really hate her, he resents her for being too good for him. It is a deeply romantic piece and there is not an ounce of misogyny in it and I pity you if you cannot see that.

        • http://twitter.com/MollyWest12th Molly Oswaks

          He hates the fact the he's not good enough for the girl who reads.

          That he “needs a woman” doesn't much matter, one way or the other, because he can “get” one as long as he lowers his standards to…a girl of lower standards.

        • Billh

          Yes. Because this person has an opinion different to you, this person must have “missed something.” Sure.

        • Hyacinthe

          Oh, gods, why do we live in an age where every opinion is “equally valid” except the opinion that an opinion sucks or is–shock! awe!–wrong or missing some crucial element?

        • Billh

          Because it's a freaking OPINION! It's not about it being valid, you buffoon, it's about it being an opinion. Jesus wept.

          Saying someone “missed something” because they do not agree with them is not about opinion, it's about the person wanting to be right. They are right, their opinion is right, and therefore SOMEONE ELSE “missed something” to end up with a different opinion.

          It is not that this other person read into it differently. No no, this person is not at fault. The other person MUST have missed something.

        • Bobby Tables

          …well now, see, that's just your opinion.

      • John

        There is another piec floating around, possibly by the same author, titled date a girl who reads. Its very emotional and uplifting, and taken together with this makes me feel that he despairs for the difficulty of such a women, but would in the end take her, because she is worth it. I find many times in life it is hard to tell if I hate or love a thing more.

    • Brad

      Dude. I feel you. I really do. Nobody likes being held up to the unfair standards of passion, perfection, and well-told stories. But get a grip, man: tell your own damn stories. And learn to read.

    • REI KOZ

      [QUOTE]You Should Date An Illiterate Girl[/QUOTE]

      NO.

      • http://twitter.com/rislynsey christopher lynsey

        Yes.

        • REI KOZ

          NO.

        • Wds3817

          yes

    • http://twitter.com/JosephErnest Joseph Ernest Harper

      Real cool post. Made me think of Murakami protagonists. Really liked it.

    • http://kumquatparadise.tumblr.com aaron nicholas

      bravo

    • Literate

      WOW. Beyond amazing.

    • Weird Kid

      Brilliant

    • Neha Kale

      brilliant – blew me away.

    • a girl who reads

      A girl doesn't need to read Nabokov to notice your 'bored indifference.' I feel sorry for the author who has apparently had his heart broken by a 'literate' girl, but am disturbed by his lack of respect for those 'girls who don't read,' women he sees as intellectually inferior to himself. Intellectual smugness, even from someone otherwise insecure, is ugly.

      • Yun

        I honestly think you need to re-read this. Reading isn't the point, passion is, I think.

        • a girl who reads

          Perhaps, yes, but isn't there an implicit assumption that someone who doesn't match some threshold of education and worldliness ('Midwestern') isn't capable of deep emotional understanding?

        • shoehorn

          weirdly agree

        • bannef

          That's true. I really think we're not supposed to like the narrator.

        • proof

          There is if you assume that, but I'm sure the author didn't. As said by other posters, the thought of a girl who can't read is about how her illiteracy carries along with it a certain innocence. Girls (and guys for that matter), who don't read may not know of the cliche love stories that set the bar impossibly high for all relationships. Ignorance of these stories may be the only way in which we can truly FEEL love, and have that deep emotional understanding.

          It's not the illiterate who can't understand love. It's the literate who MISunderstand it.

        • http://twitter.com/MollyWest12th Molly Oswaks

          Fully agree.

        • DeLaFrancia

          Exactly! He's only using “girls who read” as a conceit about a woman thinks, wants, and feels, as opposed to one who merely exists. This shouldn't be read literally. It's a literary device, and you'd know it if you — gasp — read more. :)

        • bannef

          Hmm, I felt the girl who reads is more someone who is aware of experiences beyond her own, possibilities beyond her own. Passion works too, of course.

      • reverser

        as devil's advocate…maybe a non-reader may very well be intellectually inferior to a reader just by virtue of not reading. before everyone freaks out, that may not be as offensive as it sounds. i mean, if we're talking about being intellectual…it may be safe to say that intellectual people most likely read. that doesn't mean a non-reader can't be talented and smart in a non-intellectual way, and he may very well be able to respect that. maybe it's just not what he needs in a woman?

    • Allison

      I've never bid farewell to a hero with only a twinge of sadness.

      • Billy

        awww

    • Nikki

      My favorite on TC thus far; so true and inescapable.

    • Brandon Gorrell

      nice

    • icwhatudidthere

      I really liked this. But make sure she's not a girl who only reads romance novels.

    • E.W.K.

      I rarely comment on message boards, but this article just evoked such a strong emotion in me that I cannot resist.

      Well-written, boring, irrelevant, depressing, and pathetic. May I have the last 4 minutes of my life back please. 10 minutes if you count all the time I spent reading the praises and parsings. 15 if you count the time it will take me to write this.

      At the end of the day, what pisses me off the most, is the notion that the qualities of an illiterate woman somehow outweigh the negatives of one who is not. This has been echoed above, but the choice (AND IT IS A CHOICE) seems to be about willing to be challenged by a partner who actually stimulates you…or not.

      Risk v. Reward. If he marries the simple, midwestern gal who doesn't read (which is obnoxious in itself), and appreciates a kiss in the rain in good light (which, based on my experience, is pretty universally desired by all women) it will end in divorce or you will die unhappy. Marry the reader, who knows, maybe you will be legitimately happy or maybe you will prove inadequate. At least their is the possibility of something sincere.

      • Zed

        Missing the point. It is implied that the narrator is making flawed assumptions about the causality/correlation, as the style of writing shifts from didactic/prescriptive to downright angry and emotional towards the conclusion of the story. Thus we can tell that the metaphor of literate v.s. illiterate is simply a vehicle for the narrator's (viciously erroneous) rants about his ex-girlfriend.

        People, please relax and just enjoy the story.

        Wonderfully written.

        • Billh

          Yes, how dare EWK think it was boring or irrelevant. Of course that is wrong. EWK just “didn't get it”. Right. YOU'RE missing the point, ZED. EWK can think what he/she wants.

          What's to say YOU “didn't get it”, and that you're understanding is wrong. Presumptuous.

        • reverser

          come ON- he obviously didn't get the blaring sarcasm and irony- it's pretty clear he DOES value the reader/thinker over the simple non- reader. reading it otherwise is simple lack of reading comprehension, not just a different “opinion”.

      • Kaleidoscope

        I couldn't agree more. This piece of writing is rambling and full of crap. The bottom line is the author was dumped by a smart girl so he now prefers someone who's dumb and naive so he can have full control of the relationship and conceal all his insecurities. I pity this bitter man.

        • Djgovio

          i pity on u 2 be smart

        • bannef

          Yes! Yes this is the point exactly! Except I hope the man you're pitying is this character, as opposed to assuming the writer didn't realize the irony?

      • yo

        Give me a break.

        You can't even spell, use a spell-checker, duh; or even punctuate correctly. You are about as credible as is your whimsy in supposing your time has been wasted.

        Why not pick up a copy of the New Yorker or Mad Magazine, since reading comprehension seems to be your weakest strength and get a clue of what satire is all about.

        I shudder to think what your opinion of Jonathan Swift's “A Modest Proposal” would amount to; perhaps you'd might already have been eaten by your own parents instead of suffering this forum with your charlatan masquerade.

        There, they're in their beds. Tuck in the little children. But make sure you've had a snack first.

        CEJ has nailed it; this piece is, awesome.

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