I don’t think I’ve ever seen Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughtta Know” sung at karaoke. I’ve only ever heard it belted. Whomever I’ve seen sing that song is clearly digging into her reservoir of hurt to muster the energy to give it its proper due. It’s even more powerful if, like me, you happen to have been going to high school at the time of its release. Anyone who has ever been wronged loves that song and that, frankly, should be everyone.
And then you learn that this song was written about Dave Coulier. Uncle Joey from Full House. The guy who said “cut. it. out.” on Out of Control. It takes some of the punch out of it.
After a little research, it appears that this tale of Canadian romance gone awry may not be so cut and dry. Here’s what we know. Alanis and Dave Coulier did date in the early nineties. The relationship seems to have been relatively short lived. If you listen to this chat with Jenny McCarthy, he admits that, at the very least, “I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner” is probably about him. (No word, however, on activities in a theater.) He seems to have had other things on his mind at the time and it wasn’t until the song came out that he actually understood that he had hurt someone. He didn’t know, which makes the song title “You Oughtta Know” that much more poignant.
So, I dated a girl several years ago. Well, actually, I didn’t date a girl several years ago and therein lay the problem. We were, in common parlance, “friend with benefits” or, stated another way, a certain kind of buddies. We were both far too old to be learning that this arrangement never ends well but so it goes. You learn lessons when you need to, not on someone else’s timetable.
We were both in comedy and when you date from a pool of creative people, it’s entirely possible to end up in someone’s act, someone’s novel, or, as Dave Coulier knows far too well, someone’s song*. In one of our frenzied, passive aggressive, and aggressive aggressive email exchanges my buddy mentioned that she had created a one woman show. I was in it and she said – over email – that I should come see it. Then, an hour later, she said – over email – that I shouldn’t come see it. I respected her wishes and let it go. I was always curious, though.
*and someone’s blog post, apparently
We didn’t speak for many years and finally, in true twenty-first century fashion, we ended up Facebook friends who never contact each other. So, over a month ago I saw her post that her one woman show script was available for download through a website for plays and scripts. I thought to myself, you know what? The past is the past. What could be gained by… oh fuck that, what was in that show?! I bought it, downloaded it, and read it.
Reliving your actions through someone else’s eyes is like reading the poetry your wrote in high school. You know where you were coming from at the time but holy shit did you have a lot to learn.
As she told me years ago, my name was changed. I also could have been a bit of a composite but there was definitely some recognizable behavior in there. My pseudonymed self wasn’t so terrible. He was just sort of stupid and immature and I can totally explain that. You see, at the time, I was really stupid and immature.
There was stuff in there that I didn’t know that I should have. She really had feelings for me and she wanted us to be a couple. She kept waiting for a grand gesture so we could go riding off into the sunset together. I never gave it.
I could explain but that’s not really the point. I was young(-ish) and inexperienced and I hurt someone. At the time, though, I really didn’t know. In other words, I was her Coulier.
The silver lining is that this woman moved on, wrote a show about her experience, and is now in a long term relationship.
It’s also fitting that, in karmic retribution, I started dating my Coulier a few months after her. We were way into each other for a few weeks. Then she started withdrawing and almost compulsively taking about her exes (who seemed to multiply by the day). In retrospect, she seemed to be the Coulier for other guys as well. She casually mentioned that a previous ex-boyfriend was still talking about her in therapy and that another ex had written several songs about her on his latest album.
After she moved on to her next boyfriend, I cyberstalked. I wrote her a long, confessional email about how hurt I was which I’m sure was met with an eye roll. (Man, you really have to write that email before you learn that you should never write that email.) After that I severed e-contact, went to therapy, and eventually started telling some stories of my own.
Your Coulier makes you grow up. Just once, you need to go into a relationship totally open hearted and optimistic and vulnerable only to have it crash and burn – hard – due to the indifference of the person on the other side.
You need your Coulier. When you put all your hopes into the person you’re dating, you lose sight of yourself. You never want to do anything that might scare that person off. You don’t communicate. You need to learn the hard way not to do that and, when you come through the other side, you’ve swept away all of your illusions, secure in the knowledge that anyone can bail at any time. You also use the second person when you write an essay about it when you should really be using the first.
I don’t really understand people who don’t have their Coulier. I guess there are people out there who get married to their high school or college sweetheart and don’t really get shit on as an adult dater. What’s that like? My girlfriend had a Coulier. If she hadn’t, I wonder if we would have been as unafraid to be honest with each other at the beginning of our relationship.
So, get shit on. Then write jokes about it. Write a solo show about it. Write a song about it. If you have to, write poetry about it. Then move the hell on.
“You Oughta Know” is track two on Jagged Little Pill. Track seven, however, is “You Learn,” and it starts with the line “I recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone.” Wise words, Alanis, wise words.