Ex Marks a Spot

The Faulty Wisdom of Broken Hearts


Featuring essays and fiction from contributors as varied as talk show satirist Stephen Colbert, former US senator and consort to Linda Ronstadt and Debra Winger Bob Kerrey, and "black humor" author Bruce Jay Friedman, Things I've Learned from Women Who've Dumped Me seeks to find ponies in mountains of emotional manure. Edited by Ben Karlin, a former editor of The Onion who also worked on The Daily Show and co-created The Colbert Report, the anthology is "about that salient something men take away from failed relationships."

Unfortunately, based on the preponderance of the evidence presented here, that salient something amounts to little more than frat-boy-level chuckles about unrequited middle-school crushes, frustrating games of telephone tag in the pre-cell days, how "dirty girls make bad friends" (to quote the title of one contribution), and the realization that even boys who grew up wearing "husky" jeans can at least occasionally get the girl.

Of course, you don't go into a book with a foreword by the editor's mother ("My son is a real catch and shame on any girl who's ever thought otherwise") expecting Saul Bellow's More Die of Heartbreak (which hypothesized that love gone wrong killed more people than all the wars and famines in human history). But the collection's persistent glibness—don't inadvertently involve your pets in autoerotic activity, counsels one section—doesn't just undercut the occasionally funny lines, it helps explain why these guys might have dumped in the first place.

That most of them, including the popular novelist Nick Hornby, who contributes an introduction, seem to be ensconced in happy relationships trowels on an extra layer of smugness that is every bit as off-putting as passing gas during intercourse.

There are memorable pieces, to be sure. Kerrey's account of a secret crush he never met and who died in a plane crash is haunting and artfully intertwined with the tale of an octogenarian friend who reconnected with an early love late in life. Marcellus Hall's comic strip, "The Sorrows of Young Walter: Or the Lessons of a Cyclical Heart," is wry in its transparently phony insistence that "every heartache was unsolicited." Advice columnist Dan Savage's memory of the older woman who initiated him into sex—and unintentionally convinced him he was gay—is funny, raunchy, embarrassing, honest and moving in the way the best relationships are.

Alas, those pieces—and a couple more—are few and far between. Which means this collection, like the amorous relationships it describes, fails far more often than it succeeds. It's not clear there's much of a lesson in getting dumped, though one of editor Karlin's insights is well worth remembering: "Everybody gets crushed. For the lucky ones it only happens once."

Nick Gillespie is editor of This story originally appeared in The New York Post.