I had this idea — this great, relatable idea — that I would write a recurring feature on Bad Boyfriends. Sure, it’s been done; who hasn’t enjoyed the schadenfreude of a really terrible relationship story? But it felt like every woman I knew had a good one of her own, so the potential for material was endless, and, better yet, hilarious.
Where I hit a wall was when I tried to start with a story of my own. I would write, I had decided, about an old high school boyfriend: a caricature of adolescent angst and egomania (as are we all, at seventeen). I knew these stories were funny; I’d told them before to gales of laughter, gasps of disbelief and delicious, vicarious humiliation. But when I tried to write them down, somehow… they weren’t.
Part of this, I’m sure, must be attributed to my lack of skill. How many of us think ourselves comedians at a raucous party, when the audience is in the mood to laugh at anything?
But there was something else, too. Because when writing them down, black on white, the cursor blinking like an expectant inquisitor… these stories weren’t funny. They were sad, and strange, and way too familiar.
I am not the first to come to this realization, of course. It is, in some ways, a rite of passage, when we (particularly we women) first recognize and embrace our own experiences. We laugh at things that should shock us, or disturb us. But vulnerable people have been laughing at the dark since there have been people, and the dark — and it has never once been the same as turning on a light.
It wasn’t funny that my boyfriend left me at a movie theater halfway through a date because he didn’t approve of the film. It wasn’t funny that he blamed me for his religious guilt while sneaking over to fool around. It wasn’t funny that I had to lie about my good grades to keep him from giving me the silent treatment for days, and it definitely wasn’t funny that, after we broke up, he told a mutual friend that he wanted to see me dead in his yard.
It wasn’t funny that my boyfriend hated women, and resented me.
Maybe I’ll still write these stories the way they sound at a party. Maybe I’ll get them just the way they sound to that audience primed to laugh and waiting for an excuse. But maybe, even if I do, there will be a lot of us just laughing at the dark.