IT'S CALLED A BREAKUP BECAUSE IT'S BROKEN *
The Smart Girl's Breakup Buddy
By Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt
Broadway. 276 pp. $19.95
Hey, sexy lady. If your idea of getting over heartbreak is to be sexually harassed by a self-help manual, this book is for you.
Just 14 months ago, Greg Behrendt published He's Just Not That Into You (co-authored by Liz Tuccillo), a breezily written, semi-serious lark that exposed men as the wimps they are. Because the male of the species abhors confrontation, Behrendt contended, he'd rather leave his lover dangling than tell her the thrill is gone. Women finally had a plausible explanation for all kinds of bizarro boy behavior, such as a woman's flame failing to return even one of her 37 voice-mail messages asking when are they going to see each other again. For guys, however, the book was a betrayal. Geez, Greg, can't a guy keep two or three gal pals in heavy rotation, stringing them along with empty promises of eternal monogamous love, without you wrecking everything by trying to empower them? Evidently, He's Just Not That Into You struck a chord. It reportedly has sold in the neighborhood of 2 million copies.
Now, in this insta-sequel (co-written with his wife, Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt), Behrendt, a standup comedian, feels the importance of being earnest. The message of It's Called a Breakup is uncomplicated, irrefutable and reducible to a sentiment credited, correctly or not, to Mae West: "Stick up for yourself, or you'll end up a rug." That message is stretched to fill 276 pages via a formula familiar to anyone who's read Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider's The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right, the 1996 bestseller that kicked off the weirdly retrograde self-help trend in which condescension masquerades as chummy, quasi-feminist advice. If you're a Rules girl, you'll build a life apart from romance. You'll cultivate friendships. Pursue enthusiasms. Muster dignity. Decline the booty call. Go easy on the gelato.
This simple prescription has proven to be powerful magic for book-buying human rugs. Behrendt's contributions to the to-do list are seven "commandments" that, if slavishly obeyed, will turn a breakup into a "breakover." They include cutting off all contact with your former lover for two months, a process Behrendt calls "he-tox"; enlisting a friend to be a "breakup buddy," subject to tissue-box-emptying phone calls at all hours; getting rid of your ex's stuff so you don't have it around to mock you; exercising; dressing for success ("don't wear your breakup out in the world"); and generally making yourself the alluring, well-put-together, super-duper leading lady in the unfolding adventure that is your suddenly much more wonderful life.
Tough love is sprinkled like bittersweet chocolate shavings atop the It's Called a Breakup mousse. Behrendt marvels that while lovers come and go, friends stick. He tells the advice seeker -- whom he frequently refers to, among other potentially legally actionable endearments, as "Hot Stuff" -- that people "love to help one another, but no one has time to carry you." This truth undoubtedly is welcome relief to the breakup buddy, who is told to make available a shoulder to cry on for at least an hour every day during he-tox season.
The book's cheerleading is relentless in the way termites are relentless. "HEY, SUPERFOX," Behrendt gushes (the capital letters are his), "YOU ARE HEADED SOMEWHERE FABULOUS AND THERE ARE GREAT POSSIBILITIES AHEAD." Forget that any man who addresses a woman as "Superfox" on the Metro would get his face slapped -- and deserve it. Behrendt gets away with it because he's "helping." The man on the Metro is a creep; Behrendt is a bestselling sage.
Which brings us to the problem inherent in It's Called a Breakup. While Behrendt professes admiration for his readers, between the lines he seems to think they're pathetic. The book's constant, faux rah-rah isn't a buttress to the flagging soul. It's demoralizing. But Behrendt isn't satisfied with gnawing away at the self-esteem of America's sexy ladies; he wants the men, too. In a chapter called "Dude, Get Off Her Lawn" and revealingly subtitled "The Tough Guy's Breakup Buddy" ("tough guy," like "sexy lady," is kind of like calling a 300-pound man "Tiny"), Behrendt extends his demographic, admonishing those possessing XY chromosomes to lay off the Ben & Jerry's. Perhaps this was his diabolical marketing plan when he started crossing gender lines and revealing secrets to the other side. Maybe the cover of his next book could picture a man in a bathrobe scarfing Chubby Hubby and blubbering, "How could she do this to me?" Then Behrendt could help him muster some dignity because, after all, that guy is one sexy dude. *
Bob Ivry has written for Esquire, Popular Science, Maxim, Spin, Details and Self.