Mindy Kaling knows breakups. The lead character of “The Mindy Project,” the show she runs and stars in, is known for her tumultuous love life. Kaling has said publicly that her split with ex-boyfriend B.J. Novak made her “miserable.”
And her new book of essays, “Why Not Me?,” includes a juicy chapter about a fling with a White House staffer and the dissolution that follows. But it’s a mellow one: “Spending a lot of time and energy nursing a breakup is just not a good use of my time now,” Kaling writes, adding that she grew out of the dramatic breakup routine in her 20s. “Which is too bad, because if you heard my haunting rendition of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ while I wept in the shower during a breakup, you would be moved as hell.”
No, the biggest breakups described in the book are the ones she’s weathered with female friends.
The first of those breakups was during Kaling’s early Dartmouth days, when she joined a sorority but ended up clicking more with her improv troupe. She tried to leave Sigma Delta by e-mail, but two of the sisters demanded an in-person chat. (This was the late 1990s, long before digital breakups became no big deal.)
“You know how girls are always saying that guys broke up with them and it wasn’t the breakup itself, it was the way they did it that was so uncool?,” Kaling writes, recalling her sorority split. “And you are listening, thinking, So, the only decent way for him to have broken up with you is to not break up with you and stay with you forever? That is what Sigma Delt was doing to me. I finally understood how guys felt.”
During their breakup talk, “there was a long silence during which I suspect I was expected to cry,” Kaling writes. “I couldn’t muster up tears, but I did do some low moaning, like this decision was causing me physical pain. ‘Ohhh, this sucks,’ I moaned. ‘It’s so unfair!’ I said, as though the choice to leave was somehow being forced upon me, a trick boys would later employ on me to extricate themselves from dating me. Karma, I guess.”
Kaling wasn’t traumatized by extreme cattiness or a bad hazing experience; “I was just bored,” she puts it. Or just not that into her sorority sisters, who were really into her.
But the breakup that hits the hardest in “Why Not Me?” is when a new BFF, a woman referred to as Greta, replaces Kaling with a younger actress. Kaling knew her friendship with Greta was fading, but it was the social media evidence that made it sink in.
“The sting of being replaced was very painful,” Kaling writes. “It hurt way more than most breakups I’d had, and we were only friends for about four months. But as any woman reading this will attest to, there are not many relationships more powerful than that of two women who fall fast and deep into a friendship. It was heartbreaking to be loved and left.”
When she meets women who are best-friend material, it’s “like seeing a guy you are really attracted to from across the room at a party,” Kaling writes. “One magical summer, Greta was my best friend. And then, like a guy who spends the night and the next morning tells you, ‘I honestly feel like I’ve never met anyone like you before,’ she was gone.”
Afterward, Kaling returns to her “old reliable standbys,” which include her mom, a college bestie and B.J. Novak (whom she calls “not my boyfriend, but he is not exactly my best friend”). In this book, Kaling writes more viscerally about the ebb and flow of her friendships than her romances, perhaps signaling that #squadgoals can be more important and more fulfilling than romantic ones.
We expect friendship to be easier and more durable than romance. With this book, though, Kaling is saying: Friendship can be hard — and heartbreaking — too.