“They’ve all had psychological problems,” said a friend of mine, sipping an Anchor Steam, his right foot dangling off the edge of a bench jutting out of the wall. “Every single one of them. When I think back, I can’t remember ever dating one who didn’t. It’s every single fucking one of them.”
“I hear you, man. I’m in the same boat, pretty much.”
“I’m serious. I honestly can’t remember one girl I’ve dated who hasn’t had a serious mental defect.”
“It’s the truth,” I muttered between mouthfuls of my chicken sandwich. The towel dispenser in the bathroom had been empty, and air drying my hands had delayed the start of my meal. I made up for this by taking bigger bites.
“What about you? You’ve dated some real winners over the years. Don’t you think they’re all out of their fucking minds?”
“Around here, yeah.
“Maybe,” he said, “that’s been my problem.”
“Yeah, sure. Among a lot of others. I mean, people don’t have to go through their entire lives unhappy if they can do something about it, do they? Fuck, we were both unhappy, and I went out on a limb like that and changed my career because I thought it would help the situation. And now the new situation is too much of a fucking problem for her.”
I took a long pull of my Budweiser and put the bottle back on the table. It slid forward in a pool of its own condensation. “I think the thing that pisses me off most is when people comment on what I do with my life. If there’s nothing at stake for them, and their situation’s not gonna change as a result of what I do, it pisses me off when people just sit back and criticize. That’s the part of your whole situation that would’ve sent me off the deep end. I don’t have the patience to constantly take criticism like that. Especially when I’m trying.”
“The thing of it is, they’re all schizophrenic. You never know what they want. One minute they’re talking about how they wish their careers were better and how they don’t know why they put in so many years going to school if they’re not getting promoted fast enough, and the next minute they’re up your ass because they want to stay home and raise kids and you don’t make enough money on your own to let them do that.”
“So which one does she want?”
“Fuck, man. I dunno.” He took a deep breath and spun his pint glass in circles with his thumb and forefinger. “I dunno what the fuck she wants. It depends on the day of the week”
Next to us, a birthday party was taking place, complete with balloons and gift-wrapped boxes and pitchers of beer. The guest of honor was a girl who looked very happy to be there. We thought we knew better.
“Not bad, right?”
“What, them?” he asked, glancing at the festivities.
“Yeah, them,” I replied, starting to feel the beer. “You look at a dozen decent looking girls and they’re all smiling and shit, and it makes you feel good. I love watching women when they’re happy. But then I sit and have a conversation with you and I’m thinking they’re all potential mental patients.”
“Fuck it, man. I’d be doing the same thing you’re doing. I just don’t see suffering through the same shit every six months for the rest of my life.”
“The way I see it,” he said, “guys like us aren’t prepared for this shit when we get married.”
“How do you figure?”
“Your parents are about the same age as mine, right?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “give or take.”
“Well, they’re not baby boomers is what I mean. They come from the generation before that, so they’re not in touch with all the nasty shit that goes on in marriages nowadays. They didn’t know to get divorced, so they didn’t.”
“True, although my parents probably should’ve.”
My friend finished off his Anchor Steam and looked around for our waitress. “I just think that guys our age who have parents older than the baby boom people aren’t ready for this kind of shit because we’re too used to our mothers, who never, ever acted like this.”
“Not in front of us, at least.”
“Right. Not in front of us. You listen to all the shit they tell you in Pre-Cana, about how marriage really is ‘for better or for worse,’ and you make a contract with yourself about what you’re gonna do if she gets hit by a truck or ends up in a wheelchair, you know? You’re marrying the person. Who they are, not what they do. That’s what it seems like our parents did.”
“Easier said than done,” I said.
“Not really. I was ready for it. I think what we’re not ready for is all the other bullshit women pull on you when you can’t do any more, and they finally figure out they’re gonna have to compromise. They don’t want to have to put up with it, because they’re all taught to be fucking basket cases.”
“I’ll tell you something, man. Everyone looks at me like I’m always the negative motherfucker of the group, but I’m always holding out hope for myself, you know? I can’t think like that. I think the problems we’ve always had go back to the same thing it always is, and that’s this fucking area. This place just turns people into assholes. Everybody’s perceptions are warped around here.”
“Tell me about it,” he said, staring at his empty plate.
“I think you gotta do what I do once this is all over with.”
“When you meet women, the first thing you have to do is ask them where they’re from. If the answer is ‘