Dear National Review Guy Who Wrote An Open Letter To The 'Cat Person' Girl...
Dear Kyle Smith,
Kyle. Kyle, Kyle, Kyle.
Your letter detailed the ways in which you felt Margot, a 20-year-old who does not exist, had made some real mistakes in her romantic life. This was, of course, very shocking. Fictional characters, by and large, make unerringly perfect decisions usually, and this is why we find them so compelling and relatable.
Margot's first mistake, you bravely note, are the seven imaginary dicks that have been inside of her imaginary vagina. That is too many imaginary penises, you say!
Robert is your seventh sexual partner. You’re 20 years old. Margot, I don’t know what the right number is for you, but seven is too many.
Not that you are slut-shaming her, of course. Just looking out for her well-being.
Please don’t mistake my concern for “slut-shaming.” I don’t think you’re a bad or immoral person. I won’t make the case that God is angry with you for not guarding your virginity until marriage. I won’t make the case that you should have sex with only the man you will eventually marry. But having sex with sketchy guys you don’t actually know after (by a generous estimation) 1.5 dates is a bad idea. When you were in that bedroom with Robert and he began taking off his pants with his shoes still on and you realized you were revolted, you had cornered yourself. You had left yourself with no good options. As you say, calling off the sex at that moment would have been somewhat painful. Going ahead with it turned out to be even worse. It’s evident that this hookup is going to bother you for a long time.
Clearly, Kyle, you know a lot about the psychology of fictional women. But what of fictional men? Have you considered writing to Alexander Portnoy about that whole "masturbating with a piece of raw liver" thing? I mean, can that possibly be good for him? What about the bacteria? How about those fellas from Trainspotting? Maybe they'd like to hear more from you about how they should do less heroin? And surely you must have words for Patrick Bateman. How is he ever going to find true happiness when he's going around murdering all those people?
You go on to tell Margot you are concerned for her drinking. Three beers and a shot of whiskey? FOR A LADY? That is too much, even if you are only a figment of someone's imagination.
The drinking is another bad idea. Depending on your size, three beers for you might equal six beers for a man. Is anyone proud of anything he’s done after six beers? The drinking you two do happens right after a movie, with no dinner in between, which means you had those three beers on an empty stomach. You don’t offer any details about the beer, but bars these days often serve beers in pint glasses, and not just pint glasses but 20-ounce pint glasses. Three of these would be 60 ounces of beer, which is really five beers. Which is really ten beers.
That sure is a lot of fictional beer she is drinking. Tsk, tsk.
You are concerned about her texting -- can she really get to know someone through texting? Is it really right for a girl to go on a date with a man she has only met a few times and texted for a few months with? Shouldn't she know him, in person, for at least two years before going out to see a movie with him? Can words alone make someone feel like they know a person? I don't know, Kyle, perhaps you should answer that.
It is nice that you are concerned about the liquor and sex habits of a woman you don't know. It is, however, curious that in your 20s, you yourself wrote a book about a man who drinks a lot and has sex with a lot of women, and who, for some reason, has a lot of refrigerator issues.
Many men aim high; Tom Farrell dares to be average. While his friends accumulate wedding rings, mortgages, and even, alarmingly, babies, Tom still lives alone in his rented apartment with nothing but condiments and alcohol in his refrigerator. He spends Saturday mornings watching cartoons and eating Cocoa Puffs out of an Empire Strikes Back bowl, and devotes the rest of the weekend to his other favorite hobbies: sports and girls. His credo, to think and act like a thirteen-year-old boy at all times, has worked well enough to land him a decent job writing headlines for the New York Tabloid. But neither his personal life nor his professional life has any forward momentum; he's occupied the same cubicle since the first George Bush was president and is currently "between girlfriends." At thirty-two, it starts to occur to him: There's a fine line between picky and loser.
So weird! Are you concerned for him, Kyle? Are you worried about his life choices? Why did you not, instead, choose to write a story about a human person who makes literally all of the right life choices and had everything turn out great? Are you not concerned about his nutritional issues? What if he gets scurvy? Is there something about flawed characters that makes them seem more human, or something?
Now, towards the end, you admit that you are aware that Margot is, indeed, not a real person.
You’re only a fictional character, Margot, but at the same time, you’re not. Young women are responding to your tale by saying that much the same thing happened to them. You and the young women who see them themselves in you should realize that your problem is not that so many guys are bad at dating or bad at sex (though we often are). Heed the lesson the world learned from Duke PowerPoint Girl: Getting drunk so you can have meaningless, unattached, random sex with guys you barely know is not going to make you happy.
Ah yes, the problem here is that so many young women -- whom you, Kyle, know are surely three-beer-drinking-slut-texters -- see themselves in Margot. I guess it is a good thing that men never identify with fictional characters who drink and have sex. I guess it's a real good thing that you never hear of men reading Henry Miller or Ernest Hemingway and feeling a kinship with them. Because that sure would be bad!
OH. Will you hold for a minute? It is my twenties calling. They'd like to remind me of the 14 or so men I dated or at least knew who toooooootally thought they were the second coming of Henry Chinaski/Charles Bukowski.
I see what you're doing here, Kyle. I see that you are real upset over all this "hook-up" culture thing you see happening. I know exactly what you're getting at, which is why I am halfway shocked that you managed to get through this letter without the terms "cock carousel" or "oxytocin." Everyone knows exactly what you are getting at. They also get that this is more about you and what you want than it is about a fictional character or the real women who identify with her.
I haven't read your book, but judging by the way the female characters are described in this summary, you might do well to read more fiction with female protagonists:
Enter a sly, beautiful coworker named Julia. After a few torrid dates, Tom is hooked. "She's like cleaning behind my refrigerator. A once-in-a-lifetime thing." But the closer he gets to Julia, the more elusive she becomes. Frustrated, Tom seeks the dubious advice of his buddy Shooter, a shallow sexual gladiator, and wonders why he keeps getting into arguments with Bran, his smart, sarcastic "default date." But then tragedy strikes, and everyone's attitudes toward life and love change -- and even Tom begins to see himself in a new light.
I have a bit of a feeling those characters are not quite fully realized. Just a feeling.
Our literary and media landscape is filled to the brim with myriad white men far more flawed than Margot. We give them permission to be imperfect, and celebrate their flaws because that what makes them interesting and compelling. We've got Holdens and Dexters and Philip Careys and Rob Gordons/Flemings and Walter Whites galore. Fiction plays an important role in the way we learn to empathize with people different from ourselves -- which is why it's actually incredibly important that women and minorities in fiction (and in real life!) are allowed to be simultaneously imperfect and totally relatable, are allowed to be more than just virgins or whores who learn their lessons in the end like so many Camilles. By refusing yourself that moment of being in another person's shoes to rail against their sexual habits or drinking habits or texting habits, you're denying yourself a far more important experience.
So, you could do that, or you could continue worrying about fictional women and all the fictional penises they've had inside them. Up to you!
VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE!
This is, apparently, not the first time I have written about the flawed artistic sensibilities of one Kyle Smith. Back in 2015, he wrote an article about how ladies could never understand Goodfellas. I had some opinions on that one, too.
CORRECTION: This article previously stated that Alexander Portnoy masturbated with lunch meat, and as so many of you have pointed out, it was liver. So I changed it. To liver. Sorry, I haven't read it since high school!
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse