I was naturally averse to reading The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman because all of the hype surrounding it seemed largely due to it being written from a man’s perspective by a woman. That, and because I myself had written a book about a misogynist incapable of commitment, but it obviously didn't receive the same level of accolades as no one acknowledges anything self-published except in the case of E. L. James.
Anyway, I finally succumbed to reading Nathaniel P. when it became available in paperback, and I found myself instantly relating to Hannah Leary, Nathaniel's “smart and nice” / “nice and smart” girlfriend, whom he eventually grows unable to stand because of her niceness. The further I read, the more horrified I became, recognizing her behavior as my own. I was always the one trying to play it cool and nonchalant in the beginning, and for the most part I genuinely was — until the tables turned and I became the one more into it.
Though Waldman's story frequently comes off as hollow, dull and utterly self-indulgent (it is centered around the Brooklyn literary scene, after all), I couldn't put it down. I had to know if in the end there was going to be some sort of solution for the Nice Girl plight. In other words: Is there an antidote to coming across as needy and self-conscious as a woman in a relationship? And does being a Nice Girl always have to translate into being cast aside in favor of — for lack of a more apropos term — a bitch? If The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. serves any purpose other than to make Brooklyn seem like the douchebag capital of the world, it's to fortify the latent Nice Girl fear that we're all fucked (and not in the preferable sexual way).
Just like nice guys suffer a total lack of interest from "hot" women, so too do women of melba toast nature suffer a lack of interest from men like Nathaniel P. And while there's not much that's sympathetic about Hannah (other than fellow Nice Girls like myself feeling for her), she possesses a universal determination to experience as much pain as possible while enduring a relationship. Even Hannah’s anger toward Nathaniel comes across as overly nice when she rails against him in the midst of their breakup:
I feel like you want to think what you're feeling is really deep, like some seriously profound existential shit. But to me, it looks like the most tired, the most average thing in the world, the guy who is all interested in a woman until the very moment when it dawns on him that he has her. Wanting only what you can't have. The affliction of shallow morons everywhere.
If you, as a Nice Girl, want to spare yourself the agony and resonant torture of reading The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., know that the remedy for your woes of being kind and attentive are not here. Perhaps you have to rid yourself of these qualities altogether if you plan to date a millennial man who’s an aspiring writer. On the other hand, if you’re reading this book knowing you’re a Nathaniel P., perhaps it can illuminate how your behavior appears to others, and maybe you too will see yourself as a nitpicking misogynist or misandrist (because women can be dicks as well).
Genna Rivieccio graduated with a degree in screenwriting and closely identifies with Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard. She has written for pop culture blogs, including Culled Culture, The Toast and Behind the Hype, as well as satire for Missing a Dick and The Burning Bush.
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