Anger is the recurring moderate to severe plaque psoriasis of grief, as grief is the unbidden herpes flare-up on the first date of your life. (I made the second half of that observation once in a therapy session, and it cracked the therapist up.)
I didn’t think I went through too much of an anger phase in my breakup with Ibrahim, but…well, let’s roll tape:
“O, one true Judeo-Christian but let’s get real really just Christian god, if I promise to believe in you, will you promise to just kill me in my sleep? I don’t want to get a new hairdresser. Clearly he does not understand the universal calling of moving in right next to your one true hairdresser. He doesn’t understand anything about love or mutual support or hairdressers. He doesn’t understand a thing.”
That’s the first of three aborted paragraphs of “fiction” I attempted to make about our breakup. From my Tops composition book journal, thank you very much. I did experience anger, in retrospect, and it could get rather pitched at times.
I was angry about really shallow things. I was angry that I didn’t get to have the veneer over the shit of my life anymore. I was angry that now I had to be unhappy and I didn’t even get free falafel out of it. I was angry that I was 27 and would have to take a cab to the fucking Laundromat.
I was angry that he got to keep our life, our life, and I had to start all the fuck over again: “Whose ‘for the best’ is this anyway? Do you think I haven’t gone through enough yet? Does this look like it’s been really posh and easy? Because I’ve been lying a lot. Do you get that part? And you get to keep your house and your hairdresser, too. What do you know about for the best? I’m 27, single, underemployed and functionally homeless – so no, no one asked me if I thought this was for the best.”
Shortly after I got to Ann Arbor, Michigan legalized gay marriage for about twelve hours one day.
This is where you should imagine my taking deep cleansing breaths.
Intellectually and in some distant corner of my heart I was happy. I was happy for the people who had fought so hard, yadda yadda yadda. But I knew it was only going to last for about twelve hours, because that’s how this shit works right now. And…look. I don’t mean to be a traitor to my people or anything, but I could literally not have cared less about gay marriage at that moment. As far as I was concerned at that moment, marriage could run a marathon off a short fucking pier.
And do you know what happened right after Michigan legalized gay marriage for like 12 hours? Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin “consciously uncoupled.” OH THE RAGE FEELS. OH, SUCH RAGE FEELS. I know I don’t need to explain how fucking ridiculous Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin are to anyone familiar with Anglophone celebrities. But did you go through a horrific breakup right before they “consciously uncoupled”? Maybe you did! Let’s get together and just scream “RIGHT!?” at each other while pointing furiously to random points in space.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were about to make so much fucking money off their breakup, and I was having none of it. I mean, literally, I guess, but you know what I mean. If you love someone – or, I don’t know, are contractually obligated to appear with them in public for cross-promotional purposes – you don’t break up with them and then make a million dollars by rebranding fucking breakups. You drink a bottle of whiskey and you write a memoir, just like the rest of us!
I mean, a million dollars, Jesus, I’m probably underestimating how much money they made off that phrase. Gwyneth Paltrow probably has a million dollar annual face re-smarming budget. Is it cool to hate Gwyneth Paltrow? I don’t care, it’s because she’s loathsome. Although I’ll never get down on her for marketing her insanely privileged lifestyle as some holistic aspirational to-do list, because parting a fool from his petit bourgeois money is a public service, always to be praised.
Gwyneth Paltrow and gay marriage were out there in news land, and I could keep my anger in check if I put any effort into it. The anger that was harder to keep in check was my anger towards other people’s happiness.
It started with, my sincere apologies, you ‘hashtag blessed’ people.
“Sitting in the glorious sunshine with my legally wedded partner making art and soaking in this wave of posi vibes! #blessed”
“I can’t believe how much I love him! We are so perfect together, and I would be nothing without him! I am forever #blessed”
“Rolling in a pristine meadow with my wonderful husband and 2.5 white children because you’re nothing until you find the love of a nuclear family! #blessed”
And then there are the people who tell you you just don’t appreciate your own life enough.
“Your negativity is the only thing holding you back. Let go and let God for we are all TRULY #BLESSED.”
“Too many people complaining and not enough people praising! Lift your voice in song, bitchez, for this is the day the lord has made! #blessed”
“Jesus Jesus Jesus bit your quitching Jesus Jesus #BLESSED”
This latter group seems to have a very interesting relationship with Jesus.
By the way, if anyone you know uses the hashtag blessed, just wait a week. They will blow a tire on the way to work and then suddenly no other human has ever experienced this kind of woe.
Worse than the masses of unwashed blessed on the internet, though, was any hint of happiness happening in my immediate vicinity. Well, not any happiness. Non-romantic happiness was perfectly okay with me. Ish. Meh. But get me anywhere near a happy couple and then I had to put on my rage screams about how VERY HAPPY I was for them. “I’M VERY HAPPY FOR YOU, YOU BEAUTIFUL, TERRIBLE PEOPLE. IT’S VERY COOL AND NOT AT ALL KILLING ME THAT YOU’RE HAPPY TOGETHER HAAA,” I’d yell, neck muscles flexed like Charles Atlas. (Billy Eichner basically stole my act.)
Liddie and her boyfriend Bruce bore a lot of the brunt of this. They were very supportive and helpful – in case you’ve forgotten, I was living with Liddie and getting rides and good convo from Bruce. And they were very happy, so fuck ‘em, right?
I don’t mean that! Friends, I want you to flaunt your extravagant affection for your loved ones, I do. And I’m not really angry, in a way that matters or something. And Liddie, I’m sorry I had that conversation with your mom about how dumb love is right in front of you. But I figure there’s a window of a few months after life collapse when you get to be senselessly and vocally bitter and your friends have to understand that it’s not them, it’s you.
What you can’t let happen, though, is for that senseless bitterness to go unchecked indefinitely. There is a hazy but very important point where your window closes and commenting on other people’s happiness goes from “understandable kneejerk lashing out” to “sweet Jesus, shut the fuck up, no one likes you anymore.”
The taint of anger from one relationship can spoil your whole pickle barrel of human connections. Rachel Dratch as Debbie Downer made her cast-mates break because an over-the-top killjoy is a leading social anxiety. But in real life, friends don’t give passes to friends who blow gases.
And so here are my simple tips to avoid alienating people in your phase of directionless anger:
- Don’t drink too much.
- Don’t take other people’s lives personally.
- Don’t commodify love in a way that makes you sad or jealous.
- Draw strength from the happiness of others instead of trying to make them feel your pain.
- Never, under any circumstances, say mean bullshit and then contend that you were “just kidding.”
Drink and text responsibly. If necessary, write a comedic memoir instead of sending 3 a.m. rum-soaked emails to the one what did you wrong. I’m not prepared to tell you some guru horse pucky like your feelings should have expiration dates or that anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die – which is a tightly constructed cliché, but one which might ultimately lead to a rash of poisonings among white people who decorate their offices with poorly translated traditional Asian wisdom. What I can tell you is that senseless, directionless anger will turn you into the kind of person no one wants to hang out with, and the last thing you need is to be alone and angry.