The thing about “Greenberg,” the latest movie by my most favorite filmmaker, Noah Baumbach, is that I’ve dated that guy. Not Baumbach, unfortunately. I should be so lucky. But the character, Greenberg, played by the king of on-screen neuroses, Ben Stiller.
And when I say I dated Greenberg, what I mean to say is I could barely endure watching Stiller embody this 40-year-old man-boy who lashed out at his friends in the name of “truth,” was a prisoner to his own anxious internal monologue and basically acted as inappropriately as possible without being institutionalized because, well, I’ve been there. Which is another way of saying, I have spent countless hours pining for and agonizing over hurtful, immature, outrageous, cerebral, neurotic lunatics à la the Greenberg variety.
And it suddenly dawned on me that I could stop this cycle of pain!
Because when Greenberg bandied about the phrase, “hurt people hurt people,” which he dismissed as trite, I had what my mom’s best friend, Oprah, calls an “Aha!” moment.
And in that instant I knew that the fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars but in these dazzling and charming yet deeply damaged “half-men.”
Which is another way of saying, hurt people hurt people!
And the only way to break free is to date … someone whole. Someone with the capacity to give. Someone who can still be clever and well read and verbally nimble without being stunted and angry and unkind.
I felt like shouting it from the rooftop!
There I was, on vacation in New York City — or as my friend’s little girl calls it, New York Silly — and it was like the weight of my past failed relationships fell away, leaving me so fantabulously light and airy, I practically glided down the High Line, enjoying the lovely pathways and momentary summer weather. Me, with my new red sandals and pedicured toes. Me with my new take on love!
“I think maybe all this time that we have been over-analyzing what went wrong with some of these guys the fact is, we have just been dealing with some defective merchandise,” I told my girlfriend as we hoofed it down to Chelsea.
“Amen, sister!” was her response, having just gotten out of a long-term relationship with a fellow who had so many disturbing rules and regulations and ticks that in the end, he made intimacy impossible.
And as we discussed being in our 30s and despairing over reaching this ever elusive goal of couplehood and motherhood and domestic bliss, I suddenly wondered whether by making this psychic shift — this declaration that I will no longer tolerate hurtful men — that I can somehow re-shape my future.
I mean, it sounded a bit woo-woo. And I don’t really buy all that faux spiritual wisdom out there, the pat suggestions that all it takes to change our external reality is to change our internal reality. Because if that were really true, why couldn’t Jews just positively think themselves out of Auschwitz?
But I do think that there is something powerful about believing, really believing, that a good man is out there. And that when we no longer mentally permit someone into our lives who puts us down instead of picks us up or who acts like any expectation of intimacy is an act of outrageous chutzpah, then we will no longer allow these fellows access in real time, either.
And with just this slight mental shift, I already began to feel much better. Which was merely underscored by the fact that I had spent some time with a delightful little creature, a man who despite pacing the halls all night, outraged over the status quo of the slumbering Jewish world, ready to take each and every Jew on, one by one, was actually a real sweetie. Not only that, but a sweetie who seemed quite smitten with me. Plus, how many times in a lifetime will I meet a man who, like me, owns the soundtrack to my favorite documentary on planet earth, the “Partisans of Vilna?” The songs of Jewish resistance, so to speak. In Yiddish.
And if that wasn’t promising enough, there was also a glimmer of a possibility waiting for me back in Israel.
I consoled myself with the thought that even if, in the end, nothing would work out — a very real possibility — change was still under foot. Serenity had taken me by the hand and reminded me that if I expect better, better will come.
Or, as my mother always says, “For God’s sakes, Abby! Why can’t you choose someone stable? Someone kind? Enough with the neurotics!”
Which is another way of saying, sometimes your mother really is right.
Or at least, my mother.
But don’t tell her I said so. I wouldn’t want her to get any ideas.
Abigail Pickus is a writer living in Jerusalem.
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