Burnt Toasts

August 9, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

A writer at Politics Daily, Andrea Cohen, posted a sort of wedding toast – to an ex-boyfriend who was marrying someone else. Here are some excerpts

When we met, back in the spring of 2005, I was nearly 40 and had been dating off and on for two years following an unexpected divorce. I had lost faith in relationships. I had given up on love. He arrived, unexpectedly, and showed me what was possible. He raised me up from the emotional dead. He drew out of me the poison of divorce and betrayal.

I want to thank him for – it’s now such a cliché that I'm almost embarrassed to write it – making me want to be a better woman. He really did. It happens. He made me less judgmental and more open to new ideas. He gave me a confidence I had never felt before. He gave me incentive to reach out professionally into areas I had not yet gone.

That’s just another gift he gave me; the gift of knowing what is possible in a relationship; of refusing to settle for mediocrity where it counts, and of taking the chance when something inside tells you it could be love. I sound like a sap. I know. But it’s no less true. No matter what my romantic future holds, I know there will be no retreat from the standards he has set.

I want to thank him for all those times he stuck up for me – with his friends, with his family, with his work colleagues. It could not have been easy, explaining to all those cooler heads, why he was so devoted to an “old gal” who lived so far away. Yet he did it, even after he had decided that he would not throw down his lot with me. That’s the sort of character I’d like to instill in my son.

It’s the sort that we think is all around us but actually is rare. It is courage and self-confidence and the ability to see right from wrong.
Pretty bad, huh? Ozzie Skurnick, in his take-down of poor Andrea, admonishes her that
publishing, on his wedding day, a rundown that frames the man’s virtues almost entirely by how well he treated you falls somewhere between inconsiderate and catastrophically narcissistic.

Once you realize all this impressive agony you’ve left behind (scorched earth, my friend! Barren promontories!) doesn’t actually have anything to do with you, it makes it hard for a guy to hand over his hanky – especially when he’s trying to put the ring on his bride’s finger.
You’ve probably gotten the idea by now (especially if you clicked and looked at the originals). I switched genders, changed the pronouns. The original was written by Andrew (not Andrea) Cohen for an ex-girlfriend on her wedding day. The criticism is from Lizzie (not Ozzie) Skurnick.

I guess the point is that we are not yet in anything like a post-gender society. Sex matters. Context matters. When I read the original, I could easily see Andrew Cohen as the narcissistic schmuck that Lizzie Skurnick sees. But when I read it as “Andrea’s” statement, she seemed like someone I might want to get to know. I could even imagine Julia Roberts playing her in the movies.

The wedding toast consisted of just a few hundred words on the screen, but I was wrapping them in a gauze of expectations, gauze that had different colors for men and women, based on some vague sense of what I know (or what I think I know) about men and women generally in society.

It’s not just the sex of the writer that’s important. Reader demographics – sex (of course), marital status, age, and probably social class and race – make a difference here. For example, in the readers’ comments at Politics Daily, the women who said that they were “older” liked Cohen’s article. Younger ones, not so much. I just wonder how they would have reacted to my gender-bent rewrite.

Hat tip: Jenn Lena.

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