The Harvard guy who tried to hit on Meredith K. Broussard ’95 with this brilliant gem probably doesn’t know his corny pick-up line inspired her to write a book.
But after 26 years and 26 boyfriends, Broussard began to notice that the best part of breaking up with a flame was talking about breaking up with a flame—and that a compilation of dating stories could be pretty interesting. Remembering back to the cheesy pick-up line, she thought an A to Z format might be a good way to organize.
Thus The Dictionary of Failed Relationships was born, a kind of Chicken Soup—for the Jaded, Overworked, Yuppie Soul. From “Ambivalence” to “Zero,” the anthology of short stories written by some of the best young (female) authors in America turns the pain of breakups into hilarious fiction.
“I was going for the implication of the ‘a to z,’ that everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong,” Broussard says of her book.
Unfortunately, she says, “I now know that there are many more than 26 ways things can go wrong.”Of her 26-plus failed relationships, “many, many happened at Harvard.”
Not surprisingly, kids at Harvard didn’t date when Broussard lived in Lowell House. A former FM columnist, Broussard wrote “Dating, sex and pop culture” for the magazine, with such articles as “Le Big Mac: How to hook up at Harvard” and “Dating Games.”
“It frequently seems that one has only two options for romantic interaction: to follow the immortal words of Liz Phair and “fuck and run,” or become the extra roommate in the significant other’s suite,” she wrote in a 1995 article.
“I think there’s something about Harvard that is not conducive to dating,” she says after eight years of “real world” reflection. “Everyone is so wrapped up in their own little world that it’s hard to get outside of that. It was really hard to just go out to dinner and have a fun time.”
And many of Broussard’s suitors here weren’t too subtle about trying to get dates.
“I collect cheesy pick-up lines the way Martha Stewart collects china—and most of my good cheesy pick-up lines I learned at Harvard,” she says.
A classic overachiever, Broussard hated admitting when things went sour with boyfriends, something she saw in many of her classmates.
“Five years ago I could not have written this book—it took this long to get over hang-ups about success,” she says. “Failure is something you can’t admit to until after Harvard.”
Her first Harvard heartbreak left Broussard needing to talk (both her parents are therapists). He was too busy, she wasn’t casual enough—as all of Broussard’s friends heard again and again.
“I started talking endlessly. Eventually I realized I was having fun talking about it and getting people to talk about their own relationships.”
Later, working as a freelance writer and book reviewer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, she began thinking of the most interesting women she knew to write her Dictionary.
“I had an idea of who was writing stuff I liked and who I thought would have something interesting to contribute to the book,” she says. “I wanted it to be a light, readable, but substantive book.”
Each story begins with a humorous definition of the title, modeled on the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. The stories are cringe-worthy, hilarious and occasionally end happily.
It seems the 26 authors in Broussard’s Dictionary have been smiled upon by the dating gods after sharing their stories—six have gotten engaged and four have had children since the book was compiled.
Broussard won’t say whether she’s been as lucky, but it seems the Harvard dating curse hasn’t been lifted yet.“I dated this stockbroker recently—such bad news. Socializing with his co-workers was unbearable.” But, she says, “I like it too much to stop—I love dating and talking about relationships.” While she works on her M.F.A. at Columbia University, Broussard is compiling a second volume of Failed Relationships—this time written by men. “Men are very, very interested in this idea,” says Broussard. “Much more men than women write and approach me asking to share their stories.”
Perhaps she’s found a new favorite pick-up line for her own use: “Hey, baby, want to write about your failed relationships?”