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Time Magazine

What Makes a Bad Boyfriend?


Barbara Davilman and Liz Dubelman have written a book — with the help of 54 other women. In What Was I Thinking: 58 Bad Boyfriend Stories they write of the men they have dated, the men they have dumped, the men they should have dumped and the men they wish they had never met. There’s the woman whose porn-star boyfriend dumps her for being too promiscuous, the college girl who dates a fanatical Barbie fan, the woman who overhears her date calling her fat and dozens of other guys who just weren’t good enough. Davilman and Dubelman talk to TIME about what happens when the sexes don’t get along. (See the latest dating fads.)

How can women avoid dating bad boyfriends? 
Davilman: My belief is that people tell you who they are in the first five minutes. Most people have expectations and needs and an idea of how they want their life to be, and they will only hear what they want to hear to make someone else fit into their idea. Sometimes you go through this entire relationship only to find out that you should have paid attention to the person they told you they were in the first place. You ignored it.

You write that you found some of the book’s many contributors through Craigslist ads. Did that really work? 
Dubelman: Some of them came that way. There are stories still coming in. We have a website that we put them on. Some of the stories even turned into videos onSlate.

Did you think of taking submissions from guys?
Dubelman: We originally tried to make it more mixed, but all the men’s stories that came in were the same: “She was so hot, but she was crazy.” There wasn’t a whole lot of depth to that.
Davilman: Those were their submissions. They were like, “Here is what was wrong with her: this and this and this and this.” And you get to the end and there’s still no acceptance of responsibility or any self-awareness.

Yikes. That doesn’t speak so well for men. 
Dubelman: But then after they read this book, we got more stories that were a little more shaded, had more color. They realized what the stories should be about. I think they get it now. (See pictures of the 20th century’s greatest romances.)

But the men in your book didn’t come off as being that awful. 
Dubelman: They’re not awful!
Davilman: They’re not!
Dubelman: We love men!
Davilman: They just weren’t right for those women, that’s all. I’m really glad the book didn’t devolve into male-bashing. It’s really about the women and the things they didn’t see.
Dubelman: Or saw and ignored.
Davilman: Or couldn’t see.

Have you gotten feedback from any of the men who were written about? 
Dubelman: I got a lot of Facebook messages from old boyfriends who said, “The book’s great — I’m not that guy, am I?”
Davilman: Liz got an e-mail from a guy I wrote about in the book. He asked to get in contact with me. And I said yes because we didn’t end on terrible terms.
Dubelman: I’m not 100% sure he knew he was the guy in the book.
Davilman: He did not know! So I wrote him back and I said, “Did you recognize that story? Do you remember that moment that I described?” (See the top 10 nonfiction books of 2008.)

So you told him? 
Davilman: Yes, and I have yet to hear back from him. But it wasn’t a bad story! He doesn’t look bad in it. We just didn’t fit.

Why do the women settle for these men if they know they aren’t the right fit? 
Davilman: That’s the thing — I don’t know. You don’t walk into a store and see a broken toaster and go, “Aw, well, when I get it home, it will start working.” You don’t go, “Oh, that dress — the sleeve is falling off. But I can fix it at home.” No, you want a dress that fits. You want a toaster that works. But women — and I guess men too — are so willing to take the broken one. (Watch a video about dating advice for women.)

The authors in this collection range in age from 19 to almost 70. Did you notice any generational difference between the stories told by young women and those who were older? 
Dubelman: Younger women were more explicit about sex. That’s really the only thing. They wrote about sex more openly and they used more explicit language. But the sentiments were all the same.

Did you ever get any stories in which you felt the woman was at fault? 
Dubelman: Oh, sure. And the women are so great at confessing their own faults. There’s a story in the book where the woman has sex in a bar bathroom. She absolutely knew that this was a crazy idea, the bathroom was dirty, it was not a nice place, she didn’t even really want to do it. It was a horrible idea — and gross — but she’s willing to confess that she did it. So you don’t blame her for it, ’cause she says, “O.K., I made a mistake.” So yes, women are at fault as much as men are at fault, but in this particular book — and the next one will be different — the women were the ones willing to say, “You know what? I made a terrible mistake.”

Will there be a second book? 
Dubelman: We hope so. We want to do a book from the man’s perspective. And we want to get some same-sex couples.

Do you think that men feel the same way about relationships as women? 
Davilman: That’s what we want to find out!

Do you have your own relationship tale? Davilman and Dubelman are still accepting stories about bad boyfriends and girlfriends on their website.

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