Books

The Joy and Scourge of Dating David Foster Wallace Boys

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There are millions of boys who I am at least briefly attracted to, but because I am a good and considerate person, I don’t force my friends to learn their actual names. Instead, I refer to them with nicknames – Café Boy, Improv Boy, Potentially Gay Boy. This year, though, I realized I was using one of the nicknames over and over (and it wasn’t Potentially Gay Boy, though that should be the nickname for every boy I like!).

I tweeted:

The answer was many, or at least four. Plus all the guys I just met once and never talked to again, plus basically any guy I ever talk to. With so many of the guys I have ever liked, a significant portion of our early conversations were about David Foster Wallace. DFW is my personal favorite author, but was I just forcing everyone to talk about my favorite things or was there an actual pattern happening? As our generation’s Confucius, Kenan Thompson, would ask: “What Up With That?”

Obviously, having similar tastes in books is a solid foundation for any sort of relationship, but that’s true times two if the book is Infinite Jest. Actually devoting months of your time to read its 1,000+ pages is a real experience. Especially after I had just finished and wanted the world to know (I was 20 and dumb and so, so young), it’s always great to find someone who understands both that experience and the whole world of ideas/details contained within. Also, it’s just, in my very, very, very honest opinion, the best book ever written, so there’s that to talk about as well. Mike Schur, comedy idol, said it well: “If you were at a cocktail party and go you, ‘Oh, you’re a person who’s into [Infinite Jest]?’ Now I know what you and I are doing for the next two hours. We’re talking about this.”

It’s also easier to spot DFW boys in the wild than it is to spot, say, Jeffrey Eugenides boys. Reading Infinite Jest requires you to lug it around for a pretty long time, and I have found that a copy of Infinite Jest is dog- or baby-like in its capacity to make people just come up and talk to you. People on the train. People at work. An employee at Barnes & Noble in Racine, Wisconsin. The cashier at Má Pêche, who told me he was afraid to read Infinite Jest because he heard “it hurts you.” (LOL?!) A guy at a cafe who, noticing my heavily marked up copy, came up to me and said “I’d love to read your annotations.” No one has hit on me in ways quite so crazy while I was just reading The Corrections in public.

Although, obviously, finding a David Foster Wallace Boy was more exciting to me when I was in Racine, Wisconsin, than when I’m on the L train. Every motherfucker on the L is a fan of David Foster Wallace. He’s kind of every young person’s favorite author – he wrote in the way we think and talk (“and but so”), he wrote about topics and themes (sincerity, entertainment, blah blah blah) that are super relevant right now, he’s intelligent and soulful in the way that everyone under 30 secretly believes they are too. “David Foster Wallace Boy” is a big umbrella and under that umbrella are a lot of douchebags. There’s a breed of DFW Boy who is so aggressively intelligent, or like 26 years old but still trying to be a boy genius, who already knows the true meaning of everything on the planet and therefore can never let me get a word in edgewise. You know when people use the word “hipster” in a disparaging way? These are the boys they are thinking of. They are manic goblin nightmare boys. I try to steer clear of them.

Now that I’m 23 and wise, I sometimes feel cliché for being a David Foster Wallace girl. Where once I really felt like a shared appreciation of DFW opened up a world between me and a boy, now I feel like us both liking DFW is a coincidence only a step above “We’re both from the Midwest!” or “We both have younger siblings!” But at least liking David Foster Wallace encourages discussions about art and life in a way that the similarities and differences between Indiana and Illinois just doesn’t. Also, you can kind of just extrapolate a lot about a person based on their interest in DFW. They probably like reading literary fiction but also watching TV comedies. They’re probably forgiving of unknowing or slightly knowing pretentiousness. There is a chance they use “w/r/t” in texts.

I think the time all of this worked out the “best” for me was with a guy I briefly worked with at a bookstore. We didn’t have a lot of time to speak throughout the day, but once we figured out that we both loved Wallace, it was an immediate level up for our conversations. With our brief talks, we could talk about small plot points of Infinite Jest or the broader role of entertainment and television in our society, instead of how many siblings this dude had. Once when we were hanging out he had me read a few pages of The Broom Of The System that he found particularly funny, and watched me while I took it in and reacted and laughed and wanted to talk about it after. It was a gesture that I found super attractive, a dating move perfectly tailored to my personality and interests.

As a reader / English major / writer, recognizing parts of myself in literature is largely how I understand who I am, and (I’m realizing) it’s part of how I want other people to understand and filter me. But I’m 23 and fairly new to a lot of things, and sometimes I think for sure that the books I’ve read and my thoughts about them are the most interesting thing about me. Something I love about literature is its capacity to start conversations about basically anything, and Wallace has written about so much (from the profound to the truly, truly dumb) that I find myself referencing him constantly. And if his opinion about something isn’t exactly my own, then it’s at least in a similar enough neighborhood that it’s a starting place. And everyone needs to start somewhere.