I don’t have much in common with any of the characters personally. I feel like that may be what you mean by “relatable”? I was able to empathize with every one of them though.
This is a really good post and I’m gonna use it as a launching pad for some of the thoughts I’ve been having about this story, and the reception to it.
The story completely fails to actually interrogate Robert as a character, to figure out why he is who he is and how he got to that place and is content to portray its outcome as mostly black-and-white it frames the complete failure of empathising with, or understanding of, Robert as positive. Robert is not understood, and our heroine cannot understand him. Like her, we, the reader, are not meant to understand him either.
In interviews the author discussed Margot’s “imaginative empathy” and the way Margot builds up these expectations of Robert to be someone or something he maybe is not. But the subtext I haven’t seen anyone discuss is that Robert is going through the exact same process of creating an internal construct of Margot. It’s pretty likely that when he lashes out at the end it is a result of that cognitive dissonance finally hitting him, the imagined-Margot and the real one becoming clearly different people. The feeling of betrayal now associated with her.
Margot doesn’t lash out in the same way, partly because it is not in her character - which is the other major point - but because she’s learned how to process that feeling in a healthy way as a result of her relationship/dating experience, something it’s presumable Robert does not have. In that context, Robert calling her a whore takes on deeper implications - he resents her dating experience not just because it is speaks to something he lacks and which he feels he should have had, but because he recognises that if she had a similar level of inexperience to him they would have been far more likely to be able to muddle through the situation together.
It’s not such a large step from there to feeling entitled to women’s time or bodies, to the shitty MRA or incel-type behaviours and ideology associated with the extremes of that sort of mindset. And I think that this story, in its failure to acknowledge Robert’s inner life against Margot’s (unfortunately entirely rational) fear and cynicism towards his motivations and personality, leads us to assume the worst of him and, by extension, if not all men then a particular subset of men for whom Robert is a cipher.
If this is a story about the divisions between men and women and our struggles to understand each other, then it is a story in which both its narrative and outcome say that the struggle is futile and that men cannot be understood.
And, yeah I agree - that really sucks.
To a large extent I read the story as a commentary on a long, long tradition in “literary fiction” written by dudes about how incomprehensible women are, just flipped over.
The more I reflect on the story the more I dislike what I interpret as some pretty serious misanthropy. Somebody asked me why I thought Tamara was relatable, and the reason for that is simply that from the little we see of Tamara, she’s the closest to emotionally mature of anyone in the story - you guys had a bad date, didn’t connect, and had some terrible sex. Okay, fine, move on with your lives already!
While I think the intent is probably to comment on how women are socialized to provide emotionally supportive constructs of themselves when interacting with men, fundamentally I couldn’t disagree more with the notion that Margot has “learned how to process that feeling in a healthy way as a result of her relationship/dating experience.” Margot is just as bad at dating as Robert, but she’s socially unable to lash out at him in the way he lashes out at her.
Fundamentally I think it’s a pretty cruel story and I don’t want to think of it as truly saying something universal about people.
Some really great thoughts in this thread and I’m glad to see some thoughtful discussion to help my own digestion of the story.
I’d just like to add that the idea of us only ever falling in love with our idealised and fictional concepts of the people we meet and never truly the people themselves as unavoidable fate akin to the space between atoms is something I’d rather keep in the realm of microbiology and not ascribe to emotion or romance. Perhaps that’s idealist but for the sake of my own sanity, I’d prefer to keep that belief and work toward being better at mutually understanding the people around me.
I also think the perspective in the story limits our understanding of Robert’s motives. I like that though. For me, the story is communicating what it is like to be on this end of a bad-sex hookup and I don’t want it to be balanced or reliable. There is no absolute authority to the story’s perspective. It’s an opportunity to empathize with half of the scenario. Partial awareness is essential to communicate the context for this awkwardness.
Thinking about perspective, a writer I really like wrote a small piece of fiction in the wake of this that ends up being from a Robert-like’s POV. https://medium.com/@priya_ebooks/men-who-hate-women-7461b38dea0
It really hit hard for me because slight changes in life experiences could have very well turned me into the person this story is about.