(and Shouldn’t Have)
Mandy Nolan did an entire rewrite of her new book Boyfriends We’ve All Had (and Shouldn’t Have) before it hit the eye of the publisher.
‘I wrote this book twice. I hated it the first time because it was a linear narrative about my love life. I thought, “Shit who would want to read that?” I was depressed writing it.
So I finished writing it and trashed it. It was a cathartic experience, because I had to dredge up all these stories I had chosen to forget for a good reason, and then I had to decide after a year’s work not to publish and start again.
That work became a great resource. Once I started writing again I had the feel for a funny book, one about me, and lots of women and our stupid decisions. It was so much fun to write. I literally sat at my desk giggling away.
The publisher tells me the typesetter told them she could barely keep a straight face. They also tell me she doesn’t usually laugh at anything.’
This book is definitely not a putdown of men – rather an uplift of women. This is a book that anyone who has ever asked themselves ‘Is it better to have loved and lost?’ must read. We got down to the really important questions when Echonetdaily cornered Mandy for a photo shoot.
Is this ‘boyfriend’ just the one same boyfriend that we have all been sharing?
It certainly seems that way!
Part of the reason for writing the book was this realisation that so many of our stories of relationship, particularly failed relationships, all seem to have such similarities. Most women have been out with a really controlling partner and, in my experience, those relationships seem to run the same way.
I have had so many boyfriends, and so many of them were fated relationships, that I certainly got my fair share of dysfunctional and doomed love.
I think in talking about these certain types of boyfriend, though, it tends to reveal a lot about you. About what you were failing to see, or what you were prepared to put up with. I think for a lot of us we don’t realise that there can be something better!
I write about small annoyances, such as men who hate shopping, to more serious ones such as men who are unfaithful or jealous.
I tried to write the stories with love and humour as most importantly I didn’t want it to be a man-bash – I wanted it to be a fair reflection from both male and female points of view. Of course I am always heavily slanted towards female POV, because I am after all a woman, and my experience is as a woman in relationship.
I think the funny thing about behaviour, especially from a writer’s point of view, is that it is so predictable. It’s like the blokes have been reading from the same script.
Are there some of us who should have had this boyfriend but didn’t?
I see love as a way to learn about life, about people and, most importantly, about yourself.
I would certainly suggest women stay away from violent men and ones that will cause them physical harm, but there are many blokes out there who need to be made relationship ready, so without the constant stream of pissed-off girlfriends doing a little bit of a renovation here and there, how are we ever going to end up with good relationship material?
I have one of those now. He would have been a difficult conquest years ago, just as I was. I thank the women that came before me for the work they did in preparing my almost perfect boyfriend/husband/partner.
How many boyfriends have you had that you shouldn’t?
Oh my god, so many.
I have been one of those women who was pathologically attracted to bad men. Self-centred, broke, liars, drug addicts, alcoholics, womanisers, sexist pigs – pre-30 I just seemed to be making all the wrong decisions. Turning 30 helped, I got a lot smarter about what I found attractive in a man. It took years to realise that you didn’t always need danger to make things exciting. Actually living my nice normal life with my nice normal husband is much more exciting than any of the dangerous men I hooked up with in the past.
Is this a book young girls should read before they start dating?
Definitely. I kind of wrote this thinking about my own daughters – I have four ranging from four to 18, and I thought it would be a good resource for them – to reflect on the mistakes, or errors in judgment, or the deluded decisions made by a girl in love.
I think when you are in love it’s hard to have any perspective, and we can very often make such bad decisions in love and forget that it’s up to us to make good decisions. That being said, a few bad decisions do help make you a more interesting person. Much meatier stories to share over a few glasses of red.
What prompted this book at this time in your life?
My last book was a memoir of family, and this is a memoir of love.
My comedy and my writing is always focused on the places where I cease to measure up – where I fail, because that’s where the comedy is.
I wanted to write something that would appeal to people with and without children, something that celebrated our forgotten past – it’s not all me, you know.
I have to admit a lot of this book came from conversations, years and years of them with girlfriends. It’s amazing what collective wisdom we have – but only in retrospect.
Is this book helpful for gay men?
I think this would also be helpful for women looking at themselves. This could be Girlfriends we’ve all had and shouldn’t have. Women are just as guilty at times of being difficult and toxic in relationship. I imagine gay men have to cope with controlling, critical, bad-dressing boyfriends, just as we girls do, so I would hope they could have a good old laugh about it with the girls.
Is it the boyfriend’s fault or did we mould him this way?
Everyone is responsible for who they are and how they behave.
That’s why it’s important as mothers to bring up sons and daughters that break some of the more unfortunate gender-typed moulds about how we act and what we expect in life.
I hate it when women think that a man should come along and support them. It seems so outdated and wrong. I similarly hate it when men can’t cope with women as strong and powerful as they are. I think we still have quite a way to go when it comes to creating real tolerance of difference and equality in relationship – when we move away from gender roles and start to operate as people first, and gender second.
I never think of myself as a woman first. I am a person, and I wouldn’t expect to be treated any differently. Except for when there are spiders. And blocked sewerage pipes, oh and yes, don’t forget heavy lifting.
What do you hope the reader will gain from the book ?
I hope they find it amusing. Insightful. Even strangely helpful, but not in that patronising self-help book way, in a way that it is a woman having fun with her history of relationship failure and mishap and sharing about her own dysfunctions along the way.
I hope it helps people feel more reflective about themselves and realise that who they are today is part of this evolving story which they, through their choices, make every day.
It was funny thinking of it like that, like my life was the story, and all these men, well, they were chapters. Gives great closure.
Love starts with such exhilaration and ends in such despair. I love that. It’s so bloody dramatic. Actually I think I got as hooked on the despair as I did on the exhilaration.
What does your man think of this book?
He loved it.
I have to admit I was nervous letting him read it. I didn’t give it to him until I had my first published copy – I didn’t want his feedback, not because I didn’t trust it, because I needed to trust myself with what I had to say.
He said he thought it would be a great laugh for women all cackling over shared experience, but for blokes it was more of a personal-development read because it helped him identify things that had happened in the past and the way he had behaved, and gave him a bird’s eye view of the female perspective.
I think it is different. I do think we women tend to be much more intense and deep thinking. I spend my life making mountains out of molehills. Look at me. I’m clearly a molehill who’s made herself into a mountain.
What do your daughters think?
Honestly, I don’t think they take any notice of me.
It’s tough having a feminist for a mother who has no problem with public disclosure about previous sexual encounters. I have always told them the truth. I don’t lie about who I was before I met their father/s.
I want them to know I wasn’t some boring straight little do-gooder who went to church and kept her hymen in a glory box under the bed. I think that notion of sexuality and relationship is very oppressive to women because it stops us telling the truth, and keeps us perpetuating these lies to each other about our modesty.
I know this one mum who has completely re-invented herself in the story she tells her teenage daughter. I don’t understand why you’d do that. You’re not offering a place to share experience. You are creating this line that the daughter can never measure up to… and you know, that’s because the mum never did either.
Shame is what stops women being honest and really telling it how it is.
Fortunately, I don’t seem to have any shame. It’s such a limiter.
Mandy will host the Byron Bay launch of Boyfriends We’ve All Had (and Shouldn’t Have) with Steve Bisley from 6pm at Frankie Brown on Tuesday April 1 (copies available at Mary Ryan’s), and in Lismore on April 10 from 6pm at the Tatts Hotel with S Sorrensen (copies available at Book Warehouse).