You know the feeling at the beginning of a good relationship where you just can’t get enough of someone? It can be little… um… obsessive. You notice every little thing about them, want to know every detail about their past, what makes them tick. You might even, say, secretly research their ex-girlfriends and then compare, thinking things like, “She has bigger boobs than I do. Does he like that better?”
It’s going to be pretty funny if my husband reads this post. I realize he probably doesn’t know some of the slightly obsessive things I did when we first got together. Not because they're secret but because it all goes down at the point when you’re playing the Who Likes Whom Better Game, where you don’t let on just how crazy you are over the person. In case they’re not just as crazy over you.
Well, I had mostly forgotten all about all this kind of crazy until I read The Hating Game last night. It was the most fun book I’ve read in a long, long time – on par with Jennie Crusie’s Bet Me, one of the best romantic comedies I’ve ever read. Yep, it’s that good. And what I think works so well with this book is that, while Lucy and Josh are a little over-the-top, it took me back to the days when I might have acted a little crazy.
But these Lucy and Josh take crazy to a whole new level, since the premise is this: What if you get caught in some sort of competitive obsession with your arch nemesis at work, whose desk is just a few feet from yours? How close is this kind of obsession to a twisted version of falling in love?
These two go at it, trying to make the other look bad at work, reporting each other to HR, mercilessly teasing, and doing all kinds of other funny/malicious things to each other. For a good portion of these games, we only get Lucy’s perspective, and her goal is this: to make Josh smile, to crack his façade.
As I was reading, a little feminist voice in me chimed in from time to time, protesting: Isn’t this the ‘he only teases you because he likes you’ kind of mentality that has been used over time to excuse some really bad behavior towards girls? After all, Lucy genuinely breaks down in tears because of Josh’s torments. It made me think back to my Geometry class in high school, where I sat next to a very funny guy who teased me mercilessly about all kinds of things, like how many pairs of shoes I had (not that many, actually) and other stupid stuff. I was not nearly as good at teasing him back, which resulted in a complicated kind of hate-crush on him. It makes me think that these Teasing Games are all in the nuances – and that someone will inevitably step over the boundaries into hurtfulness when real feelings are at risk. So when (spoiler, but not a surprising one) Josh apologizes later in the book, there’s so much remorse in it that I really believed his regrets in taking it too far and in playing the Hating Game in the first place.
There’s another well-done piece in this book, and that’s the way that loneliness factors into their interactions. As the plot progresses, we see more and more that this is a story of two, lonely people fumbling their way to each other. And when they finally get there, it’s so, so sweet.