The Boyfriend Story

A friend sent me this exquisitely-written book review from this month’s The Atlantic. Written by Caitlan Flanagan, the article explores how young women reconcile the so-called Boyfriend Story–“the gossamer-wrapped quest for true and perfect love”–with “the reality of the sexual era in which we live”. She does so through the lens of Anita Shreve’s novel, Testimony, for which she has high praise.

While Flanagan’s thesis is well-constructed, I want to highlight the calibre of her writing. Consider this section:

Today’s teenage girl–as much designed for closely held, romantic relationships as were the girls of every other era–is having to broker a life for herself in which she is, on the one hand, a card-carrying member of the over-parented generation, her extended girlhood made into a frantically observed and constantly commemorated possession of her parents, wrought into being with elaborate Sweet 16 parties, and heart-tugging video montages, and senior proms of mawkish, Cinderella-dream dimensions–and on the other hand she has been forced in a sexual knowingness, brought upon her by the fact that, beginning at a relatively tender age, she has been exposed to the kind of hard-core pornography that her own mother has probably never seen; that her earliest textbooks on puberty have included, perforce, eye-opening and often upsetting information on everything from the transmission of HIV to the range and expression of sexual orientations; that she has been taught by her peer culture that hookups are what stolen, spin-the-bottle kisses were a quarter-century ago. She is a little girl; she is a person as wise in the ways of sexual expression as an old woman.

Most of that is a single sentence, long but utterly intelligible.

I haven’t had time to read these responses to the piece, but they might interest.

Every once in a while I encounter a piece of magazine writing that I recommend as course material to friends and family who teach English and communications. This is one such piece.


  1. I read that article on the plane to New Orleans earlier this week, and I agree, it is very well written. I think that particular sentence is a bit too long…but you’re right, still intelligible.

    1. I realize I didn’t say anything about the article. I think while it is well written — though I don’t think brilliantly so, since Flanagan’s writing sometimes is a bit too clever for its own good — the comments on it include better information.

      Flanagan herself seems to be extrapolating a 2005 high-school incident, the novel she’s writing about, and some anecdotes into what she considers a worrying trend of teen girls hooking up with boys and not enjoying it. But there’s no indication whether the trend is really widespread in the U.S. or anywhere else.

      Teen sexuality is changing, as I wrote about last month, but I don’t think Flanagan is being very rigorous in her analysis of it.

      I’d certainly be more interested to hear what Dan Savage thinks of the book, the Boyfriend Story, and the associated “Slut Story” mentioned in the comments.

  2. Hi, you used to write excellent posts, but the last several posts have been kinda boring… I miss your excellent posts. Past few posts are just slightly bit out of track!

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