Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah and Skye Chatham is a novel that takes readers through the journey of one New York couple's relationship, by looking at their emails and text messages. We read exchanges between the couple, Elliot and Madeline, and between both Elliot and Madeline and their best friends. Being two single, straight women in their twenties living and dating in New York City, we decided to talk about which aspects of the book rang most true to our experiences.
1. Technology CAN add a new layer of confusion.
Krystie Lee Yandoli: I really enjoyed every minute of reading Read Bottom Up because it felt like someone had hacked into all of my personal information and wrote a book about my life. I wrote this in an email to someone about the book and it's true for me: It's nice to be able to see bits and pieces of yourself mirrored in literature; it's helpful to feel not so alone, especially in something as crazy as the NYC dating scene. What did you think about the format?
Julia Pugachevsky: Same! I definitely always feel the temptation to screencap everything and give my friends a play-by-play of my love life. I think there's a fine line though between sharing funny anecdotes and frantically begging your BFF to "decode" everything.
2. Texting etiquette definitely plays a role in romantic connections.
KLY: When it comes to the way we date nowadays, all of these concerns about texting and communicating are valid and relevant, and unfortunately, it's sometimes hard to tell when someone is being flirtatious or not. You're not just reading between the lines of an old-fashioned love letter or a real-life conversation; you also have to think about the deeper meaning behind each punctuation mark, the way words are spelled, the length of a message, etc.
JP: Yeah! I get so nitpicky about people not spelling out full words or, like, the ratio of writing (where one person writes a paragraph and the other person writes a sentence, and it just kind of always stays that way). On one hand, texting is so new to our generation and not everyone's "good" at it, but on the other hand, it says something about a person. I think texting can be this confusing, annoying thing if you let it be or it can be fun and open up communication in ways that didn't exist in previous decades.
3. It's hard to know how much to share, and how quickly, when dating someone new.
KLY: What Read Bottom Up really boiled down to, for me, is essentially how we communicate — and don't communicate — with each other during the beginning stages of relationships. When Emily writes to her friend Madeline, "...You thinking he's not as into this as you are because he doesn't always respond as fast as you'd like him to...," it really hit home. For better or worse, this is actually an important part of how we communicate and it makes sense to pay attention to. How important do you think it is for people to be super honest with each other all the time, or do you think it's beneficial to withhold some information at first?
JP: I think that's very interesting. I'm naturally a very open book and, if I had it my way, I would just do the New York Times love experiment on every date and get all the exes/family traumas/childhood woes out of the way, but that also isn't healthy for everyone. I feel like I have a very romanticized view of love where you just immediately connect with a person and feel 100% free to be yourself, but I also know that's not how it works, and you can't force honesty and openness. I feel like it's always earned?
4. And it can be tough to admit what you really want.
KLY: At one point, David says to Elliot, "There's a huge difference between what you 'say' you're looking for and what you 'are' looking for." How much truth do you think there is to that?
JP: I think there is SO much truth to that. Most people (and I include myself in this) want the good parts of a relationship (i.e. the beginning of one) and don't realize how many small things are involved in making it work out. Simple things like scheduling (which Elliot is bad at) make a world of a difference, but can feel stressful, especially when you're dating in New York and everyone's busy and has other plans to coordinate. I think a relationship can make you grow and feel really supported, but the price is usually sacrificing something else (time with friends, alone time, etc) and it's not necessarily enough to make everyone happy.
KLY: For sure, and to your point about Elliot, he is so terrible about scheduling and making plans, which is one of the more frustrating things about dating someone new; you don't know whether they're genuinely this terrible at meeting up, or if they're not as interested in you as you want them to be. That's probably what I disliked most about his character because this is something I've found to be a common thread in a lot of guys here, and then you're the crazy one who's too intense and not cool/casual when you try to make a plan more definitive and concrete. It drives me nuts, but thankfully I have friends to vent to about this and check my own perspective to see if there's legitimacy to it, much like how Madeline is constantly checking in with Emily about her feelings.
5. Your friends will help you survive all the emotional chaos of dating.
JP: When I'm with a guy who I just don't a strong emotional connection with, I feel like I try to force myself to like him or justify his behavior to an extent because I'm worried that I'm too picky or unforgiving. I have to consult my friends and ask, "Am I right in feeling this way?" and it's not the healthiest. I'm learning that the moment I feel the need to ask for a friend's deep analysis, the relationship is probably not going anywhere great.
KLY: It's frustrating that we, as women, always feel the need to check in with other women to determine the legitimacy of our feelings, because whatever you're feeling and reacting to is valid in itself, but it's something I still find myself doing a lot, and I don't think I'm alone in that. This is why I enjoyed reading more about the friendship between Madeline and Emily than I did the exchanges between Madeline and Elliot; often times, your friendships are just as important when it comes to your love life as your actual partner. When Madeline is deliberating about Elliot over email with Emily, Madeline says to her, "Sorry I love you but this is easy for you to say because you're not in this relationship" and Emily replies, "Oh yes, I am." To me, that felt SO REAL because…it's my life.
6. And they can be your soulmates, too.
JP: I LOVE Madeline and Emily and I think they have their own love story, which I really relate to. Just the other week, a friend and I met up for drinks before splitting up to meet our respective dudes for the night, but we joked that THIS was the actual date, because we were complimenting each other and joking around and making each other feel fucking fantastic. I love being able to just talk about anything and everything with someone, and have this relationship where we can call each other out without getting upset. It's a rare thing to find even in friends, and I wonder if it's a realistic barometer for straight guys/romantic relationships with them.
7. Romance is a lot about timing.
KLY: There's a point when Elliot and David are texting, and David says about Emily, "She's pretty cool. Too much of a real person for me right now, but when I'm looking for something serious in the next 8-10 years, I would like to revisit that." Why do you think this such a common kind of logic? The whole, "I'm not ready for them now, but in another 10 years when I'm ready..." kind of thing? What's up with that?
JP: That's so baffling to me, and I've definitely dealt with dudes who feel this way! If you like someone, wouldn't you logically want to like them EARLIER, so you spend more time with them before you both ultimately croak? I don't get the concept of, "I like this person, but maybe in five years when I'm ready to settle down." How will you know what you want in five years? How do you even know what the person you like wants? It's also presumptuous to assume that all women want long-term, intense relationships headed toward marriage. A lot of us just want a timely text back. THAT'S IT.
8. It's important to be on the same page.
KLY: To quote Emily — who, in my opinion, is the wisest and most likable character in the book — "They're all assholes until one isn't." At the beginning of the story, Elliot is kind of seeing a few girls at once and entertaining his options, but Madeline is pretty much just focusing her attention on him. He seems more hesitant to commit to her because he's seeing other women, one of them being his ex-girlfriend, whereas Madeline is more hesitant to jump into a relationship with him because she's questioning how much he even likes her and is generally unsure. This scenario in itself feels SO REAL. In your experience, do you think there's a disconnect when two people first start dating about how exclusive they are and the different reasons why?
JP: I actually don't know. I just always assume a guy wants to see only ~*~fabulous ol' me~*~ and if he ultimately is into someone else, I'll deal with it then. I just don't entertain that idea because it's too exhausting; maybe it's naive, but I'm not a particularly suspicious person and I think the right person will make me feel secure anyway. As for me, I tend to try to keep my lines where I can see them: We're either only hooking up and only text to figure out when to meet up, or we actually go on dates and stay exclusive with each other (in my mind, anyway). Anything in between just feels like someone's feelings will get trampled on sooner or later.
9. Try to really see the other person for who they are.
KLY: At one point when Elliot is talking to David about his relationship with Madeline, he says, "If you're with someone and things aren't totally working, you ask yourself, 'Is this a person I could maybe be with forever?' And if the answer is yes, then you try and figure it out, and if it's no, then that's that." Even though it seems like such an extreme and pretty dramatic/intense, I feel like that's a question I've definitely asked myself and I know my friends have thought of: Is this person really worth it? Am I going to spend forever with them? Do you believe this rule is true to the way we go about relationships in real life, and not just in the fictional sense?
JP: I think the overall sentiment of that phrase is very true, but sorting out your emotions in real life is a little trickier. It can be tough to decipher if you like a person for who they really are or if they just align with your checklist of an ideal partner. I think it's definitely important to assess your relationship, but you can't also approach everyone with, "Can I see us growing old together?" because that's a HUGE question and also, who's to say that is the ultimate happiness for everyone? I've had such a range of romantic experiences already and even the ones I regret the most, I still grew up a LOT from. Every person and experience has been different and enlightened me in a new way, and who's to say that should be valued less than if had I found a "soulmate" early on and still been with them to this day? You do you!