Quick preface – The Borderline vs. Narcissist (in terms of identity):
A borderline is a person whose identity is derived from the dominant personality in her life (usually a romantic partner). When this person says, “There’s no me without you,” she means it quite literally. Think Bella Swan, her derivative Anastasia, Halsey and Lana del Rey’s creative personas, and other intense, needy characters.
A narcissist is a person who derives her identity from outward indicators, such as appearance, public associations (“I’m friends with [celebrity],” “I’m from UST and I’ll cut you if you say anything negative about it,”), pop culture tastes (“Adele is the greatest singer ever and I’ll murder anyone who says differently!”), possessions and others’ perception of them (as opposed to innate abilities).
Now, on to the review.
How To Be Single revolves around a borderline named Alice (whose actress, interestingly, also portrays the very borderline Anastasia from 50 Shades), who decides that she’s had enough of being a borderline.
(Note: borderlines who’ve had enough of being borderlines often turn into narcissists.)
She leaves her boyfriend of 3 years, a narcissist who has this to say to her right before she goes: “Can’t you just fuck one of my friends?” and “I’ll miss your boobs.” Nothing about negotiating staying together on her terms, or asking what he could have done differently, or even a simple “I love you and I’ll miss you.”
(Note: Borderlines seek out narcissists to have relationships with, since they require someone else’s dominant personality to give them identity.)
Perhaps fearful of losing a safety net, she tells him vaguely, “This is not a breakup, it’s just a break. I need to know who I am.”
Off she goes somewhere in the heart of NYC, the perfect breeding ground for narcissists / meeting place for borderlines and narcissists, and lands right in the lap of another narcissist: Robin, played by Rebel Wilson (whom I incidentally love as an actress, but that’s not relevant here).
The narcissist / borderline dynamic between them is thrown into sharp relief by the contrast to Alice’s relationship with her sister, a neurotic, baby-crazed workaholic who’s nevertheless not a narcissist. Despite being much closer to her sister than Robin, Alice does not turn into a neurotic, baby-crazed workaholic; instead she turns into a slut like Robin. Why? Because borderlines do not take on the identities of anyone else except narcissists. Non-narcissists (such as people with secure identities, and other borderlines) usually will not permit another person to derive their identity from them. Narcissists, on the other hand, enjoy and encourage borderlines to copy their identity.
What Alice really wants to do is to fuck a bunch of guys, but she can’t even articulate nor follow through that desire on her own. Robin provides the excuse: “Well, my friend made me come over here…” Alice makes several cringe-inducingly awkward passes at guys in bars and functions, before she eventually gets some emotionally closed-off dude to start dating her. He’s not a narcissist, though; he’s just silently traumatized from his wife’s death. Thus he isn’t dominant enough for her, and when he starts being all weird and closed off, she gives up on him right away.
One especially overt narcissist in the movie is a guy named Tom, whose narcissism isn’t the kind that makes him wish to dominate one woman, but to use many women. Therefore they can’t be in a relationship. They do have sex, though. Again, the desire is not expressed by Alice, but the excuse is provided indirectly by Robin.
Robin had informed her of an apparently iron rule that a girl can’t drink more than 11 drinks alone with a male friend without having sex with him. Naturally, they accidentally surpass the number, and Alice has no choice but to jump on his dick. (I think this one is literal, she jumped onto his dick right after discovering the 11th bottle.)
The turning point of the movie, supposedly when Alice finds redemption from her needy ways, is when she and Robin start yelling at each other at Alice’s birthday party where Robin invited all the men Alice had been fucking so they could confront each other and she could watch the fun. This is the face-off: Borderline Vs. Narcissist.
– Alice, (mocking Robin’s Aussie accent) complains that Robin pushed her into fucking a bunch of guys.
– Robin, who obviously can’t directly defend herself against this fact, obliquely counters that Alice falls all over guys; criticizing her for getting emotionally attached to the people she fucks, instead of immediately forgetting all their names like Robin does.
Furthermore, Robin says triumphantly, “I know who the fuck I am.” Newsflash: Knowing who you are isn’t a step up from not knowing who you are if the identity you’ve chosen is a rotten one. At least a person whose identity hasn’t yet cemented into cankerous degradation can still choose to become somebody good.
After that, A. isolates herself from everyone, which necessitates building some odd machine to unzip her dresses by herself (because she’s proven herself throughout the movie to be incapable of unzipping her dresses with nothing but her own two hands). She also learns how to cook and hike, I think.
At the end of the movie, it’s unclear whether A. managed the transformation from borderline to narcissist. Certainly she did not become a person with a secure identity, who knows how to love and accept love, as the movie would like you to believe.
In the closing scene, she hikes up to the Grand Canyon, which she expressed at the start she’d always wanted to do. Her voiceover muses:
You should enjoy the time you get to be alone… because before you know it, it’s gone.
That’s the illogical sentiment of a narcissist who’s planning to dominate her next partner, or a borderline who’s planning to lose herself in her next partner. It isn’t the joy of a person who likes being single, nor the yearning of a person who wants to be in a loving relationship: That’s a person who’s torn between being fiercely alone and being swallowed up in a relationship.
If she wanted to hike the Grand Canyon, what was to stop her, in the beginning, from telling her bf: “I want to climb the Grand Canyon alone”? What was to stop her from doing all the things she wanted to do? She left him because she needed something to blame for her own unhappiness: Oh, it’s because I keep getting in relationships all the time… As if it’s completely impossible to develop yourself within any relationship, regardless of the other person’s willingness to give you time and space.
If you’re unable to love and be happy whether or not you’re in a relationship, the problem isn’t being single or not being single, the problem is you.