Hate-Readers R Us?

Or why I don't believe you when you say you don't hate-read. Come on -- we all do it, don't we? (You might even do it here.)

Sep 26, 2013 at 7:00pm | Leave a comment

We all do it. Don't say you don't, because I totally won't believe you. In this age of social media overload and 624 zillion blogs and websites and magazines and podcasts and Kindle Singles and iPad apps and what the hell ever clogging up our ADHD-addled, serenity-starved brains, I don't think I know ANYONE who doesn't hate-read -- usually multiple outlets, multiple times a day.

In case you're unfamiliar (and I totally don't believe you): Hate-reading consists of torturing yourself by reading something you know you're going to loathe and/or mock. It could be a laughably twee parenting blog you frequent daily, despite thoroughly detesting the persona of the lead blogger (mason-jar candles, vintage bicycles and homemade vegan banana-kale bread, anyone?). Or maybe it's the blissed-out Facebook photos of the family of an old mean-girl friend you can't glance at without wanting to commit homicide.

As this Slate story notes, there are a million and one ways to hate-read. And one study at Stanford suggested that we hate-read for a reason, apparently turning to “self-enhancement processes” like hate-reading when our “typically rosy self-view is threatened.”

Whatever the underlying reason, as a long-time unrepentant jealous-and-bitter sort, I'm well-versed in the art of hate-reading. Here are the three most common traps I get sucked into (I tend to fall prey to the personal-vendetta variety more than the the obsessively-reading-a-blog-I-can't-stand type).

1) THE "I'M CRAZY JEALOUS OF YOUR CAREER" HATE-READ.
Being a writer/editor, I have a lot of fellow writer and editor friends on social media. Most of them aren't my close friends in real life, but a ton of them are acquaintances -- some I've met, some I haven't -- from feminist-y or media circles. Lots of these writers do really cool sh*t, like, ALL THE TIME. Some of them do really cool sh*t, like, EVERY DAY.

Like launching successful blogs, and writing for the best publications, and getting crazy book deals, and publishing well-received novels and poems and ghost-written celebrity biographies, and getting nominated for swanky-sounding awards.

Some of them manage to do these things while simultaneously raising children, holding down husbands, tending chickens in a backyard coop, and posting gorgeous low-lit self-portraits on Instagram that get 900 likes! Whyyy? As a special exercise in self-flagellation, I regularly hate-read at least a few of these people every week (who aren't actually people I hate -- just people I'm jealous of) -- I'll scour their Facebook pages, dive into their Twitter archives, and poke around on their blogs, FOR NO GOOD REASON EXCEPT TO MAKE MYSELF FEEL BAD. Ugh.

2) THE "I NEED TO KNOW WHAT THEY'RE SAYING" HATE-READ.
This applies to places like websites' comment sections, or reviewers bashing your book, or critics trashing your art show. See, I have a tough time not snooping around in places where I know I'm being discussed. This is natural, I think, but also problematic, because it can drive me absolutely out of my skull with misery, self-pity, and rage.

A while ago, I had a very personal essay published on a website (not this one!). The editor I worked with sent me a contract (standard) and a waiver (not standard) that basically said I'd agree not to freak out when commenters started bashing me, which they inevitably would, because that particular site was known for its huge chorus of vocal -- some might say vicious -- commenters.

Despite signing said waiver and mentally preparing myself for the worst, I still wasn't ready for the emotional onslaught of having my name and work dragged through the mud by vitriolic randoms on the Internet. The problem was self-created, though, in that I COULDN'T STOP GOING BACK AND LOOKING for new nasty remarks, despite the fact that it was killing my self-esteem and making me miserable. Own worst enemy, I tell you.

3) THE "YOU BROKE MY HEART, YOU VILE CREATURE" HATE-READ.
This is one I think almost all of us have fallen prey to from time to time. It's the sad propensity to Internet-stalk our exes (and their current partners, of course, for good measure). I've done it countless times, with countless men, even though EVERY SINGLE TIME, it's triggered pain, confusion, envy or outright derision.

One guy I kind-of sort-of dated (OK, it was more like a frilationship) didn't have Facebook, but he was on Twitter. After we had a huge fight/kind-of broke up/abruptly stopped speaking, I started driving myself bat-sh*t by obsessively refreshing his Twitter feed throughout the day and trying to read between the lines of his tweets (which were sometimes subtweets about me). When he started a blog, I did the same there.

My anxious hate-reading got bad enough that I had to INSTALL PARENTAL CONTROL / BLOCKING SOFTWARE on my computer to stop myself from visiting those particular sites (when I tried to access them, I set up my browser to automatically redirect me to an awesome/crazy site about dating people with borderline personality disorder -- a condition I thought he might have).

Anyway, what are your most common hate-reads, and what motivates you to do it?

I'm on Twitter.