‘Having Feelings on the Internet is a Power Move: A Review of Melissa Broder’s “So Sad Today”’, by Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen


Once I was in love with someone I had never met.

We would Skype for four, five, six hours at a time, him in Hong Kong and me in Melbourne, and he would say “you’re my dream girl”, and I would say “when can I see you?”, and he would say “do you want to see me cum for you?”, but it was all wires and codes, so when he said “I love you”, what he was really saying was 1011100011010, or something like that.

But numbers or words didn’t matter, because every Instagram heart said “I love you”, and that fucking annoying Skype sound said “I love you”, and then it was all over before the zeroes and ones ever turned into words that met mid-air.

So Sad Today’s ‘Never Getting Over the Fantasy of You Is Going Okay’ recounts a two-year “hot affair with a Twitter avatar”:

Another form of romantic obsession is to fall in fake love with a person who doesn’t exist at all … You fall in love with a magic hologram of a person you create based on a distant image.

The hope is that if a magic hologram falls in love with you, then you are magic too.

Nobody is magic, but every time, I’ve hoped they will be. Just to help me pretend, forget.

When I was thirteen, I met a boy on MSN and he became my boyfriend except of course he wasn’t, because he was just a voice and words, and I was just a voice and words, but it felt safe, real. The one time I saw him in person, he showed me the scars from all the times he had tried to die, and I wanted to say “I can save you” except of course I couldn’t, and it ended with nothing, nothing, nothing.

Another internet affair is remembered in ‘Love Like You Are Trying to Fill an Insatiable Spiritual Hole with Another Person Who Will Suffocate in There’, beginning with meme-worthy sexts (“I will like 3 of yr statuses on fb as I swallow yr cum”); climaxing with in-person trysts, first-time anal, crying after sex because “a darkness was lifting”; ending with nothing, nothing, nothing. She writes: “But love, lust infatuation—for a few moments, I was not sad.”

In 2012, @sosadtoday appeared on Twitter, anonymously posting witty, pithy quips about all the things that lend themselves to sadness—anxiety, depression, breakups—in a way unique to the online age.

If Daria, the self-confessed “misery chick” of the nineties, had grown up and gotten an internet connection, her feed would’ve looked something like this – sarcastic, brutal, revealing. It could easily have been a bot, but in 2015, the mask came off: Melissa Broder, Los Angeles-based poet, ultimate sad girl.

One hundred and forty characters become thousands in So Sad Today – a memoir of sorts, told through a series of essays that are at times uncomfortable in their frankness. Broder writes unflinchingly about her vomit fetish, laments that her pussy isn’t as pink as it once was, wonders aloud whether her body hatred is at odds with her feminism. She has a love–hate relationship with her antidepressants, gets Botox from a doctor who looks like a fetus, needs to stop using people as drugs. She’s as codependent on the internet as she is on sex.

The titles of the essays are complete stories in themselves: ‘One Text Is Too Many and a Thousand Are Never Enough’; ‘The Terror in My Heart Says Hi’; ‘Keep Your Friends Close but Your Anxiety Closer.’ Counting her neuroses like stars, Broder deftly captures the zeitgeist of disaffected bourgeois femininity in the digital age. It’s frequently self-indulgent, but that’s the point: if the personal is political, if anger can be used as a weapon, why can’t sadness be a weapon, too—a middle finger to the idea that women showing emotion makes them weak?

With her Sad Girl Theory, Artist Audrey Wollen suggests that the articulation of female suffering is “a way of reclaiming agency over our bodies, identities and lives” – that expecting perpetual positivity from women, as well as deriding feminine expression as shallow and narcissistic, is a kind of control in itself.

With So Sad Today, Broder takes her droll online persona into the print world to explore what it looks like to be a privileged woman living with mental illness. Some material struggles in the offline space – the constant use of netspeak, an entire essay where each sentence ends with “a love story”, and another that is a Google chat transcript between herself and her “higher self” are perhaps too meta, and best suited to their natural habitat.

Yet Broder’s boldness in unabashedly disclosing her most hideous, vulgar secrets is a defiant response to the platitudes anyone with depression or anxiety knows by heart:

You’ll get over it.

Tomorrow is another day.

It gets better.

Many psychologists encourage the concept of “feeling your feelings” – sitting with sadness, rather than pushing it away in pursuit of a shallow happiness without process. So Sad Today sees a woman doing just that, and while it’s overwhelmingly self-reflective, it is also surprisingly universal at unexpected times.

The book’s most affecting essay, ‘I Told You Not to Get the Knish,’ reflects on Broder’s husband—who she refers to as Ron Jeremy, making the chapter both hilarious and heartbreaking—and his chronic illness, as well as the couple’s open relationship. How do marriage and the inevitable march towards death coexist? How does love stay alive?

It’s harrowing to witness Ron Jeremy’s slow and silent decay, and her simultaneous love and guilty resentment. But it’s comforting to read of Broder’s realisation that loving her husband is a choice, and that she can choose to see him with new eyes every day, because “with the people we love, it is so easy to stop seeing them at all”. The essay brims with her signature deadpan humour, but reveals a soft, non-performative humanity some of the others lack.

It’s difficult not to wonder, though, whether So Sad Today would be such a phenomenon if Broder wasn’t white and conventionally attractive. Would it be so adored if she were a woman of colour, or overweight? Are we ready to hear the vilest parts of these women, the things we’re all taught to hide – or are we only titillated and moved when such raw, at times ugly, revelations come from someone deemed socially acceptable?

And therein lies the dilemma: privilege does not mean that your problems don’t matter—Broder is undeniably brave for laying herself bare so vulnerably, and will certainly help others feeling the same way—but privilege afforded her the therapy to dissect her problems, and the platform to discuss them, in the first place.

Broder sums it up best herself in ‘I Don’t Feel Bad About My Neck’: “I feel bad about my struggle, because it is nothing compared to other people’s struggles and yet it still hurts. I feel bad about this essay. I feel bad about this book.”

I was seven when I came home and told my parents that I wanted to scream “fuck you” at the school principal. I told them about the things I could see in my mind; about how I couldn’t sleep unless I pressed my eyeballs until they felt like they’d pop out; about my twisted fantasies.

I was seven when I started taking antidepressants.

I was twelve when I first thought about killing myself. I touched a sharp knife in my parents’ kitchen like it would shatter, and cried and threw it back in the drawer, and didn’t tell anybody.

I was thirteen the first time I loved someone so much it felt like burning.

I was fourteen when I painted a picture in art class of a church on fire with the devil’s face over it. The next time I went to class, they told me they had lost my painting.

During arguments my sisters would say “well, at least we don’t need pills because we aren’t crazy”, and that was me: weird, crazy, sad.

I was fifteen when I started writing about my feelings online, and suddenly no one was calling me crazy. I fell deeper into my sadness, but was simultaneously buoyed by the knowledge that other people understood how I felt.

It was the blueprint for where I’d find myself in my adult career as a confessional writer, purging my demons on the page – both as an act of absolution, and as a hand extended to those who thought they were the only ones as fucked up as they were.

The only ones who had loved a series of ones and zeroes, or felt screaming pounding so loudly in their heads that they thought they were going mad.

It’s strange and beautiful to sometimes want to die, and yet so desperately want to encourage others to live.

Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen writes a regular column for Daily Life and has also written for Rookie, i-D and Rolling Stone. She works in content marketing at Melbourne Writers Festival.