Elizabeth Wurtzel at 45: Sadder Than Depression


Elizabeth Wurtzel, the bestselling author who gained notoriety with her confessional, first-person narratives about her depression, is now 45 and sadder than ever, which she has, once again, confessed in a first-person piece. She says her life is shitty because it doesn’t have meaning. Or something? It’s hard to tell, since the (very long) piece itself—which reads like a transcript of an eloquent coke rant or a Robin Williams free-association jag—doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose either.

Earlier in her career, Wurtzel would use her words to create vivid, beautiful descriptions of the muted, horrible existence of clinical depression. Unfortunately now, when she pours her heart out onto the page she just makes a fucking mess. She’s written several high-profile pieces in the past year that could be described as such. (See: the time, in a piece for The Atlantic, she blamed wealthy stay-at-home moms for killing feminism and the time, in a piece for Harper’s Bazaar, she told young feminists they were ugly and should try harder to be pretty.)

This time around, in a piece for New York, she’s talking about, well, everything and nothing all at the same time and how it all relates to her. It seems like maybe she pitched the story as a year-end wrap-up to how much she hated 2012 (which would explain why she referred to herself throughout as being 44, instead of 45), but that somehow veered off into recaps of where she grew up, her first job, the dance lessons she took in her youth, the chaos she continually seeks out, and multiple mentions of her Ivy League education. Basically, all the shit that we read about in Prozac Nation nearly 20 years ago.

“I have no husband, no children, no real estate, no stocks, no bonds, no investments, no 401(k), no CDs, no IRAs, no emergency fund—I don’t even have a savings account,” she now writes, saying she has nothing to show for her adulthood because she has refused to grow up. And she’s miserable because of it. Except that she’s not because she’d rather have it this way, as she explains why pissing away her book advance on a Hermés handbag that was stolen wasn’t a huge mistake because if she had invested it in a mutual fund, then maybe it would’ve been negatively impacted by the financial crisis in 2008.

I have always made choices without considering the consequences, because I know all I get is now.

She goes on and on (and on) for 5,500 words to do a shitty job at explaining something that is perfectly encapsulated in four letters: YOLO.

It’s all so inane. The piece starts off being a story about this lady that she was subletting from that called her a whore, which really upset her. So Wurtzel proceeded to accuse the woman of literally being a whore, referring to her as “Hooker Maria,” which could’ve been an amazing essay. I’d love to read something about a psychotic, mentally abusive, 50-year-old, out-of-work call girl. Like how did Wurtzel even meet someone like that? There’s a story there!

But that nugget of potential turns into an examination of her existential crisis:

Please understand: I live specifically, with intent. The intent is, I know now, not at all specific, except that I have no ability to compromise.

A critique of how Manhattan is getting too expensive:

[Creative types] work hard but still have time to try a no-­reservations restaurant on the Lower East Side or to check out the small boutiques in Nolita and help interesting young designers get off to a start. Mostly, they make six-figure incomes and somehow manage.

An entire paragraph about Googling herself and being shocked to discover that she’s mentioned in a Harvard alumni newsletter:

And then I chanced upon something genuinely surprising: It was a PDF document, a 140-page guide published by Harvard to coincide with football season that particular year. The middle section was devoted to prominent alumni, mostly presidents, senators, governors, princes, agas-a multi-circle Venn diagram of all would have included people with names like Rockefeller, Kennedy, Adams, and Roosevelt. But then, under the rubric of “Literature,” there was my name.

Some bullshit about adopting her dog nine years ago:

And [my dog] reminds me that stories can only happen exactly as they do: Even when you are picking out a dog, it has to be true love and not a list of pluses and minuses or a bunch of desirable traits you would describe on OkCupid. There is no substitute for magic.

A nonsensical reminder about how she still is hot:

I live in the chaos of adolescence, even wearing the same pair of 501s. As time goes by.


I am committed to feminism and don’t understand why anyone would agree to be party to a relationship that is not absolutely equal. I believe women who are supported by men are prostitutes, that is that, and I am heartbroken to live through a time where Wall Street money means these women are not treated with due disdain.

An all too brief reminder that she’s capable of humor:

I knew David Foster Wallace pretty well, and he was pretty smart, but David Boies makes David Wallace look like, well, some other lesser David, maybe David Remnick.


But the arts have thrived, and great work has supported itself without the benefit of government subsidy, because this country was founded with an intellectual-property system and a free press that understood that creativity and capitalism are happy partners. All of that has broken down, between piracy and technology, and I do not expect that a satisfactory model will be invented that allows these choices to work. Forget serious journalism. Publicly funded universities are the next frontier of unnatural disaster.

And only one sentence of the one-night stands that she alludes to in the essay’s title:

I am proud that I have never so much as kissed a man for any reason besides absolute desire, and I am more pleased that I only write what I feel like and it has been lucrative since I got out of college in 1989.

Oh! And there is literally an alternate ending! No joke.

If you actually make it through all 5,500 words, you’ll probably feel like Wurtzel feels about her life, asking yourself how you ended up here, and answering yourself that it’s because you repeatedly made bad decisions, which, in this case was to read the next sentence. And the next one. And the next one.

To be clear, though, this is not a critique of first-person narratives, because they can be really insightful and meaningful and great, as Wurtzel herself has demonstrated in the past. But this woman, who has admittedly made a living exploiting her own mental illness, has perhaps finally lost the plot. And that’s terrible for a writer. And even worse for a reader.

Elizabeth Wurtzel Confronts Her One Night Stand of a Life [New York]

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