This Is How You Lose Her
The Paradox of Self-Deception in “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars”
In his story “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars”, Junot Diaz presents to the reader a couple going through a tumultuous time in their relationship. News of Yunior’s infidelity had just come to light via a letter that his mistress sent to his girlfriend Magdalena. Reacting to the situation, Yunior confesses and goes on a journey to try and win Magda back. Throughout the story, Yunior, who also serves as narrator, attempts to convince not only the reader but also himself that he is simply a good guy that made a mistake. However, even though he was sincere and showed genuine emotion while delivering his mea culpa, Yunior never quite grasps the magnitude of his actions and the repercussions that arose from it. Instead, he decides to downplay what he did in an act of self-deception, which inadvertently results in a lack of persuasion of both Magda and the reader.
Right from the start, Díaz introduces the reader to a feckless, yet self-aware, narrator. Yunior, the narrator, decides to begin the story by claiming to be a good person, even though he admits to cheating on his girlfriend; “I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds—defensive, unscrupulous—but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good.” (Díaz 1). It’s interesting to see how it does not take very long for Yunior to defend himself in what appears to be a disclaimer to the reader before he proceeds with the story. By saying how he’s weak like everybody else, Yunior deflects blame and basically gives an excuse as to why he did what he did. Acts like these make it seem as if he were hard pressed on convincing the reader, and perhaps even himself, that he is in fact good. On the other hand, Yunior does prove to be sincere and reliable by acknowledging how defensive he sounds and being honest when explaining how he managed to sabotage his relationship with Magdalena. This, however, is overshadowed by his multiple attempts to downplay his affair to the reader.
As narrator, Yunior is also very upfront when it comes to sharing his opinions and intentions. An example of this would be how he does not shy away from stating how much he loves Magdalena or from describing what a hard time it was for him after she got the letter. But Yunior also opens up about other things that lead the reader to question how good of a person Yunior really is. At one point, he even admits to the reader that he was not planning on telling Magda about the affair if it were not for the letter that she receives; “You know how it is. A smelly bone like that, better off buried in the backyard of your life.” (Díaz 1). As mentioned before, Yunior does try his best to fix the relationship between him and Magda. However, after hearing how he was not going to tell her in the first place, the reader is left to wonder whether or not Yunior really loved Magda enough to tell her about the affair eventually or if he was just trying to do some damage control to the unexpected hit that struck the relationship.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mea culpa as a formal acknowledgement of personal fault or error. While discussing the events that occurred from the moment Magda got the letter on, Yunior also lets the reader know how much love he has for her and how badly he feels about the whole thing; “When she asked me, Why don’t you leave me alone? I told her the truth: It’s because I love you, mami. I know this sounds like a load of doo-doo, but it’s true: Magda’s my heart.” (Díaz 4). But even though he makes it pretty clear that he does in fact care about Magda, it’s lines like the one that comes right after that makes the reader wonder if Yunior fully understood why Magda was having such a hard time forgiving him; “I didn’t want her to leave me; I wasn’t about to start looking for a girlfriend because I’d fucked up one lousy time.” (Díaz 4). There’s no doubt that his mea culpa was authentic, but how sorry can someone really feel when he or she doesn’t fully comprehend the severity of his or her mistake?
Perhaps Yunior’s ignorance can be attributed to the stereotypical Latin lover persona. This stereotype exemplifies a ladies’ man whose only purpose is to be seductive and desirable, not taking into consideration how the women might feel. This type of persona makes it okay for a man to cheat, given the fact that women are constantly all over him and, as a man, he cannot control his carnal desires. There is a possibility that Yunior is guilty of being influenced by this social construct and, consequently, of falling into the stereotype. For instance, Latin lovers are known for being involved with multiple women at the same time as if it were a good thing. In the story, Yunior discloses to the reader that he called Magda right after cheating on her with Cassandra; “I was like, She knows, so I called Magda right from the bed and asked if she was OK.” (Díaz 18). Maybe Yunior wanted to feel like a true ladies’ man at that moment, with one girl lying next to him and another girl on the phone. For all one knows, Yunior might have even wanted to get caught.
Whichever reason it may be, ignorance does not equal innocence. Saying that everyone makes mistakes does not rationalize poor judgment. Even if he does not think of himself as a “bad guy”, Yunior’s actions contradict him at every turn. The mere foundation of his argument is that he’s basically a good guy so therefore he does not deserve to lose Magda, no matter what he has done to ruin the relationship. Yunior does admit that it wasn’t right for him to cheat on such a wonderful woman, but goes on to justify his deception by saying that the fling was something he could not control. Not only that, but he never really gets why Magda is making such a big deal over the affair. To him the affair is done with, just something that happened in the past and the past is where it should remain. There lies the problem as to why Yunior’s mea culpa is not persuasive. His inability to see where Magdalena is coming from prevents him from truly feeling regret and, unfortunately, also prevents him from successfully convincing Magda to forgive him and take him back. Ultimately, and unbeknownst to him, Yunior proves to be his biggest obstacle in the fight to try and salvage his and Magdalena’s relationship.
iaz, Junot. “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars.” This is How You Lose Her. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012. Print. “Mea Culpa.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
The Trials and Tribulations of Love
Junot Diaz’s book This Is How You Lose Her provides an insightful look into love and loss, mostly through the eyes of its narrator, Yunior. Within this collection are stories of Yunior’s infidelity and the relationships of those around him; this includes tales of his family’s struggles with their respective partnerships. There is a subtle but evident shift in Yunior’s attitude as these stories progress, turning him into a more rounded character. Though greatly flawed, Yunior’s complexities make him human and allow him to reach a newfound understanding of love and its consequences. It is through attempting to cope with heartbreak that he learns to value the ideas of intimacy and compassion. By doing so, Diaz justifies the importance of moving on from past mistakes, rather than dwelling on them and letting them cause destruction to himself. With the use of a dynamic character such as Yunior, Diaz is then able to acknowledge the presence of male privilege, and emphasize the significance of dismantling the code of masculinity in order to truly understand oneself and one another.
Despite Yunior’s claim that he is “not a bad guy” in “The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars,” his penchant for cheating is highly evident in many of the stories in this book. Even in the aforementioned tale, he is caught cheating on his girlfriend “with this chick who had tons of eighties freestyle hair” (This Is How You Lose Her 1), and he spends the majority of the story trying to relight the spark in their relationship to no avail. A similar event happens in “Alma,” in which Yunior’s girlfriend finds out about his sexual relations with Laxmi, forcing him to contemplate what excuses he can use instead of admitting his infidelity. In “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” he is even caught having cheated on his fiancée with fifty other girls over the course of 6 years, leaving him lonely and struggling to move on. The frequency of these occurrences alone already proves how reckless he is, and how little he seems to learn from past experiences.
The Yunior presented here is a man who enjoys partaking in shallow, sexual relationships without much thought of the consequences. This is because he views women as objects for his pleasure. In “The Sun, The Moon, and the Stars,” he values Magda for her “big hips” and her willingness to have sex with him. Alma, in the story entitled with the same name, is viewed in a similar fashion with her “big Dominican ass” and “incredible pópola”. Yunior also gives his brother’s ex, Tammy Franco, the nickname “Fly Tetas” (This Is How You Lose Her 97), and, in “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”, held grievances against his ex-fiancée for not giving “good head” or “[waxing] her pussy”. There are no mentions of what these women were like as romantic partners, only crude judgements of their physical and sexual appeal. Therefore, this shows how Yunior was stripping away their individuality, objectifying them, and ultimately dehumanizing them.
Moreover, Yunior had never accepted any responsibility for when his relationships fell apart. In “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” he accused his parents, the patriarchy, and even Santo Domingo to escape the blame. However, later on in that story, his mindset changes during a revelation involving his friend Elvis and his illegitimate daughter. Yunior had been holding a grudge against his ex-fiancée for not forgiving him, but it isn’t until Elvis tells him to find a “good Dominican girl” (This Is How You Lose Her 186) that he realizes what he had lost. Yunior begins to consider the possibility of being in a long-term partnership, one where both partners’ needs and opinions are of equal importance. He also thinks about potentially having children and how it might have saved his relationship with his ex-fiancée. This, in itself, marks a pivotal moment in which his character started maturing and shedding his “misogynistic myopia” (“A long-term relationship”).
Another way Yunior’s character changed is how he felt towards rectifying his mistakes. Throughout this book, Yunior fails to understand the scale of pain he caused and holds on to “this ridiculous hope that maybe one day [his girlfriend] will forgive [him]” (This Is How You Lose Her 184). Time and time again, he tells himself that he will be able to salvage his relationship as long as he tries, regardless of whether his exes felt the same way. This occurs in both “The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars,” as well as in “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” but neither story ends with the reconciliation he was hoping for. Instead, he is left with pain, frustration, and longing while his ex-romances moved on with their lives. One of the main reasons why Yunior could not see the error in his ways is due to his lack of compassion—a major flaw in his character. As Diaz points out in his interview with the National Public Radio, if Yunior “really, really had that compassion that this is a person, this is a human being that I’ve hurt, he wouldn’t be so quick to scrub away his crimes”. He, in an almost self-centered manner, was more concerned with righting his wrongs than consoling the person he had hurt. Since Yunior could not understand “the crime, the pain he has caused, the betrayal of a relationship [with] this woman” (“Fidelity in Fiction”), he couldn’t escape from the eventual punishment he inflicts upon himself.
In “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”, this punishment not only takes the form of emotional grief and despair, but also manifests itself physically through the deteriorating state of Yunior’s body. Diaz states in his interview with The Millions that “Yunior is this guy who tries through his body to avoid psychic issues, to use his body to sidestep the psychic weight of trauma”. Unfortunately, as he fails to address this trauma emotionally, his body slowly “somatizes his own depression, his own misery, his own grief. Grief not only about breaking the heart of the woman he loved but grief about everything that comes before” (“A Brief Wondrous Interview”). Therefore, following the breaking-down and gradual rebuilding of his physicality, Yunior’s character comes to understand compassion and appreciate the new beginning he’s been given, because it “feels like hope, like grace—and because . . . sometimes a start is all we ever get” (This Is How You Lose Her 217).
Another significant change in Yunior’s attitude towards women is how he starts trying to understand their point of view, to the point of writing a story using a woman’s voice. In the final pages of “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” it is revealed that this book is a collection of Yunior’s narratives regarding his failed relationships. However, “Otravida, Otravez” strays from this as Yunior writes as Yasmin, a Dominican immigrant woman in an affair with a married man named Ramón. Diaz confirms in his PBS NewsHour interview that this story is about Yunior’s father and his extramarital affair, and it is Yunior’s attempt to “[imagine] the other woman’s life who almost tore his family apart.” What makes this so impactful to his character development is that Yasmin is someone “that [Yunior] would least be sympathetic to, that he would least want to humanize” (Conversation: Junot Diaz), and yet he is trying to portray her in a truthful light without demonizing her or her actions.
Previously, there was no depth in how Yunior viewed or understood women, to the point where this attitude could have been interpreted as sexism. Despite this fact, Diaz’s decision to characterize Yunior this way presents him as “deeply flawed” (“Junot Diaz: ‘This Is How’”) but a completely believable human being. Although he, as Diaz describes him in his Radio Boston interview, is “a pain in the ass . . . a jerk . . . [and has] got holes in his heart,” he is a character many people can relate to. As Diaz mentions in his Google Books presentation, this reflects how most men lack a sense of “internal scrutiny,” causing them to become an “alien unto themselves” (“This Is How You Lose Her”). Contrary to this statement, based on the context of “Otravida, Otravez” and “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”, it’s clear that Yunior eventually becomes a man who rediscovers his internal scrutiny and breaks free from the code of masculinity.
This choice in characterization and the change in Yunior’s behavior also serves as proof that privilege keeps us from truly understanding ourselves and one another. In Yunior’s case, it is his male privilege that prevents him from realizing what outcomes his actions can lead to. According to Diaz, this privilege makes it difficult for many men to “imagine the things that [they] do to women . . . as actually deeply troubling and as hurting another human being” (“Fidelity In Fiction”). Yunior is no exception to this in the earlier half of the book, but towards the end of it, his cluelessness starts to affect him both physically and emotionally. Diaz explains this during his Google Books talk that “the consequences of operating in a world where you have privilege is you quickly begin to realize that the energy it takes for you not to notice what you’re doing begins to slowly eat at you.” In the same presentation, he further clarifies that this slow collapse happens because it “creates all this kind of contradictions in you” (“This Is How You Lose Her”), showing how an interior breakdown can also affect one’s exterior.
In summation, Diaz channels an imperfect but perfectly human character through Yunior in This Is How You Lose Her. Even though the nonlinear arrangement of the stories in the book makes his character development less obvious, Yunior definitely experiences significant emotional growth, making him a dynamic character. As he stumbles through one failed relationship after another, he becomes increasingly aware of his male privilege and objectification of women. Likewise, by writing a narrative from a woman’s perspective, Yunior shows great maturity in trying to sympathize with the opposite sex and separating himself from the code of masculinity. Therefore, Diaz is able to alert his readers to how privilege can hinder mutual understanding, and how it is always better to move on from one’s past than to dwell on mistakes, as represented by Yunior’s experiences.