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OP-ED: If Em Dashes Are So Versatile, Then Why Can’t They Mend My Rapidly Deteriorating Relationship?


Photo by my sister / The Daily Pennsylvanian

They told us that em dashes were the ultimate salve. After all — you could use them in place of a comma. You could use them — in most cases — to tactfully offset a parenthetical remark. You could even use them to join two main clauses — to me, it really seemed like these little miraculous lines could do anything.

So — why the hell can’t they heal my ailing, loveless relationship?

I don’t know how it got this bad. We were similar people, we shared the same hobbies, we laughed at the same jokes. But I could feel that something was off. And I couldn’t quite place my finger on it. Slowly, but surely, like the inevitable decay of a rat carcass caught in a mousetrap, she began to drift away. Now that I’m thinking about it though, from her perspective, it was me who was the one drifting away from her. Funny how things go both ways, huh?

I was scared, lonely, deluded — afraid of facing the reality of the situation, I clung onto the remnants of what we used to have. We were worth salvaging, I thought. So, I decided at that time, calling upon the scores of seasoned writers who had come before me, to apply the ultimate panacea, the last line of defense, a tool that had not failed me yet — em dashes.

First, I began sneaking them into our texts. “Hey — can we talk tonight?” “Do you want to hang out — maybe next Friday?” “Wow, that GIF you sent of a guy slipping and falling head-first into a tub full of hot sauce was — frankly — pretty epic.”

But they didn’t seem to have any effect. She remained aloof — distant. Why, Nancy? Was I not trying hard enough? My world-renowned writing knack, decades of precious lessons in tone, mood, and style, the crucial inclusion of the mother of all punctuation marks — they had all failed me — utterly — in the arena of love.

I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear to see something so beautiful eaten away by the fulminant, necrotizing lesions of indifference. And that’s when I had an epiphany — it was time to pull out all the stops. If I wanted to save this relationship, I had to prove my own commitment — and shower her in em dashes.

The em dashes which were once only fixtures of my writing — stray lines confined within forests of text — began to creep into my everyday life. I found myself inserting em dashes into casual conversations — every statement, every idle comment — everything seemed to have a follow-up of some sort — something more to add — regardless of how relevant — or irrelevant — the remark in question was. What was once a versatile asset — in essays and editorials — became a hindrance to communication proper — and before I knew it — the abstract narrative of my love life began to mirror the fragmented — and disjointed — nature of my own writing.

“What’s wrong with you, Ian?” she asked. “Why do you pause after every dependent clause or prepositional phrase, and why do you exclusively use run-on sentences? What happened to you?”

I didn’t have an answer for her. All I could do was stare silently into her Venusian eyes, welling up with tears.

Well — actually — that’s not quite true. My dear reader, I had an answer. A final bid to save our relationship — a Hail Mary that Cupid himself would shudder at. I poured my entire heart and soul into it — it was my pièce de résistance, and it went like this —

“Nancy — I know we’ve had issues — tons of them — our ups-and-downs — but — we had good times too — don’t you remember — the time we spent — the halcyon days — under the full moon — sneaking granola bars — and little tidbits — out of ARCH café — holding each other — eating ass — and other body parts — too — please — remember — we had something special — you get me — understand me — when I look into your eyes — your beautiful — haunting — eyes — I feel — something — something huge — gargantuan — rising within me — it’s true — it’s all true — need — your thick — juicy — p…perky — personality — in — on — me — now — pretty please — oh, Jesus Christ — sucky — sucky — come on — slurpy — glurpy — victory — goo goo ga ga — noopu doopu mamma ramma —”

Needless to say, Nancy was not very impressed with my final paper, and I ended up failing writing sem that semester.