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“Fifty ways to love your lover” revisited


How did Paul Simon conclude that there are exactly 50 ways to leave a lover? It is that he himself has left hundreds of lovers and then found out that he had done so by using exactly fifty different ways! Or maybe the women, whom he loved, had used exactly fifty ways to leave him. He might have also listened to dozens of individuals, who narrated to him, in red eyes and low voices, how their lovers have just left them. It is well known that no matter what a listener’s level of attention, this is a story that most of us would like to get out of their chests.  

In an attempt to understand how Simon could have possibly reached the figure 50, I turned to Google Scholar. The first item in a 193 search list was an article titled: “Fifty ways to leave your rubber: how men in Mombasa rationalize unsafe sex”, published in the Sexually Transmitted Infections journal. Although this is not what I was looking for, and although I don’t foresee anyone I know, planning to travel to Kenya, I found the topic grave enough to make me download the article and read parts of it. The authors claim that they have found exactly 50 reasons for why Kenyan ‘men who have sex with sex workers’, abbreviated as ‘MSSWs’ (which simply means prostitutes fuckers) are reluctant to use condoms. The article appeared in September 2004, long after Simon’s song, which was released in the mid-seventies of the previous century. This means that even if Simon was in the habit of reading scientific articles, he could not have read this one. What is more probable is that one or more of the aforementioned article's authors, liked the song enough to use it as a title, with rubber instead of lover.

As customary in scientific articles, at the end of their article the authors acknowledge the financial support of several agencies,then proceed to thank the ‘subjects’ who participatedin their research, and conclude by thanking the “four field workers” and their supervisor for their “tireless efforts to understand the psyche of MSSWs in Mombasa”. But no thanks, whatsoever,to Paul Simon for ‘borrowing’ his great title.

Other articles appearing in the search list have names like “fifty ways to leave the wagon” (on addiction to alcohol), “fifty ways to leave your mother” (on plant biology), and “fifty ways to exploit your grandmother” (on the financial abuse of the elderly in Minnesota), and so on. They were all irrelevant to what I was looking for, and all, except one, did not acknowledge Simon’s contribution to their article. The authors of the only article that did acknowledge Simon’s contributiondid that upfront and in big letters, not at the endin small letters. They titled their article (published in 2005 in the Journal of Chemical Education): “fifty ways to make boric acid (with Apologies to Paul Simon)”.

Fifty ways to leave your lover is considered by many as Paul Simon’s most famous hit. He wrote it after his divorce from his first wife. Since I belong to a different culture, I didn’t know, until I read it in the Wikipedia, that the song is a “mistress's advice to a husband on ways to end a relationship”. Now I became suspicious that although Simon did not read the article about condoms, he could have wrote about "lovers" whom you end a relationship with after one or two rubbers.

With regard to the abovementioned "rubber" article, at first glance I thought that the use of "rubber" instead of "lover" is only a necessity, called for by the article's subject matter. Now I believe that it could also explain what Simon had really meant by the word "lover".My hypothesis about Simon's rubber-lovers receives further support from “the boxer”, another great song by Paul Simon, in which he sings: “Asking only workman's wages, I come looking for a job, but I get no offers, Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue, I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome, I took some comfort there”.


When I was younger I used to listen to “fifty ways” quite often. It was one of my favorites. I guess that it is because when I was young, I could hardly endure the pain of being neglected and lonely. Now I am older and my flesh is numb after being scared with many separation wounds. This is not to say that I stopped loving “fifty ways”, or that the wounds don’t hurt anymore. They surly hurt, especially when it is cold outside.

Still, fifty ‘rubber coated’ encounters are quite an impressive number for a tiny and fragile guy like Paul Simon!        



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