One of the best literary rants ever published in modern literature is in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)
So many modern women go through this struggle. Why don’t men like me? Am I not thin/funny/smart/chill/hot/guy-like enough? Do I remind them too much of their mothers? Do I come off as too needy or not interesting enough for them? What the hell is the issue? Aren’t I cool?
Amy Elliott Dunne says to hell with all of this. The entire concept is unsustainable, unrealistic garbage that only tortures women until they become jaded and tired and then many of the men move onto younger women who haven’t figured it out yet, like her terrible husband Nick.
FOR YEARS I also felt the pressure of never living up to the expectations of being a Cool Girl™. Never skinny, chill, interesting, hot or even white enough. What the hell was I doing wrong that was preventing me from being in a loving, stable, long-term relationship?
I tried to put myself out there by going on dozens of terrible dates with people I met on sites like OkCupid or Tinder. I rock-climbed, surfed, snowboarded, did yoga and dance classes to be fit and have an interesting array of hobbies.
I went through too many cycles of overthinking about what I was eating and whether I was exercising enough and if anyone would like me if I didn’t have a flat stomach.
It was exhausting.
Then a few things changed my mind. First, I went to South America for four and a half months. I did this in what I now know were very practical but dumpy-looking clothes. I brought only one pair of shorts and one pair of pants, the very ugly “outdoor” convertible kind. I thought I would be single the entire time.
Very good-looking, “out-of-my-league” people hit on me anyway.
After the “???” feelings subsided, my friends gently told me they weren’t surprised at all, because it didn’t take long for people to figure out I was funny and kind and had great stories and was someone interesting to be around.
In the five years after that trip, enough people have told me a version of this my brain eventually recognized it as a kind of qualitative evidence I could no longer dismiss with my standard line of thinking: “They’re just being nice”.
And then finally, I read Maris Kriezman’s supremely excellent essay Unlove Me: I Found Love Because I Got Lucky, Not Because I Changed Myself.
I could quote the whole thing, and you really should go read it right now, but essentially, Maris says meeting her wonderful guy Josh was due to luck and that it gave her a great perspective on how most life advice aimed towards heterosexual women is really fucked up.
AND IT’S TRUE. I wasted so much goddamn time in my twenties (I am 29) wondering how I could have put myself more “out there” or been skinnier or more appealing to men (many of whom were awful) instead of focusing on myself and what I needed to do in my career or take care of the people I cared about.
So reader, I did it. I accepted that I am awesome and decided I would refuse to settle. I fully planned on moving here to New York, focusing on my graduate school program to get the best job possible after graduation, and pretty much ignoring dating altogether.
Except two weeks before I left Toronto, I went on a date with a man who I had known on-and-off for six years. He’s a great, interesting person who wasn’t single most of that time, so even though we liked each other, the timing never worked. So I just tried to date other people and work on building my career. And now I live in New York.
Even over Skype, it’s clear our level of chemistry really is the clichéd stuff you see in movies. That one date was strong enough for us to miss each other weeks later. By all accounts, this should not be happening.
But I’ve booked a flight back to Toronto in four weeks to see my family. And there’s another date scheduled.
We’ll see how it goes.