Anyone who’s read Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl or watched the 2014 film based on it knows this passage all too well:
"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."
You’ve met those girls—the ones who are basically guys but in a hot girl’s body—and you’ve seen the effect they have on guys: guys want to hang out with them, grab beers with them, maybe sleep with them if they’re lucky.
When I first heard those words in Rosamund Pike’s chilling monologue, I remembered the times I had been a “Cool Girl” myself and where that had led me.
Ever since I was in grade school, I’ve been a huge music fan and film buff. I collected albums by '90s rock bands and watched films like Reality Bites. When I was in sixth grade, I discovered that these interests made the adolescent boys who were also into music and movies stand up and take notice; even though I looked like a tomboy, had baby fat all over, and wasn’t the prettiest of the bunch, the boys thought I was “cool.” Sure enough, my sixth grade crush—this boy who spent his time hanging out in the hallway strumming his guitar—began to like me back.
Since then, I’ve had boys fall for me because of how “cool” I was, how I was “not like other girls.”
By the time I was in my early twenties, I had grown into a girl who was not just into alternative music and coming-of-age films, but also cursed like a sailor, easily bantered with the boys, could handle a dirty joke and dish it just as well, and downed drinks 'til late then stayed out 'til much later to grab a bite at the 24-hour tapsilog joint. Plus, I had shed my baby fat, grown out my hair, and didn’t look repulsive in a tank top—and we all know that "Cool Girls" are, above all, hot.
But if I’m being honest with myself, there were times I tried to be "cooler" than I was by making little adjustments in the way I acted to fit what I thought a guy wanted. I tried to like emo-punk, even though I hated all the shouty singing. I tried to pick a team to root for in the NBA Finals, even though I didn’t know diddly-squat about basketball. I tried to laugh at a guy’s sexist jokes, even though deep inside, I was disgusted. I tried to be chill when a guy ghosted me, even though nagging questions plagued me.
Still, I believed that I was a "Cool Girl" who was "not like other girls," even though my behavior was tainted by performance.
Once I was in a relationship though, it would become clear how un-Cool Girl I actually was. I’m a romantic; when I’m in love, I’m unable to suppress all the feelings bursting forth from my heart. I’m emotional; when I’m happy, I’m over the moon, but when I’m sad, I’m deep in a funk. I’m opinionated, a know-it-all, and I find great pleasure in winning an argument. I’m anxious, I tend to overthink, and I worry about possibilities even before they present themselves. I get insecure about exes; I get suspicious of gorgeous coworkers and close female friends who claim to be "just a friend." And I tried to care about basketball, I really did, but I just couldn’t tell Kobe and LeBron apart. (Kidding. I CAN.)
Sometimes I think the guys I ended up in a relationship with were disappointed to discover how fickle and sensitive and so, so feminine I actually was, how many thoughts and feelings and contradictions were stirring beneath the beer-chugging, band T-shirt-wearing surface.
I had let my Cool Girl-ness speak for me at the start, that’s why it was easy for them to fall for me—I had only shown them what I thought would please them. But I guess I never got truly comfortable in those relationships. I always felt a little held back.
When I got to my late twenties, I met someone who seemed to like me just the way I was: frail feelings and filthy jokes and indignant opinions and predilection for parties and all. We freaked out over our favorite bands together, and we wept over our secret hurts together, too. It felt different from my past relationships; finally, I felt like I was in a safe place, a place where I could just be myself and be loved for it. And while that relationship didn’t last, I walked away from it knowing I could no longer go back to the girl I was in my early twenties. I would rather be me, both cool and complicated, than be somebody’s idea of a dream girl.
I’m in my early thirties now, and while I still curse like a sailor and spew dirty jokes with no shame, I will give a man a verbal lashing if he tries to reason away rape like it ain't no thang. I still drink, but maybe just once or twice a month now because hangovers are Satan’s breath and I value my wits too much to have one bearing down on me on a workday. I still love indie music, but you know what else I love? Beyoncé’s latest album, Lemonade. (That shit is gold.)
Now, I no longer care what men think of me—what anyone thinks of me—and I’m just me, period.
Maybe accepting yourself, flaws and all, just gets easier with age, or maybe still being unmarried at my age has made me consider the possibility that I’ll be single from here on out, so there’s no longer any need to impress a man. Whatever the reason behind it is, it’s a good place to be.
I still think I’m cool—scratch that, I know I’m cool—but I’m also complex, which, let’s face it, everyone is. That’s why it annoys me whenever I hear men describe a girl as "complicated" or "has too many issues." We’ve all got shameful bits and secret quirks and if we're to ever find a man who will love us completely, we have to be real about those bits and quirks. If a man still chooses to seek out his idea of a "Cool Girl"—a cardboard character who just smiles in a chagrined, loving manner and lets him do whatever he wants—then he doesn’t deserve us real girls in the first place.
And to men like that, I’d like to borrow a line from my girl Bey: "BOY, BYE."
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