We all know the concept of the cool girl. In case you’ve never read this now-infamous and violently honest passage, here’s an excerpt from the book Gone Girl that details the ins and outs of the cool girl fantasy:
“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…”
Basically, the cool girl is every man’s fantasy (allegedly). She’s basically a guy herself, with none of the stereotypical “female” qualities like…emotions and needs. She is there to serve her boyfriend and to not encumber him with stupid things like what she’s feeling. She lets him do whatever he wants, even betray her trust, because it’s totally uncool to hold your partner responsible for bad behavior. Any man who lets his girlfriend run his life is “whipped.” All of that malarkey we’ve all heard before.
When I read that passage above, I literally cheered. I think we’ve all tried, with different degrees of success, to be the “cool girl” in relationships: to let even big issues slide in order to seem low maintenance, and less like a “whiny, emotional, hysterical, typical” girl. We may have even thought, “I’m not like a regular girl. I’m a cool girl.” (Say that in Regina George’s mom’s voice, please!)
But it’s a lie, and a trap. I know that for certain.
I tried to be the cool girl, and by the end of it, I was exhausted emotionally and stuck with having to convince this guy I really liked that I was so much more than what he thought I was: non-emotional and totally cool.
Sometimes, acting like the cool girl doesn’t happen in the big ways, like those described above. It’s the small things, like convincing yourself it’s okay if he doesn’t text you for three days. Pushing down your feelings of inadequacy and jealousy if he is hanging out with other girls without you. Letting him know it’s okay if he goes out all the time with his buddies and spends less and less time with you. Telling him it’s fine that he isn’t ready to commit, that you’re happy with the way things are.
I’ve done all of that, and more.
As a result, this guy I was seeing intermittently thought I was the most easy-going, non-emotional, non-clingy, go-with-the-flow kind of girl he’d ever met. His friends said I was “perfect.” And he told me that with pride, as if I had accomplished a huge goal. And in a way, I had. I had successfully become the “cool girl.”
But that’s where I realized the trap I’d set for myself, one I could easily become ensnared in at any moment. By hiding my feelings and pretending everything was cool when it wasn’t, I made it so that he never knew when my very real emotional needs were not being met. I made it so that I had hidden my vulnerabilities, my fragile bits, my true sometimes-insecure self. I hadn’t wanted to be clingy, so I pretended, just to please him. Obviously, it could not sustain itself in a normal, healthy and honest relationship.
When he called me “uncomplicated” the first time, I took it as a compliment. But when he said it again, said it as if it were a huge plus, I stopped him. “I’m not uncomplicated,” I told him. “I’m very complicated. I’m crazy sometimes,” I told him. I needed to just declare that. I needed him to know that he couldn’t take advantage of me. I needed him to know what I deserved. I needed him to know who I was as a person, and that I was not as cool as he’d thought I was.
Now, women often put as much pressure on themselves to conform to men’s standards and expectations as men put on us. But it’s more difficult for men to stop putting this pressure on us when women are compliant. We don’t realize, sometimes, that in order to fulfill our need to be loved, we’re compromising our identities and our needs. It’s easy to think, “If I act like this, men will like me more” because often, it’s unfortunately true.
But it’s also true that sometimes men don’t know better because society doesn’t bring these problems to their attention. I’m not excusing the poor and sometimes downright abusive way some men behave. But often, men just don’t realize that women feel so much pressure to measure up, to change themselves just to feel like we’re worthy of love.
It was up to me to check my behavior and to assert that this cool-girl myth is dangerous and stupid. It’s a false impression of who I was, and even though I was able to recognize it and stop acting the part, and even though I had a good experience with a guy who was able to understand that I was, in fact, a complicated and complex human being, buying into the cool-girl fallacy does so much more harm to people in relationships, both male and female.
We’re letting ourselves become ideals, fantasies, instead of imperfect realities.