True confessions of a former "Cool Girl"
With the movie adaptation of Gone Girl in theaters, the book’s infamous “Cool Girl” passage is making its rounds again online, garnering what seems to be as much attention as the movie itself.
For those unfamiliar with the passage, in the book the proverbial “Gone Girl” fully deconstructs what many guys consider the ultimate woman, and what many women consider the ultimate compliment: “the Cool Girl”. As Gillian Flynn writes in the novel, Cool Girl is not like other girls. “Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games . . . Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want . . . Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl.”
The fact is, the Cool Girl is entirely a work of fiction. She is a character, created by men and male storytellers and then emulated by women anxious to be loved and accepted.
I should know, because I was one.
I used to love saying I was “not like other girls.” I loved pointing out how rough and tumble I was, or how much I loved football, hockey, and MMA. I molded myself to fit the occasion and agreed with whatever the guys were saying. I acted like I saw no need for makeup (even though I was wearing some) or fashion (even though I agonized over every outfit). I considered myself the “perfect girlfriend,” not because I was caring or empathetic, but because I swore I’d never get upset, never show signs of neediness, and certainly never say the L-word first, even if the love I felt was slowly eating me alive.
To be fair, some of those things are actually authentic to who I am. I grew up a bit of a tomboy and I have a genuine passion for the athletic world. But everything else was a façade, including the things I didn’t even realize were façades. For the longest time, I didn’t think it was an act to never, ever show any type of emotion to a boyfriend if it would in any way inconvenience him. Somehow, without ever questioning it, I would allow myself to suffer in order to be the “low-maintenance girlfriend” every guy seems to want. I would also, regrettably, overlook feminist principals and agree when guys said that girls needed to stop being so “girly.” I regurgitated what I heard and internalized a bit of that normalized misogyny, never once recognizing that I was betraying my own gender and, in turn, myself.
The frightening part was that, the older I got, the more I started to wake up to my Cool Girl shtick, and the more I feared deviating from it. At that point, I had seen guys in my life conveniently leave just as cracks started to appear in my veneer and genuine emotion had shined through. Never mind the fact that these guys were already treating me terribly, even while I was pretending to be totally low-maintenance. Rather than focusing on how I deserved to be treated, I’d focus on how I ruined everything by being so uncool and everything I had to do to avoid falling into the same uncool traps with the next guy.
Maybe with the next guy I would listen more to his worries and never, ever say anything about mine. Maybe with the next guy I would be 100% at his beck and call. Maybe with the next guy I would agree with every word he said. Maybe with the next guy I wouldn’t let even a sliver of disappointment show when he cancels plans on me last minute for no reason. Maybe then I’d finally get that romantic love I was desperate for.
“Yeah, sure, I’m perfectly OK that you want to keep this casual. Of course it doesn’t bother me that you canceled our date for Valentine’s Day because you’re hungover. No, no, no, you see, I’m not like other girls. I’m low-maintenance. I’m like one of the guys. I’m the Cool Girl.”
I even attempted to be the Cool Girl when I first met my husband. I was so used to feigning nonchalance that I had forgotten what it was like to be unguarded. I agreed with everything he said, skirted around any topic concerning emotions, and never made plans that were more than a week out.
Then, when we were three or four months into our relationship, the first crack in the veneer showed. I said something about my mother and he stopped what he was doing to come over to me. When I asked him why he was giving me all of his attention, he said, “Because there’s pain in your voice when you talk about your mom and I wanted to be there for you.”
Even then, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I kept waiting for the part where revealing even the slightest hint of my “issues” would become all the proof he needed that I was not the desirable Cool Girl of his dreams. I would lie and hide truths in the beginning of our relationship, telling him things I thought he wanted to hear, because I was worried that the truth would scare him off.
Ironically, I had to become comfortable with my Uncool Girl-self in order for our relationship to last.
The hardest thing for me to accept was that, in many ways, I was the opposite of the Cool Girl. Before I even knew what a Cool Girl was, I hated myself for having emotions and succumbing to societal pressures. I chided myself every time I snuggled in without the guy initiating it first. I criticized myself if I checked my appearance in a reflective surface too many times and a guy friend caught me doing it. When I would accidentally deviate from the Cool Girl path I’d grimace, waiting for the guy to call me needy or high-maintenance and leave me for an actual Cool Girl.
Here’s the thing the indie movie producers and TV show writers don’t tell you: you cannot truly love yourself if you are, consciously or unconsciously, chasing after Cool Girl. When you are chasing after qualities that you do not possess (but qualities you think a guy would want), you have decided on some level that you just don’t cut it. You feel a need to put on this song and dance, because you feel like the Real You doesn’t deserve love. And the concept of the Cool Girl is so pervasive that sometimes you don’t even realize you’re doing it. You grow up watching movie after movie, TV show after TV show, where female characters are essentially props to further the guys’ story. You are told in not-so-subtle terms that this is what guys find attractive, and you hear the men around you when they wholeheartedly agree. So you go into the dating world hoping to be the Manic Pixie Dream Girl or the Hot Girl from Afar, the Cool Girl, but never, ever, You.
You grow up hearing real complicated situations boiled down to terms and soundbites like “daddy issues” which are said with derision. Those soundbites are saved for broken Uncool Girls, meanwhile forgetting that everyone has demons to overcome. But you’ve seen that TV show, you know that the character with “daddy issues” is the crazy one, the opposite of the Cool Girl. You go out, confusing healthy, supportive relationships with pretending nothing is ever wrong, never fully realizing that what you’re doing is only going to harm you in the end.
It has been mentioned that the Cool Girl façade eventually fades from every woman. Perhaps it is because we grow a little more confident in ourselves with time; perhaps it just gets so exhausting that we drop everything that isn’t 100% authentic to us. Perhaps, consciously or not, we experience enough of the real world that we inevitably move past these movie and TV ideals.
And maybe trying to be the Cool Girl is just a phase; something that we turn to, consciously or unconsciously, when we’re still trying to figure out who we are. A place to retreat when we’re at our most vulnerable. The proverbial cheat sheet for a rigged and unfair test.
Some look down on the Cool Girl, the same way the Cool Girl looks down on all the other girls. But I think that’s the wrong way of going about it. Instead, we need to recognize just how easy it is to fall into the Cool Girl trap, and what it says about our culture that this archetype is so prevalent and so powerful. Perhaps it’s time to call out writers who veer back to this overused trope. Perhaps we can focus all that energy we once used to be the Cool Girl – or to hate her – and channel it towards a new definition of “cool,” one that is synonymous with being yourself.
Abby Rosmarin is a writer, a registered yoga teacher, a model, and the author of I’m Just Here for the Free Scrutiny: One Model’s Tale of Insanity and Inanity in the Wonderful World of Fashion. You can catch her shenanigans on her blog or on Twitter.