With the movie adaptation of Gone Girl now out, the infamous “Cool Girl” passage is making its rounds again online, this time garnering as much attention as the movie itself.
For those not familiar with the passage, one of the main characters completely deconstructs what many guys consider the ultimate woman, and what many women consider the ultimate compliment (aka “the Cool Girl”). The Cool Girl is not like other girls; the Cool Girl is one of the guys. On top of being extraordinarily (and effortlessly) hot, she downs beers, shouts at football games, and – most importantly – never, ever gets upset or angry or needy.
But the problem is that this woman doesn’t actually exist. She is fiction, created by male writers and then emulated by females 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 and 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 what I’d wear). 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 consuming me alive.
To be fair, many 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 aspires to get. The same way I would, without ever questioning it, disregarded feminism and agreed 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 were starting to appear in the veneer and a few moments of genuine emotion had crept out. Never mind the part where these guys were already treating me terribly, even with me pretending to be low-maintenance; instead, I’d focus on how I must’ve ruined everything by being so Uncool.
What could I do next time? How could I be a better Cool Girl for the next guy? Maybe if I agree with whatever is being said more often. Maybe if I listen more to his qualms without ever saying anything about me. Maybe if I were more at his beck and call. Maybe if I don’t show any disappointment, even if the next guy cancels plans on me last minute and for no reason. Maybe then I’ll finally get that love and acceptance I’ve been desperate for.
“Yeah, sure, I’m perfectly okay 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. At that point, I was so used to feigning nonchalance that I had forgotten what it was like to be unguarded. I agreed with everything 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 berated myself every time I snuggled in without the guy initiating it first. I criticized myself every time I checked my appearance in a reflective surface and hear a guy friend make a joke about it. I would accidentally deviate from Cool Girl status and 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 status. 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.
But 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 wholeheartedly agree. You’re surrounded by sayings like, “keep a man,” or “find a husband,” and you process it without even being aware of it. You go into the dating world hoping to be the Manic Pixie Dream Girl or the Hot Girl from Afar, but never, ever, You.
You grow up where terms like “daddy issues” is said with derision, saved for broken Uncool Girls, forgetting that everyone has demons to overcome. Because 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 once aware 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 it 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” for women.