I’m not cool. I’ve never been cool.
Growing up, I didn’t wear the right clothes, say the right things, I never had any strong feelings for The Smiths. Nothing about me suggested that being my friend was going to improve your quality of life. It might improve the quality of your test grades, but I wasn’t helping you pull any social weight. I didn’t mind this, and I certainly don’t mind it now. Being not cool as a child helps you develop the personality you’ll have as an adult. No one wants to peak early.
Sometimes what you are is less important than what you are not, which is certainly what I think about my personal favorite human quality in my possession. A characteristic that, as a middle-to-high school aged kid, didn’t seem very valuable to me, but now makes me feel wealthy enough to own a professional sports team. I wasn’t dumb. I didn’t do dumb things. If something didn’t seem to have a point, I didn’t do it. I didn’t hop fences, I didn’t skip school. I didn’t give the substitute teacher the finger while her back was turned. I was a well-mannered, obedient little lemming who had very few friends but came out on the other side alright. FYI when you come out on the other side, the other side is Brooklyn.
I don’t remember very much about what I learned in school. This makes me further upset that I was once forced to dissect a starfish. What I do remember has little to do with the contents of a textbook, and far more to do with human interaction, and reaction. There are things that make you cool if you do them. They are usually the dumb things. People will think you’re cool for the duration of the thing, and then when the thing is over and it’s way too late not to do the thing, they’ll think you’re stupid. And they’ll be right. It’s not fair or particularly logical, but you’ve been to middle school, you know how these things work. That’s the price you pay for doing things. For being a doer, a cool person. You’ll be adored by the watching, non-doing kind, and then you’ll be judged by them later. They don’t have to do anything, they just sit in the comfy seats, the movie critics of life. And I’ve always adored the cinema.
First it was smoking. The cool kids were always smoking. At 14. They wore band t-shirts I didn’t have money to buy (not that I was ever allowed to go see bands, again…not cool) and ripped holes in their clothes on purpose and then safety pinned them back together. In fact they practically only wore garments my mother would have thrown into a fire. Even the boys painted their fingernails. And they smoked. At lunch, after school. I always laugh at those scenes in old movies where girls in bobby socks and cat eye glasses smoke in the school bathroom and Ms. Carter catches them and just shakes her head. In my day the fire alarm would have ratted them out but the back fence by the football field kept quiet.
They were so cool. And as badly as I wanted to be cool, or even just liked, it never occurred to me to even attempt to join them. Not that I didn’t want to be their friend (I’d have crawled across alligators to be such a thing), but I genuinely didn’t want to do what they were doing. I’ve never had any desire to smoke. To even try smoking. Because we’ll be 60 someday. And when Cancer comes callin’ the part of me that used to wish I was cool will be taking deep, arrogantly intelligent breaths. Perfectly happy to be an unpopular, healthy geek.
In college it was weed. It wasn’t weed in high school because in high school that was a step too far. That was a step that would get you kicked out of school altogether and there’s no crowd around to think you’re cool in Juvi. But college was fine. You were not even remotely cool in college unless you spent half the week high, eating a Costco-sized box of Airheads in your dorm room while playing Bomber Man on someone’s old Super Nintendo they snuck out of their parents’ house at Christmas. I hated drugs and still do, (other than alcohol of course let’s not be unreasonable) but it was painful to think about being uncool in college too. So after about four months of being “good,” I gave in and found out what all the fuss was about. Marijuana kind of makes me feel like I’m going to throw up.
The foggy giggle fit didn’t last long. We graduated, and some people still lived to get high even after that and all of us started sighing and tilting our heads to the side any time someone asked how the still-high guy was doing. I don’t even know how he ended up. He didn’t die, but he didn’t amount to much, either.
Now, as a single, male adult, the ultimate mark of cool is to evade permanence. (The mark of being cool as a female is a strong Instagram following). The fewer firm grips you have on life, the cooler you are. I think online dating apps offer men a selection of adjectives to auto-populate into their profiles along with photos from the marathon they ran last year and their furry suspenders from Burning Man. They’re a family of worlds that suggest you never know where you’ll be in a month. You have an insatiable desire to move on. From everything. I see them repeatedly, and take them as warning signs that a man is unavailable, irresponsible, or simply doesn’t live here. The words are something along the lines of: wanderer, nomad, dreamer. No plans, no attachments, no lease. They’re a full generation of little boys holding sticks with bandanas bundled at the end.
Because holding onto something, to someone, would kill their cool. To care is to sink into the ravine of losers and failures, with their love for other people and dinner reservations they don’t break, those sad sacks. No, no. Unattached meandering from meaningless vagina to meaningless vagina is the cool thing to do. Take what you need, feed the ol’ self esteem, and move on. Book the next plane ticket to Sydney, and after that just somehow end up in the Philippines for a month, it’ll be amazing. When you get home, 100% broke, just beg your friends for spare shifts at their bar. It’ll all be fine.
Feelings? How boring. Caring for someone means that someday when a fun thing happens to come up, you might not be able to do it. A relationship is going to chain you to a $1,500 West Elm couch for the rest of your life, don’t you know that? All women want to do is make you go to Ikea and have lunch with their moms and their moms’ best friend Cathy who quilts. The death sentence that is an actual relationship is certain. All women want to destroy you, wanderer. We want to take your life and your balls and keep them in a mason jar we decorated with instructions from Pinterest. There’s no chance you’ll have any fun with the same girl more than once. You’d better keep wandering.
Best to keep 100% of your options open for events that happen 5% of the time. It’s not unlike the stereotypical male approach to getting lost or having a medical problem. Lacks logic, but not confidence. And oh, those irrational women, with their two year fixed-rent leases and their February beach vacations they were smart enough to book in August. No. This is the plan. Stay free. Stay up for anything. Don’t get tied down.
Did you know the term “tied down” still exists? Men still use it in online dating profiles?
“Not looking to get tied down.”
Like it’s the 50s and single men are akin to helium balloons that only serve their purpose when firmly anchored to something. Quick! Tie him down before you lose him and some pigeon finds his deflated carcass in a tree and bolsters her nest with it! Back then single men were seen as a problem to be fixed, by the addition of a woman. Now single women are the problem to be fixed, by “getting to a place” where they no longer need or want a man. By being “complete” all by ourselves. Like we found our missing limb by signing up for book club. Omg I feel so complete, what are we reading next month?
You have to ask yourself where single men are getting the notion that this kind of life philosophy is cool. In middle school, smoking was cool because movie and rock stars did it. Weed was cool because it was illegal and actually acquiring it meant you had some sort of ability to successfully commit crimes. But where are the backpackers of life getting the idea that being in a relationship with a woman for longer than the length of a Disney film is, among other things, simply uncool?
I know where: Married men. Married men, this is your fault. You’ve done this. Not only are you married, and thusly can’t marry Us, but you have to further twist the rusty screwdriver of irony into our hearts by coming across as so damn regretful all the time. Because you know what else isn’t cool? Enjoying being married.
It never has been. The “take my wife, please” psyche has been around since vaudeville and every swinging married dick from here to Saskatchewan is still singing the same tired tune. Because it makes them cool. Parking on a barstool and telling your buddies your wife made you laugh your ass off with her rendition of Sarah Palin’s stump speech last night isn’t a cool thing to say. Learning how to make a mean chicken soup to take care of her the last time she was sick and being really proud of yourself, that’s not a cool thing to say either. And if you breathe a word about even remotely enjoying the sex you’re having with her, you’re like…not even a man right now.
If a married man wants to be cool, he has to come across as bored, miserable, and living in a deep state of regret that he ever allowed himself to get…wait for it….tied down. He has to emote envy every time he listens to one of his single buddies tell him about the amazing in-shower blow job he got from a girl he’s never going to bother to text again. Wow, that guy is so free, so unattached, so cool. And a married man probably loves being married! But if he wants to be cool, he can’t admit it.
Why isn’t being married, or being in a committed relationship, cool? What is it about building a life with another person that plants you firmly in the out crowd? I have dreams of being part of a power couple. A couple where we’re both really professionally motivated and at the same time supportive of the other’s efforts. Where it’s really hard to tell which one of us is “the catch.” I want to hang out with that guy, I want to travel with that guy. I want to go to parties and have people be equally excited to talk to both of us because we’re both so cool, cooler than we were apart. That sounds like fun to me.
I guess patience is in order. Someday, long after the appropriate age for casual sex has passed (though that range is widening, daily), and married men friends begin to communicate with the wandering single guy through a veil of pity, rather than envy, my time will come. As it always has. I’ve never smoked, only rarely gotten high, and I just resigned my lease. I might even do it again. Who knows? Get crazy. But my lungs are clear, some of my goals are achieved, and I have a comfortable, reliable home at the end of every day. The ceiling leaks when it rains, but I bought a bucket at Target, it’s fine.
I was never cool, until I reached the age I no longer gave a shit to be. Until I realized we can define our own cool. To me, cool is travelling. Cool is making new friends as an adult. Cool is sometimes going to bed at 9pm so the next day I can wake up really rested and be amazing at my job and move forward in my career and never stop thinking about what I can do next. Raises are cool. Promotions are cool. Creating my life the way I want it to look is cool.
Smoking will give you Cancer. Excessive drug use will make you an underachiever. And never allowing yourself to build something real will make you pathetic. It will make you take stock of all the good first dates you ignored. Of all the second dates you slept with and never thought about again. About all the incredible women you’ve gone through over the years and never dared to connect with, never wanted to risk real with. That’s the day that wandering, that being alone, will scare you for the first time, the way it’s scared me forever. That’s when stability, a happy home, or a family will be cool, and you, the wander, the nomad, the dreamer. That’s when you’ll be dumb. And I’ll be right.