Without digging a little deeper it can seem like she exists everywhere. In the media she might take form as Jennifer Lawrence, constantly proclaiming her love for food, and tripping up the stairs to the Oscar stage. She’s the startlingly perfect-looking nameless woman pouting her lips at you on your Instagram feed. In everyday life, she’s your coworker who never misses a taco lunch or Friday beer with the boys. She’s the Cool Girl. You’ve probably heard of her, known her or maybe even think you are her. Spoiler alert: you’re not, and neither is anyone else.
Gillian Flynn wrote an impeccable passage on the Cool Girl in last summer’s best-selling novel, Gone Girl:
“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, 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, 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. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them.”
It resonates somewhere deep down, doesn’t it? My first reaction to this scathing excerpt was a flash of recognition. As a longtime employee of an online dating site, I catch glimpses of her in countless profiles of women who tirelessly play up their Cool Girl game. She loves graphic novels and claims she’ll take an afternoon of dirt-biking over a romantic walk on the beach any day. She prattles on about having few female friends because she’s always “been a guy’s girl.” The point isn’t that yes, of course a woman in 2014 should be free to love contact sports, bourbon shots and visiting her local gun range, but doesn’t it sometimes seem a bit…gimmicky?
We all play roles. Your new boyfriend’s mother probably doesn’t care to hear about that time you tried naked bungee jumping last summer, because she wants to meet your ambassador, in a way. That same idealized version of yourself that your boyfriend probably thought he knew for a while, too. The act itself is exhausting, and can’t be maintained over the long-term. The same goes for the Cool Girl act.
Real relationships require boundaries and compromises and all of these nice things, but mostly it comes down to being OK with who you are. At some point you’re going to let it slip out that no, you don’t necessarily want to stay out late and drink too much every Friday, or watch the football game, or dutifully sit around while your boyfriend plays video games. We fear that disinterest in any number of things that fall inside the generic Cool Girl umbrella will equal boring. Nagging. Bitching. We’re afraid that being on the receiving end of a man’s eye-roll will confirm we’ve arrived at the place we tried so hard to avoid.
You find yourself nodding in agreement when someone you’re dating casually suggests you also continue to see other people, just to go on to scrutinize every word ever exchanged between the two of you. Where did you go wrong? Because isn’t the Cool Girl supposed to be agreeable and happy? Texts you receive from him are dissected in painstaking detail, and calculating a sufficient response can take all day. And suddenly, you realize you’re no longer the Cool Girl and you never really were. Your number one priority was to be received as sexy and mysterious – until one day this inevitably passes, because, life.
This is a realization that comes with time. So remember, while the Cool Girl can be fun to observe or scold or even attempt for a while, even the Cool Girls aren’t really Cool Girls deep down. They’re just girls, hoping someone might eventually accept them for how utterly uncool all of their dark and unexplored corners really are.