Being the cool girl has never worked for me. I’ve tried to play it cool, not crowd the guy I’m interested in, not acted needy, not asked for anything from him (like, even a date) but it’s never gone well. Instead I’ve frequently ended up frustrated, frequently screwed over (figuratively, if not metaphorically, speaking) and then in true Lucy-style I’ve exploded.
It’s not a part of my personality I’m particularly proud of, this capacity to lose my head and throw a bit of a tantrum. But I am startling good at it. The crazy thing is the explosion and tantrum are a direct result of trying to be the cool girl. So I bring it upon myself. Then of course, the man in question often freaks out, withdraws, throws a tantrum back and well, you get the drift.
It’s a no-win situation for me.
Someone reminded me recently of my tendency to become more than a little high-handed in my tantrum-phase. They are completely right. It’s easy to take the high ground when you feel wronged. Particularly when the object of your affection is proving evasive, indecisive or bloody-minded. But every time this has happened I know it’s only got to that point because I was trying to play it cool at the start. When I talk to others about this, it seems to be a bit of an epidemic. Women feel like they should play it cool so they don’t seem ‘needy’ while men think that if a woman isn’t playing it cool then there’s something wrong with her. Yep, that little gem came from an ex of mine who, when his mate said the girl he wanted to date told him she was available any night of the following week, my ex said, ‘Mate, I’d be careful there. There’s probably something wrong with her.’ He meant it!! Meanwhile I said, flabbergasted at his stupidity, ‘Maybe she just really likes him!’
Is it any wonder the male/female dating dynamic is a freaking mess?! (And yes, that was a red flag conversation I should’ve paid more attention to with my ex).
As I work my way through the last edits of my book, evidence of my tantrum-throwing behaviour is particularly apparent in Part 2: Dysfunctional Dating and Other Disasters. In one situation, I’d been playing the ‘cool girl’ with a man I’ve called Salsa Cat. He was in my dance class and he’d been flirting with me and coming on to me for months and months. It was obvious, it was frequent and it was persistent. Then we hit a turning point when he told me that he didn’t want me invading his personal space…when he had been actively and intentionally invading mine for months. Gah!! What followed was a Lucy-tantrum that I believe could have been avoided if I’d just not tried to be the ‘cool girl’ in the first place.
“I threw myself on the bed that night and shed tears of frustration and disappointment. I was terribly hurt. Then anger started to bubble up inside me. A couple of days later I did something I had never done as a single woman before – I told a man he’d upset me. Instead of just taking it, blaming myself and feeling like crap, I stood up for myself and said it wasn’t good enough.
Actually, let’s face it, I completely lost my temper and acted like a crazy person. Salsa Cat bore the brunt of years of singledom involving game-playing, non-committal and dishonest men.
I kept as far away from him as possible during the next class– that’s quite a feat when you’re dancing salsa. At the end of the our first dance together I very particularly and noticeably disengaged my fingers from his and moved on to the next dance partner, and then the next and so on around the circle of about 20 men. A few minutes later we were opposite each other again. My anger was palpable and visible in every line of my body.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.
‘I’d just hate to invade your personal space,’ I said sarcastically. Then we changed partners.
He wasn’t so cheerful by the time we danced together again. ‘I don’t know what your problem is. But I’m not doing anything,’ he ground out. I somehow restrained myself from punching him in the nose and flounced off to the next partner. I danced my way around the circle, forcing a smile for everyone else and continued to fume.
He was apologising as soon as I was within earshot. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I know my behaviour must have seemed a bit hot and cold.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘It has been.’ Then I moved on to the next partner.
The class finished a few minutes later but he didn’t seek me out to explain further. Instead he retreated to his group of friends and watched me nervously, casting sideways glances in my direction as I walked out the door.
He didn’t show up for end-of-term classes the following week. I guess he felt like an idiot and didn’t want to face a psycho dance partner again. Or maybe his absence had nothing at all to do with me.
It was a month before I saw him again and this time he did seek me out after class. He sat down beside me while I talked to two of our classmates, Dave and Ken. But Dave and Ken didn’t get the hint that they should move on and I couldn’t just end the conversation abruptly without being impolite. So I was stuck.
I guess Salsa Cat got sick of waiting because he got up and left after a minute or two. I’d started seeing someone else by that point so I didn’t run after him. We would dance together over the following years but he never gave me any further explanation. To this day, I’m still not sure what he was thinking.
There was never a resolution with Salsa Cat. Ever. My tantrum-throwing was not conducive to creating a situation where any kind of honest conversation could happen.
I think there is a middle-ground between cool girl and ‘honesty with a bludgeon and resulting head trauma’. Unfortunately, it’s clear I haven’t mastered that yet. Instead I seem to swing from one extreme to the other with the occasional explosion. The extremes don’t lead to a healthy relationship with the opposite sex so the middle ground is kind of important.
Anyway, whenever I talk with single friends about this, my advice is always the same. Be as honest as possible (in an open non-bludgeon-type way), as early as possible, and let the cards fall where they will. Maybe the object of your affection will not respond positively or in the way you like. But it’s not needy to want to know where you stand and if you play the ‘cool girl’ you’re just reducing yourself in your own eyes because you’re not saying what you want and you’re not being who you really are. You may also be leaving yourself open to be taken advantage of if the man/woman in question isn’t genuine.
Of course, I’m still mastering this advice myself. It’s an ongoing process. But playing the ‘cool girl’ has never worked out for me. Instead it has possibly shut doors that could’ve been left open, and that is really quite sad. I also I think I’d rather be not a ‘cool girl’ because acting like a passive-aggressive nightmare in a dance class is not a good look. Just saying.