‘I Tried To Be The Cool Girl Once – And It Almost Wrecked My Life’

We all recognised the Cool Girl from Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. But as Daisy Buchanan discovered, trying to be her is a recipe for unhappiness


by Daisy Buchanan |
Published on

If you’re in your 20s and your life is based on a declining ratio of warehouse parties to dreams about having matching crockery, you’ve probably had an impassioned debate about Gone Girl. In fact, ‘having an impassioned debate about Gone Girl’ is the new ‘buying an Ottolenghi book, then having your friends round and almost asphyxiating them with pomegranate molasses.’ We could not stop talking about Gillian Flynn’s book, and now we won’t shut up about David Fincher’s film.

Before I’d read Gone Girl, I’d heard about the seminal ‘Cool Girl’ passage. This is what made thousands of us swap well-palmed paperbacks and say, ‘You must read this’. As I’m sure you all know, the Cool Girl drinks beer, has sex, and most importantly, never gets angry. The Cool Girl is a frat boy, contained within the body of Cameron Diaz. Following the film release, Helen Coffey brilliantly revisited the idea of the Cool Girl, explaining she was a mirage, a unicorn, a two-dimensional fantasy construct. And there is no point looking for her.

The trouble is that you don’t have to look very hard to find women who are desperately pretending to be Cool Girls. We’re the ones who really wanted you to read the book. We’re the ones who sped through the passage and burst into breathless, shocked tears of recognition. Nearly every woman I know has been in a relationship where they feel forced into the Cool Girl box. Being hot and drinking beer is the least of it. It’s the final, damning line of the passage that nearly destroyed us.

‘Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.’

I wanted so badly to be his unicorn, his dream girl, and it turned me into a wreck.

I inadvertently became a wannabe CG when I was dating… let’s call him Boris. It’s hard to revisit the details of the relationship without wanting to shake Past Me, crying, ‘Seriously, what was wrong with you? Why did you stick around? Couldn’t you tell?’ And some of it felt so awful at the time that I wonder whether I dreamed it.

Boris’ abuse of me was entirely emotional – so I feel fraudulent calling it abuse at all. If he did what he did to one of my friends, I’d feel comfortable standing up and denouncing him as a Bad Man. But I’m an unreliable narrator when it comes to my own affairs. It ended years ago and occasionally I still think I could have had a handle on it if I’d been genuinely cool, and not just pretending. But I wanted so badly to be his unicorn, his dream girl, and it turned me into a wreck.

READ MORE: Here’s The Real Chilling Story Gone Girl Was Based On

Boris had charisma. He had a twisted sense of humour, a fondness for obscure internet clips and a sixth sense for sniffing out a party. I’d just broken up with a sweet but serious banker because we’d both grown bored of each other. ‘Boris is fun! We are going to have all the fun!’ I thought, cheerfully. Boris was also hard to please, so when you cracked the code and made him smile, you felt like you’d just won a lottery of Nobel Prizes.

To please Boris, I became adept at doing what he wanted but pretending it was my own idea. Initially, this was just irritating. ‘Of course I’d rather go drinking with your mates than go for dinner with you! What a fantastic thought!’ I’d beam, before ordering giant rounds of tequila I couldn’t afford and didn’t really want, basking in Boris’ approval. I learned early on that Boris did not want to go drinking with my friends, and even if he’d promised to meet me in north London, there was a strong chance that he might call from Soho to say he had a better offer. If he called at all.

I tried desperately to anticipate his moods, to make the world perfect for him, to remove the landmines before he found them.

Boris loved sex, and so did I, because it was the one time I knew I had his undivided attention. And that wasn’t always true, either. He watched a lot of porn, which I was obviously totally cool with, because I desperately wanted to be the down-for-whatever, open-minded lady in the street/freak in the bed of his fantasies. Even when he woke me up with porn, which he was using my laptop to watch. Even when he’d point to some young woman being anally penetrated on screen and mutter ‘What a slut.’ (I attempted to stop him from using the word, but my efforts inevitably disintegrated into some horrible fight where he’d end up screaming, ‘Feminism is just sexism against men!’ as I desperately tried to placate him.)

I look back at the litany of Boris’ horrible habits – drunk driving, casual homophobia, deliberate homophobia – and shudder. Like a London black cab, he could turn on a sixpence. I didn’t leave, I tried desperately to anticipate his moods, to make the world perfect for him, to remove the landmines before he found them. I tried to make myself smaller and quieter. He couldn’t be angry with me if I stayed very still, and took up less space. He was quite keen for me to take up less space.

‘Watch it, you’ll get fat!’ he once said, as he watched me eat a biscuit. I briefly explained that I used to suffer from anorexia and I was actually quite proud of the fact that I could now eat a cookie without panicking about it. ‘Well, go easy, otherwise you’ll get… rexic,’ he replied. I bit my lip and took a deep breath. ‘Jesus, it was a joke! What is wrong with you?!’ he said, exasperated with me. When I was alone, I read this poem a lot, and thought about Boris. The line

‘Just this

Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,

Or there exceed the mark’

It seemed to sum up everything that was wrong with me. If I could fix the tens of tiny things he hated about me, he would love me, and I would be worth something.

Ironically, when we met, I was some approximation of a Cool Girl. I loved sex, and beer, and burgers, and dirty jokes – but I loved those things on my own terms.

Eventually he dumped me. It is the kindest thing he ever did for me, and it should have come as a great relief, but I was brokenhearted. A ghost. Ironically, when we met, I was some approximation of a Cool Girl. I loved sex, and beer, and burgers, and dirty jokes – but I loved those things on my own terms.

After two years with Boris I didn’t know who the hell I was. All I ever wanted to be was his Cool Girl, and I simply wasn’t cool enough. I’d spent two years of my life trying to be the woman every man desired, and I had failed. If only I hadn’t sighed so audibly when he ran red lights. If only I liked anal.

READ MORE: It’s Here And It’s Brilliant Here’s Why You Should Go And Watch Gone Girl Now

Why did I try? I’m an intelligent woman. Why didn’t I ditch Boris after the first fight? Why do we spend our 20s trapping ourselves inside tiny boxes, attempting to gain the approval of people who are horrible to us?

Women are socialised to seek approval. How many of us grow up hearing that good girls don’t make a fuss, that we need to get full marks every time, and that we’re valued for being perfect, not for being interesting? How often do we hear insidious messages about how our bodies should look, and what we should do with them?

This summer, Oxford High School started campaigning against the cult of Little Miss Perfect, and rallied against the damage this set of expectations does to young women. If you survive school and university but remain desperate for top grades and validation, a bad boyfriend or girlfriend will give you the criticism you crave.

In the most painful way possible, Boris taught me that I had to put my own worth before a partner’s demands, or approval. I had to be with someone who constantly made me feel as if I wasn’t good enough to realise that no boy was ever going to shore up my shaky sense of self esteem. I had to do that on my own.

And I hope that is the legacy of Gone Girl, and the Cool Girl. We can burn ourselves out, trying to be impossibly perfect unicorns. Or we can learn to love ourselves, and learn to survive.

** Follow Daisy on Twitter @NotRollerGirl**

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Picture: Rory DCS

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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