“There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”
One of the greatest monologues that I always go back to is Gillian Flynn’s Cool Girl speech that is read by the problematic-but-loved character, Amy Dunne. In the entire monologue, she talks about how she once rolled her eyes at girls who tried to be the perfect girl for those who they were interested in, until she became one of those girls herself. I’ve dated guys throughout my life who want me to be their own version of Cool Girl—someone who they think is the best version of who they want as a significant other. One believed cool was drinking every night, another believed that his dream girl was someone who would come over at the drop of a hat.
I’ve had boys label me as being someone who isn’t the type to do or like certain things. A girl you bring home to your family. A girl who is not the type to have sex right away, or who isn’t the type to swear at family dinners. A girl who just loves listening to whatever the hell is on the record player. A girl who will watch your shitty movies and television shows and laugh at all of the parts that aren’t even funny. The type to hear I love that you’re such a good, loyal girl. I don’t have to worry about you cheating at all. A girl you come home to and she’ll bat her eyes and rub your back. But none of this is intriguing until the settling down stage. Before that, it’s no-strings and let’s just see where this goes and lies and ghosting and having your cake and eating it too (and then some). All of this places girls in two categories: girls to fuck around with and girls to marry, and it all depends on what stage of life the guy is ready for and what stage of Cool Girl they are looking for.
“We weren’t ourselves when we fell in love, and when we became ourselves – surprise! – we were poison.”
Two weeks into our relationship, one of my ex’s said “I am so glad you are not like those other girls that listen to City and Colour” to me. Some time after that, he said “I am so glad you are not like those other girls that wear slutty clothing” to me. When you search for the meaning that lies within those statements, it reads: you have my approval… for now. If you dare to step out of line, you are no longer someone I want to be with. It’s a power dynamic that began the moment I thought “Okay, I’ll start listening to this and stop listening to what I enjoy so I’ll be more his type.” He felt he knew best and this created a toxic power dynamic between us. I still loathe myself for being part of it—for subjecting myself and taking myself apart to make another person comfortable with who they are.
It wasn’t until I put myself miles away from this person that I realized what he was trying to do, and that was placing me in a box where the walls had lists of things that were deemed good or bad. I read the list and picked up on cues and suggestions he made and warped myself into his version of a cool girl—no bangs, they make girls look shy. No shirts tucked into skirts. God, stop listening to that awful pop music—it’s for idiots. You can never make a career out of writing, you might as well stop, and that is what I did. I gave up what was me and my identity to solidify someone else’s identity and their own desires. I stopped being Kelsey and started being the Cool Girl—the girl who says yes to everything and never speaks up, never questions, and never steps out of line.
Until I did step out of line and questioned things. Until I did speak up and started saying no. I got bangs and wore whatever I wanted to with whatever I wanted to and listened to my music as loud as I could and wrote whatever decided to come out of the pen that day. I began picking up the pieces of myself I put aside and took off the rose-tinted glasses I had on for far too long. There is a fine line between compromising and giving up who you are to make someone else more comfortable with who they are, and that’s exactly what the Cool Girl version of Kelsey Barnes decided to do. When I decided to be who I really was, we were poison to one another.
“It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters. And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul mate, because we don’t have genuine souls. It had gotten to the point where it seemed like nothing matters, because I’m not a real person and neither is anyone else.”
When there are restraints on what someone can and can’t do, they are being set up to fail. There will always come a day where you can’t live up to being the girl that they want you to be, because that girl is a figment of their imagination. She isn’t real, and trying to be her will never make anyone happy. Tove Lo said Why do we try to be someone we’re not to make someone love us? Would you want to fake yourself for the rest of your life? about her Gone Girl-inspired song, Cool Girl, and I think it’s completely and utterly true; if I am just a playing someone I’m not, I will never be real with anyone; I will just be someone playing a girl named Kelsey Barnes who doesn’t have bangs, is a quiet piece of arm candy, and enjoys having her lips sealed shut.
I am my best self when I am myself—being who I really am, not putting on a show of a watered down “cool” version of myself. And you know what? I think I’ll get bangs.
– Kelsey Barnes
google defines “paper street” as a road that may appear on a map but doesn’t actually exist. i’ve always found a strange comfort in the phrase. who we are on paper doesn’t earnestly represent who we are in reality. yet, as writers, paper has been, is, and will always be our greatest medium. so came the thought –
why not showcase the parts of me and the people i know that live beyond the page?
• paper street is a recurring series consisting of personal and guest posts meant to showcase the varying degrees of experiences we all share •