The “Cool Girl” isn’t sensitive — she’s understanding.
She never gets angry and never takes up too much space. Being the “Cool Girl” means being fine with people walking all over you. Described by Gillian Flynn in “Gone Girl,” she’s someone with the mindset of “Go ahead, sh— on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”
For the longest time, I aspired to be the “Cool Girl” in all of my relationships, romantic and platonic. I wanted to be the one to roll with the punches, to put my interests last and to essentially have the confidence of a male comedian.
Although I was supposedly confident, I was still terrified of standing up for myself when my relationships went sour. I didn’t want to be seen as “too sensitive” or “too girly.” I associated vulnerability with weakness — and weakness with femininity.
My desire to be the “Cool Girl” began in middle school when I began viewing friendship as somewhat of a sport. I felt like I had to try out to get on someone’s “friendship roster,” where they could decide whether or not I could make the starting lineup, whether I was good enough to be worthy of their time.
I constantly felt obligated to prove my value as a friend. I felt pressure to have something witty to say, to overcompensate with elaborate gifts and parties and, of course, to be the best “Cool Girl” I could be. I never asked myself whose company I genuinely enjoyed, and when my friends mistreated me, I was afraid that standing up for myself would make me undesirable. I decided that I’d rather be injured on the field than stuck on the bench.
This mindset bled into relationships I’ve cultivated throughout the years, until recently, when I finally reached a breaking point.
What hurts me the most, especially as someone who tends to overcompensate, is when effort in a close friendship isn’t reciprocated. I felt this way with one of my friends for a long time — as though I was needy for wanting more out of her, until I realized all I wanted was for her to listen.
Confronting her was something I put off as long as I could. There were years of pent-up frustration I struggled to string into words and ugly feelings that made me want to cut off communication with her completely.
At the same time, I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to dish out every insult I could to make up for all the times I felt dismissed, judged and unheard.
I was ready to risk completely losing our friendship because it was making me unhappy anyway. Why not go all out?
Still, despite how much anger had accumulated over the years, I knew I wanted to be candid, not mean. I needed to be genuine with my emotions, even if it put me in what I thought was a weaker position.
Confronting her, I decided, would be my way of telling myself that for once, I was worthy of being listened to. And when we eventually spoke, it felt like the first time — because I was finally being honest.
Ultimately, I didn’t end up losing that friendship. In fact, quite the contrary.
Allowing myself to be vulnerable made room for the conversation both of us needed and found liberating. I wasn’t ruminating over my own hurt anymore; I was addressing it, and my friend’s response made me feel validated. We identified areas of our friendship that were unhealthy and decided to work on them. And we still are.
Slowly, I’ve let go of the “Cool Girl” mindset. Instead of seeing them as a sport in which I’m constantly trying to get off the bench, I see my relationships with other people as they are: a complex, mutual and ongoing process of growth on both sides. I no longer accept friendships that make me feel alone.
It turns out healthy relationships have no room for the “Cool Girl.” It’s a mindset that takes away honesty and communication, invalidates me and disconnects me from my sense of self-worth.
Though I’ve been told that being “too sensitive” is typical for a girl, I actually want to be sensitive in my relationships. I want to communicate with others when I’m hurt and not feel annoying for doing so. I want to have more conversations in which emotional honesty allows for much-needed growth. I want to prioritize myself when I need to.
I’ve found so much strength in being in touch with my feelings and in embracing a femininity that’s empowering precisely because of its vulnerability. “Cool Girl” is no longer a defining compliment in my eyes. I’ve instead accepted it as a product of the male gaze.
I now know that the “Cool Girl” will never exist but in quotation marks, that the perfect “Cool Girls” can only be one-dimensional female characters written by men. Coming to terms has taken some time, but it’s nice having personality traits other than being “not like the other girls.”
All girls are pretty darn cool anyway.
Jessie Wu writes the Thursday column on exploring the intersection between risk and self-discovery. Contact her at [email protected]