Ariel loves Eric. Bella loves Edward. Sookie loves Bill.
Angela loves Jordan. Patti loves Robert. Simone loves Jean Paul.
No one loves That Guy.
We all know the story: girl meets handsome, rich “prince”; the two fall in love within minutes of their eyes connecting; they overcome some kind of obstacle (an evil spell, an evil witch, an evil human/vampire mismatch, etc.); and they end up happily ever after. No one ever sees Ariel and Eric at couple’s therapy or Bella and Edward arguing over whose turn it is to feed their sub-human baby. Life is good for the girl and her prince.
On the flip side of loving a prince is loving an artist. These girls have a tougher battle, mainly due to having to overcome their lovers’ megalomania, but the payoff is way hotter. This type of love story is only slightly more intellectual than a Disney fairy tale: girl meets guy; guy reads girl poetry and/or philosophical treatise; they overcome some kind of obstacle (drugs, attempted suicide, a general disdain for all things mainstream, traditional, and commercial – including relationships); they may or may not end up happily ever after, but the all-night conversations, the poverty, and the great sex make up for any sour ending that may potentially occur.
These are the two types of relationships that women are most likely to encounter in pop culture. Not only do both of these stories set up false expectations of relationships – on the one hand, that relationships are instantaneous and save a girl from her life as a lonely, poor, victim, and on the other, that relationships are dramatic, dark, deep, and full of poetic nakedness – but, they also make women feel badly when their actual man is neither of these characters but, instead, is That Guy.
That Guy is Brian Krakauer in My So-Called Life. That Guy is Steve and Harry in Sex and the City. That Guy is the guy no woman wants initially but may end up with when it doesn’t work out with the prince or the artist. That Guy is usually the guy the woman should have been with from the start if only she hadn’t wrapped herself up in the need for her life to resemble that of Cinderella’s.
The problem is That Guy is never the first choice. He is the resignation that a woman ultimately makes when she realizes that Prince Charming, while rich, has an impotence problem, or that Diego Rivera, while amazingly talented, is sleeping with her sister. When a woman consistently sees that That Guy is Plan B, she never really begins her quest with him in mind, leading to a life of constant disappointment.
The other issue in play is dichotomizing men. In the same way that women are often seen as either the Madonna or the whore, men are set up to be either sexy/artsy and crazy or boring and responsible. Viewing men only in these ways again pushes women to find their prince or their artist because those are the men who will sweep them off their feet and make life exciting and worth living. The boring guy might have a job, pay the bills, and be a good father, but he’s not going to cut off an ear to express his unending love and devotion. And, when he doesn’t cut off that ear, women are going to be mad and feel unloved because they heard that someone did that for his lover once.
We all know movies are just movies (see The Avett Brothers’ song “Love Like the Movies”), but we also know that when people see the same patterns over and over again, they start to think those patterns are reality. So, it’s not surprising that most women are disappointed with their husbands when so many shows and movies make men seem like larger than life heroes who have no trouble expressing themselves, do not fear being vulnerable, and cry at the births of their children. The problem is that the men in “chick flicks” and “chick lit” are not the same men who are in “dick flicks” and “dick lit.” So, while men are watching their own movies that tell them to be strong, emotionless, and self-centered, women are seeing the picture differently and are, therefore, let down when their husbands don’t woo them with poetry, don’t respond well to emotion, and can’t communicate worth a damn. Women have to remember that the men in the chick pop culture world are the projected representations of what women want men to be, not necessarily what men actually are.
Many men are not princes or artists. Some men are both or, more likely, neither. In fact, most men are That Guy. Instead of wanting That Guy to be another guy, women should try to accept That Guy for being That Guy because That Guy will make sure their drunk asses get home safely. If a woman is that unhappy with That Guy, it’s possible she’s not with the right That Guy. But what’s impossible is that she is going to find some prince or artist to replace That Guy. So, my advice is to think twice before kicking That Guy to the curb.
Women have to remember that life is not a two-hour flick and that Jim from The Office is a fictional character. The “ideal” man or relationship is created in a Hollywood basement (thanks, Red Hot Chili Peppers) filled with pimply-faced, twenty-somethings whose perspectives are shaped more by focus groups than any real idea of what it’s like to be in actual relationships. On this subject, I tell my students the following: don’t be fooled by all this lovey-dovey bullshit you see in the movies – every day that you don’t stab your partner in the eye is another successful day of being in relationship.