So the best thing I read today was this marvelous and funny story, “Who Is the Saddest Girl in Music?” by Mallory Ortberg at The Toast. In it, she analyzes a bunch of songs (mostly by blustery alt-rock assholes like Nine Days and Everclear) about -- you guessed it! -- “Sad Girls.”
A Sad Girl is kind of the musical equivalent of movies’ Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope -- a very specific but flimsy, dude-created charmer-chick character who manages to turn her new lover’s life ENTIRELY UPSIDE DOWN with one meek, half-hearted smile or one withering glance from her tear-filled, over-kohled eyes. (Oh, and they generally have no personal agency; they’re just open receptacles for the dudes to toss all their fantasy-dreamgirl fluff into.)
So yeah, Sad Girls are, as Ortberg humorously explains, the subject of an astonishingly wide array of hit songs, though the girl obviously looks slightly different in each one. (You can count on one thing, though: The girl is always skinny and usually tragically pale, because pale girls are OH SO emo and delicate, like little paper flowers.)
The narrator guy in Everclear’s “Amphetamine” sings that his Sad Girl “looks so bored sometimes/ And she has that super pale skin and those soft green eyes…/ She is perfect in that fucked up way.” Aw, how sweet (we guess?). Not as cheesy, but vexing in his own way, emo king Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes likes his Sad Girls skinny (surprise!) and heavily made up. As he sings to his Poor Thing Du Jour in “Lua,” “You’re looking skinny like a model with your eyes all painted black.” And his muse’s “Overall Sadness-to-Hotness Quotient,” as outlined by Ortberg? “Once again the male singer-songwriter is mystified by the application of eyeliner. Her heart is heavy, but her body is skinny. Very hot. Excellent work.”
Anyway, reading Ortberg’s piece made me reflect on my own sad-girl history -- not “Sad Girl,” because I am real, obviously, and not a fantasy construct -- and my own illicit fixation on Sad Girl’s counterpart, whom I’ll creatively dub the “Sad Boy.” Despite my longtime history of depression, pessimism and world-weariness, plus a ceaseless obsession with Morrissey, I was never QUIIIIITE waify or morose enough to be Chase-Worthy by the likes of Ortberg’s Sad Girl fetishists. To be fair, though, I doubt ANY of those dudes would actually pursue sad girls in real life. We’re a little too complicated and animated -- a far cry from the wispy, mascara-streaked tragi-princesses they dream of rescuing with their nurturing (but powerful) penises.
On the same tip, it’s embarrassing to admit, but as I mentioned above, I’ve long been a sucker for the Sad Girl’s alter ego, the Sad Boy. Even if you’re more emotionally stable than I am and hence, not attracted to these sorts, you totally took classes with him in college.
Remember, he spilled his coffee all over his desk that one time because he was getting so passionately riled up while attempting to defend Nietzsche to a class full of imbecilic bros and cheerleaders? And then you caught your eyes beginning to glaze over with primal, untempered lust, and you painfully tried to repress the urge to reach out and grab the back of his … oh wait, that was me.
Yeah, that guy you saw shuffling from philosophy to classics to painting classes; you even spotted him in a Women’s Studies class junior year (SWOOOOOOON), lugging an entire library worth of books in his messenger bag and rarely deigning to say a word to anyone except his most Worldly and Esteemed professors. Despite seeming too deep and distracted to make time for anyone, he would ALWAYS make time to smoke -- and "ponder life’s complexities," per The Smiths -- between classes.
Anyway, it’s vaguely humiliating but I LOVED that guy, and plenty others like him -- the sad, skinny ones who skulk around, pasty and disenchanted, never giving you the satisfaction of a head-on glance. Extra points for the ones who are pretty like deer. Dark hair; long, inky eyelashes framing big, haunted eyes; and that unmistakable, unshakable air of soul-churning melancholy? Perfect! Been called timid and shy all their lives? Often mistaken as gay because of their carefully disheveled style and subtly feminine air? Yes, please -- I’ll take two, actually, and make a sandwich.
The problem with these guys is that, physically lovely as they are, they don’t give a f*ck about anything or anyone outside their tiny little self-involved orbit. They’re the ones who keep you guessing and spinning in a constant cycle of “WTFFFFFF?” and doubt and uncertainty. They're mixed-signal masters who “don’t what they’re looking for” right now. They’d never MEAN to hurt you, they assure. They’re just being themselves -- conflicted and confused, never certain, never satisfied. Arghghghgh!
So why the hell have I always pined for them? Is it solely because I’m a sad girl (depressed, on meds, in therapy since forever?), and sad girls + sad boys make a sad kind of sense? Um, possibly. Or maybe I’m just as bad as the dudes writing songs for their tragic girls, above -- maybe some part of me is just looking for a fantasy; a pretty, blank receptacle to throw all my Sad Boy cotton-candy dreams into.
The Sad Boys seem more alluring than their regular-dude counterparts because they’re so DIFFICULT. That annoying old “everyone prefers a challenge” thing -- I think it’s real, and I think part of me has always been more invested in trying to make impossible guys love me than in trying to find a smart, solid, normal guy who already DOES love me, who doesn’t have to be convinced or won over.
Underneath it all, I want a happy, honest, solid relationship -- I want to be in love, like anyone else. I just keep tripping up (still! in my mid-thirties!) over my attraction to these goddamn dark, confusing Sad Boys. Jewel, of all people, summed it up nicely in her ‘90s hit “Foolish Games” (forgive me for quoting Jewel, but hey, it’s kind of a good song): “You're always the mysterious one with dark eyes and careless hair/ you were fashionably sensitive but too cool to care.”
I would love to be freed from my addiction to Sad Boys who are too cool to care. Any takers? Thoughts? Advice? If you, too, struggle with an addiction to trying to make impossible people love you, please feel free to share your story below, in the hopes that we may help one another!