Pretending you don’t have feelings doesn’t pay off.
If you’ve read Gillian Flynn’s bestseller Gone Girl, or if you’ve seen the movie directed by David Fincher, you’re probably familiar with the famed ‘Cool Girl’ passage, wherein the main character, Amy Dunne, describes the kind of girl that every man supposedly wants.
“Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. 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 guarantee you, every woman who read this description experienced a thud of recognition somewhere deep inside. We’ve all tried to be the Cool Girl at some point, thinking it would help us attract, or hang on to, a man. Being needy isn’t hot – we all know that. So we pretend we don’t need anyone, and we’re just here to have a good time.
One thing Cool Girls never, ever do? Cry in front of their partners. Because crying would show that you have feelings – and feelings scare men off.
But is this really true? Looking at the research on vulnerability and relationships calls into question some of our longstanding beliefs about what does, and doesn’t, create a strong bond between couples.
The value of vulnerability
Researcher Brené Brown, in her viral TED talk on the power of vulnerability, explains that humans are neurobiologically wired for connection.
“Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives,” says Brown. That goes for all of us – men and women – even though men may have a reputation for being skittish about feelings and needing ‘space’ in relationships. And if you’re playing a part – for example, pretending to be a Cool Girl – you can’t really connect with anyone.
“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen,” says Brown. And allowing yourself to be seen means making yourself vulnerable.
“Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear, and our struggle for worthiness, but…it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”
The cost of playing it cool
In her research, Brown found that the main thing that keeps us disconnected from each other – the thing that prevents us from letting ourselves be vulnerable – is shame.
“Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it,that I won’t be worthy of connection?”
We’re ashamed who we really are, deep down – all our messy feelings and our inadequacies. So we shut ourselves off, and then we wonder why our relationships continue to fail. Or we blame our partners, believing they just weren’t right for us somehow, and that when ‘The One’ comes along, everything will all fall into place and be easy.
“We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability,” says Brown.
“The problem is…that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. When we numb those, we numb joy, we numb happiness.”
It’s alright to cry
So, what are we supposed to do with all of that information? Start bursting into tears every time we feel the urge, rather than swallowing them back? Let it all hang out, feel all our feelings, and give up on the Cool Girl act?
In short, yes – all of that. If you want to have a deep, authentic relationship with someone – if you want to be seen, known, and loved for the real you, then you’ve got to let that person really see you. A guy who is turned off by your tears isn’t a guy you want to be with, anyway. You want someone who not only can handle your emotions, but who knows that being allowed to see you at your weakest is a privilege. Your vulnerability is a gift, because it lets him be vulnerable, too. When you’re not afraid to show weakness, it allows others to take down their walls and be their whole, authentic selves as well. Only very brave people have the courage to be vulnerable.
So next time you feel like the dam is about to burst, go ahead and open the floodgates. Let him see you cry. If he runs away, you’re better off. But if he sticks around, it’ll only cement your bond. And if you’re still worried about being the Cool Girl, just remember how Gone Girl turns out in the end…
This post was originally published in 2017. Images via favim.com, abc.go.com, foxmovies.com, giphy.com
Comment: Do you cry in front of your partner, or do you keep your emotions under wraps?
Elizabeth lives in Brooklyn with two daughters, occasional mice and innumerable to-do lists. She runs a nine-minute mile, bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie, and can always be persuaded to sing at a karaoke bar. Follow her on Twitter.