Let’s take a journey back to 2005. I was fourteen and engulfed in an enjoyable combination of depression and self-harm.
Tall, gangly, sporting a mullet I had cut with a razor whilst on a Spanish exchange, and rocking very obvious braces—the world felt like a place I would never be comfortable in. Myself was never going to be someone I would get along with.
I was mystified by how some girls just knew how to be cool—who had taught them?—how they knew what to wear, how to talk and what to talk about. When you’re that age, the confusing barren wasteland that is the teenage years, it feels like this stage of your life is going to last forever, that an escape hatch is never going to appear. There will never be a parachute to jump to freedom—you’ll always be stuck on the plane, alone at 36,000 feet above the ground.
Around the time the braces came off, the mullet started looking less mullet-y, and the acne began to clear,
I found my escape hatch. Drinking decisively took my hand and led me from tortuous adolescent into confident, attractive, fun young adult. For the first time in my life I began to feel a little bit cool. My first proper date with The Boy (who crops up in my first post) ended up at Vodka Revolution (after I accidentally sneezed part of a chewed up mushroom over him during dinner—a great start to any relationship). “Revs”, as it is often called, is a chain of bars renowned in the UK for relatively cheap drinks, vodka ‘sticks’ (six flavored shots in a line) and incredibly sticky floors. Current promotions include making your drink a double for only £2 extra (sounds responsible) and “Big Friday” where “squad goals will be exceeded” (fuck off). At “Revs”, The Boy ordered two drinks which were basically chocolate milkshakes with a double shot of vodka in them. A drink so disgusting it should be a crime against humanity. But I didn’t care that they tasted like a sugar slap in the face—with the plasticky booth we sat in, the dim lighting, the hum of real adults discussing real adult stuff—I was hooked. I loved the entire performance of going out for the night—getting dressed up, walking into a bar, flirting with the bartender, ordering a cosmopolitan. Each night brought a new sparkling opportunity to recreate myself. Tonight, Matthew, I am going to be “fun and wild”, or “mysterious and elegant”, or “sassy and outgoing” (anyone else miss Stars in Their Eyes?). But, out of all the personas a gal can dress herself up in, none are as coveted as the Cool Girl.
As Gillian Flynn in her novel Gone Girl writes:
“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. 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.”
There are two types of Cool Girl: the one Gillian Flynn writes about, idealized amongst men “they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be”; and the one that has become idealized amongst women—the Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw kind of Cool Girl. Neither allows for the emergence of the real individual—their uniqueness, their experiences, their messiness, their opinions, their brilliance—that is all a threat. Whilst the first Cool Girl downs beer whilst watching the game in her little t-shirt, toned tanned stomach just visible when it rides up, the second sips cocktails with girlfriends after work in busy city bars. Neither gets drunk, yet consumes large amounts of alcohol (keeping up with the boys?)—loss of control does not a Cool Girl make.
I aimed for Cool Girl 2, the Sex and the City one. I ordered Cosmopolitans (actually sweeter than what I like) and smoked Marlboro Lights for the only reason that they were the brand Carrie Bradshaw smoked. She was cool, I wanted to be cool. The maths was simple: Marlboro Lights + Cosmopolitans in bars with girlfriends = the person I wanted to be. In my vulnerable teenage years the Cool Girl was a perfect blueprint for an identity I felt I lacked. And drinking was a central component of creating that Cool Girl. Alcohol was the doorman at a fancy bar, tipping his hat and opening the polished brass door for me—come in, it’s cold outside, take a seat, what can I get you?
By the time I was eighteen I had a drinking problem,
was very addicted to cigarettes (I still am) and, although on the surface I may have appeared to fit a lot of the criteria to meet Cool Girl status—inside I was floundering. I hadn’t let myself even try to get to know the real me—with my uniqueness, my experiences, my messiness and my potential brilliance. The Cool Girl, like a squatter, was taking up residence inside me. She’d moved into my mind, unpacking her designer bags, treading over my brain in her Manolo Blahniks. Cool Girl started to become what I now know as my wine voice—just one more, ooh go talk to him! Let’s do a shot! It’s Tuesday—you can get away with another one. My own voice became smaller and smaller, crushed and crunched like a can under the weight of the growing tumor that was my addiction. If I denied the Cool Girl what she wanted—I wasn’t cool anymore. If I tried to stop at two glasses and ignore her—I was boring. If I didn’t want to go home with that guy—I was a prude. I was unattractive, unlikeable, unpopular—the lonely nerd I thought I used to be.
So, adjusting my dress and throwing the butt of another cigarette on the ground, I head inside. At the bar, I order another large white wine and take a long sip. By now already drunk, the wine doesn’t go down well and I have to take a deep breath to control the vomit trying to escape. But I’m ok. Keep smiling, keep chatting, keep drinking. Keep numbing.
Onwards, onwards, onwards…with Cool Girl leading the way.