When I was little, Nancy Drew was my hero. I also looked up to the girls in The Babysitters Club (Kristy was my favorite), to Dorothy Gale (loyalty to pets and a taste for adventure), and to Miss Piggy (who taught me self-esteem). But the woman I wanted to be was Lois Lane.
From the slim pickings of female role models in comics, Lois was queen. Sure, Wonder Woman was cool with the whole Amazonian thing, but Lynda Carter’s stunning beauty – and ridiculous twirling – made her completely unrelatable to me. Also, even my naïve pre-teen sensibilities understood the sexism inherent in a female superhero who wears impractically-tiny outfits, is vulnerable without her jewelry, and carries a magic rope that allows her to know what any man is thinking.
Catwoman was out of the question because, much as I love cats, I was way too goody-goody to admire a criminal, and Batgirl just made me think about how much I’d rather be at a baseball game. (As a DC Comics kid, I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting MJ or Rogue until much later.) Lois Lane was my girl.
I loved her. She was smart (except for the whole glasses/no glasses thing) and accomplished, a career woman with too much ambition to care about her looks; Lois didn’t just hang with the boys, she surpassed them. Plus, Margot Kidder portrayed her as also clumsy and bad at spelling – two things with which I could relate on a deeply personal level. Lois was brave and curious and willing to be a little bad for the greater good, and on top of all that, Superman loved her.
It kind of makes me want to hurl now, but I am pretty sure the reason I loved Lois Lane the most was because her boyfriend was Superman. My younger self operated under the misconception that the greatest proof of a girl’s awesomeness was the quality of man who loved her, and Lois was chosen by the greatest man on the planet. Literally. This reasoning was no less lame than the current trend of male filmmakers who demonstrate the appeal of their thinly-veiled protagonist stand-ins by giving them the inexplicable (and usually unearned) attentions of a manic pixie dream girl or Katherine Heigl (*cough* Judd Apatow *cough*).
I’m not sure which is worse: realizing my own logic was so messed up as a kid, or realizing that so many adult men still think like 13-year-old girls.
Admitting my own fault wasn’t nearly as hard, though, as coming to terms with the major disappointment of Lois herself. It didn’t happen until college, when I met my own Superman and dove headfirst into a relationship with him, finally living the dream. We were together for about three years, and he is, to this day, one of the best and dearest people in my life. But our relationship forced me to face a harsh truth: being Superman’s girlfriend really sucks.
Superman is, above all else, a hero. His primary objective is to be of use, no matter how small the problem. A not-so-healthy blend of Catholicism and Geekery had given my Superman similar aims, and while he couldn’t fly he could certainly help carry a couch or give you a ride. The thing is, being helpful always came first – above other things like being on time, making it to dinner, or answering phone calls and emails (we didn’t have texts yet, but if we did, I am sure he would have ignored those too).
A lot of fun was had on the show Lois & Clark with scenarios where Clark/Superman would miss an anniversary celebration and get away with it because he was stopping a nuclear war or something, but I learned to feel Lois’s pain very quickly. On the one hand, you can’t be mad at a guy for missing dinner (or being late) because he was stopping global destruction (or bringing a sick friend soup). But on the other hand – dammit, he could have taken a second to call (or gone to get the soup after meeting me).
I wasted hours trying to articulate how it is bad enough to make everyone a priority (which then makes nobody a priority), but far worse to make your girlfriend a lower priority. Is a message saying, “hey, I’m not dead, I just stopped to help a guy with a flat” too much to ask? But there is simply no way to fight with Superman without looking like the asshole; everyone loves him – and they should, because he probably helped them move that one time.
Add to all this the inherent condescension that comes with Superman’s impossible moral standards for himself – he is a Christ figure, after all – and the relationship becomes an exercise in balancing self-hate with anger. I was mad at the guy who was pure of intention and heart, which made me hate myself; I felt ashamed for wanting to just have fun sometimes instead of helping with something when we technically could, and I raged at him for not expecting me to put being helpful first. (There is a reason “holier than thou” is an insult rather than a compliment.) In short: it was unhealthy.
Maybe I am just not good enough to be Superman’s girlfriend, but I am pretty sure the real truth is that I am no longer dumb enough. Lois Lane did get shafted in that relationship (though not literally, because his Super Sperm would have made her uterus explode). He left her hanging more than he showed up (unless she was literally hanging from a ledge), he never gave her the courtesy of a note or a phone call (apparently he was not Super enough to use the phone while changing), and by never putting their relationship first he made her feel terrible every time she did.
It took me about three years to accept that this scenario is unsustainable. Lois Lane, on the other hand, still hasn’t figured it out.