Peter Panic (or, Ventricular Manslaughter)

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You know things are getting out of hand when you can utter the sentence, “I was hit by two different cars within the span of thirty minutes this morning, and that wasn’t even the worst part of my day.”

While my car’s run in with a distracted Los Angeles driver and my body’s run in with an oblivious Los Angeles parker were both jarring (literally), their impact was nothing compared to the metaphorical whiplash I experienced later that day. I came out of both accidents unscathed, but Lost Boys are far denser than cars.

Vehicular negligence is a menace, to be sure, but there is a far greater scourge plaguing our society, denting hearts and totaling relationships with abandon. There are many to blame for the blight, yet no one directly responsible, so I choose to channel my anger at Judd Apatow.

In 2003, Chuck Klosterman began his book, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (it is great – read it), with a hilarious rant against the perpetuation of impossible romantic standards in film. He blamed John Cusack for a generation of women who will never be satisfied by the lesser reality of any actual man in their life. Well, Chuck, it is time for a harsh look at the other side of the story; you men have some ‘splainin’ to do, too.

It may be true that every woman born in or around the 1970’s will forever compare any potential suitor to the ideal that is Lloyd Dobler, but there is a new epidemic threatening the happiness of Generations X, Y, and beyond: perpetual male adolescence. If Cameron Crowe has to answer for romantic idealism, then Judd Apatow needs to burn in hell for this.

For the record, I enjoy most Judd Apatow movies. He gives good funny. But the central conceit of every one is that it is totally cool to live like a frat boy forever, because the awesome K/Catherine Keener Heigl girl will love you anyway. Just bathe regularly, and it’s all good.

Some men are born mature, some men achieve maturity, and Judd’s “men” succumb only when maturity is thrust upon them via accidental pregnancy, public humiliation, or near-death experience.

Unfortunately, there is no such Deus Ex Matura in real life, so the men who subscribe to this Judd Apatow School of Adolescence stay there, indefinitely, stunting human progress. Last decade, when Cancer #2 described his ideal relationship as one where I was around whenever he wanted company but required no thought about me or us otherwise, it was stupid but understandable, because he was twenty-three. Everyone is stupid in their twenties. It’s a given. But when a thirty-three year old (and a thirty-eight year old, and a forty-one year old) still sees that as ideal, then “John Hughes-ton, we have a problem.”

The world is too full of men in their 30’s, 40’s, and even 50’s who believe that maturity is something that happens to you, like mono, rather than something you actively choose (like mono, if you’re doing high school right). It would be one thing if these Lost Boys were content to stay at home or only date twenty-somethings who share an equal desire for “just fun”, but they aren’t. They chase the grown-ass women; they love the grown-ass women; they want to have their cake and suck at it, too.

Lost Boys want their pursuits to be successful, but without us getting “too attached”. They want to be found attractive and funny and interesting, but not have to take too much interest in return. They love to be allowed to see us naked, regularly, for months, but don’t want us to think it means anything “serious”. They want us on their arm and in their pictures, but don’t want to have to call or plan ahead to make it happen.

In short, Lost Boys want the ego boost of an adult relationship, without having to invest in it themselves. Investing takes effort, which is another word for work, and work is not “fun”.

I would love to think that lines like, “I’m just not looking for something serious yet”, and “I’ll be ready for commitment when I meet the right person” (inevitably uttered months into a relationship) are signs of insightful self-awareness. But really, they are just excuses to make the work of growing up somebody else’s job.

Why is it my job to keep my affections in check while he is free to fawn or forget with every whim? Why am I supposed to understand and respect his busy life without any effort in return to accommodate mine? Why is it my job to be “good enough” to inspire commitment, instead of him choosing to be open to it in the first place? There is no woman out there who can inspire a Lost Boy to maturity – and if there is, she’s not ending up with Seth Rogan.

So the next time you hear someone commenting about how there are so many single woman in their 30’s and 40’s, or see the press obsessing over the naked ring fingers of Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston, know this:

It’s not that we are all sitting around waiting for Lloyd Dobler. It’s that Lloyd Dobler is in his 40’s now, and still living with his sister.

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Lois Lame

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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.