Who is 'That Girl' anyway? Is she a sketchy drunk? An insecure mess? An attention whore? One thing is clear, the phrase That Girl is a stigma-laden expression. Whatever you're doing as That Girl, rest assured, you're doing it wrong. But a therapist who listens to women fret about being That Girl thinks maybe That Girl doesn't really exist, or if she does, she's just fine.
Dr. Rebecca Kennedy, a clinical psychologist, says she hears all about That Girl in her psychotherapy practice. She's "crazy with guys." She texts "too often." She wants exclusivity right away. Put simply, she can be described using the worst possible insult to a young millennial woman: needy.
Ignore the millennial tag for a moment, because "needy" as a pejorative knows no generational bounds. And as a descriptor, it's far more likely to be lobbed at women. I don't know a woman alive who hasn't been told at some point or another she's being needy for anything from having a case of the feels to wanting to talk about something, you know, more than once or longer than five minutes.
But what the fuck is needy anyway? It means having needs. The connotation, of course, is that you have too many needs, but it's tough to find an exact number of needs it's OK to have. One need, only on Sundays after dinner? Three needs a week? Annual Needs Fest Where All Needs Are Met, Then Never Referred to Again?
No, see, the neediness of any one person is a relative thing compared to whomever they are with. Being needy ultimately means needing more from the person you are with than they think you should need from them, or than they need from you.
But that's not what the Internet says! Search around and you'll find tons of advice for women on how to not be needy, all based on the well-understood idea that guys hate needy women, ergo, don't be any thing that a guy might hate, ya batshit harpy nutjob. Google around and behold the deep understanding of the Needy Woman and How Not to Be Her.
AskMen, for instance, kicks off a real doozy with this opener for a authoritative-sounding piece called "The Psychology of Needy Women."
Opening line: Needy women can be among the most frustrating aspects of a man's romantic life.
TRUE DAT. You're a dude just trying to have some chicken wings and all-a-sudden you gotta a lady tied to your muffler, spying on you. Their takeaway? Her parents probably fucked her up. However she is acting goes way back, bro, way back before you, and therefore has nothing to do with anything you are doing or saying, whether or not you demonstrate trustworthiness, an ability to speak full sentences, or, if, in fact, you even know how to be in a relationship.
Moving on, this Cosmo piece instructing women on how to be less needy outlines why needy is bad: "guys are repelled by neediness because it hints at a woman's insecurity." Ah yes, insecurity, that old female problem that never plagues men. Avoid this dark fate by not being needy. Voila! No really, you can do that by letting the relationship unfold organically. Oh ok, that's always a super specific pace that everyone in the universe follows, like not seeing a guy more than twice a week for the first month or two. Not answered: Can we eat after midnight? Must I wait four minutes to text back?
Another Cosmo piece details four ways women "come off as too needy," and they include NOT asking for his approval, NOT relying on him for fun, NOT reading into his actions, and of course that old time-tested needy girl move, NOT gluing yourself to him.
I will never ask a guy what he thinks of my bangs and/or preferred brand of glue again. But what gets me always about advice like this is that it never unpacks why women specifically might allegedly act this way in the first place. And more importantly, it sets the "correct" default behavior based on male preference for "less" interaction, and works back from there.
In other words, guys don't talk a lot or ask a lot questions, so they hate when you do it, and when you do it, it's naturally going to seem like TOO much of that shit. So let's stop being that way. Instead, you could look at how lack of trust is probably behind some of this stuff. Or that you would only read into a person's actions if they hadn't sufficiently explained them for you.
Also, hello? Lack of trust can be a reason for neediness from anyone. If you're asking probing questions about your dude's daily whereabouts like one of the Cosmo examples, you're not being needy, you're being distrustful and/or possessive. Have a conversation about why.
But back to Dr. Rebecca Kennedy. She asked her patients who talk about That Girl how to not be That Girl, and their answer was telling:
Don't let the guy know that you want more than he wants.
Ah yes. Never tip your hand in the game of love. Look, right here I will throw all comers a bone and admit that absolutely, yes, everyone likes a little game, a little mystery, a tiny bit of excitement in a relationship. But there is a huge difference between enjoying the getting-to-know you pace — an utterly arbitrary pace set by BOTH PEOPLE, NOT A MAGAZINE — versus a highly rigid gender-o-matic set of guidelines that prove for at least two months that you were a very good actor who Needed Nothing.
Also: Sometimes it's cool to be up front. Sometimes that can be its own thrill. The thrill of a relationship to me is not how long you both held out acting like badass Teflon robots. It's how well you connected and in what ways, and the adventure of finding those connections. That's the shit, morons!
Also, I've never met someone who isn't needy on some level. Not even once. Not even kinda. Yes, it's certainly our job if we want to be more self-actualized people to try to work that shit out and be happy with ourselves, but the idea that we have to act like we don't need anyone when the whole reason you are getting with a person is cause you do, well, that is pure fucking farce.
Furthermore, a huge part of a healthy relationship is knowing what you need and owning it, and being able to state it clearly in actual sentences, not hope someone guesses while you are busy over there in the dark being a mysterious asshole. After that, your work is still not done, because you will need your things and the other person may or may not be capable of giving them to you or vice versa, and then maybe you will reconsider what your needs are, or whether you were even right to want to have that need met. That's the deal. Yawn. Um, sorry, I mean, just hang out twice a week at first. That will take care of it, too.
In Dr. Kennedy's practice, she realized that what the young women in her office were really fighting was more of needy bogey woman/inner critic than someone to be really truly concerned with.
I've never had a new patient come into my office telling me, I am That Girl. Help me! I asked some of my colleagues, and they confirm that while they've heard a lot about her, they haven't met her, either. If That Girl is such a social pariah, how come she never shows up in our offices to talk about how miserable she is?
Kennedy concludes that That Girl is doing alright. She's actually putting herself out there. Being vulnerable. Admitting what she wants. Going for it. She is careful to not reframe this as some Liberated Empowerment Model of Female Behavior or anything, she just presents the quiet idea that maybe That Girl is just fine, and she's just doing her, and it's not the hot mess you think it is. And her advice to young women is pretty simple: Make sure your needs are met. That won't look the same for everyone. That is OK.
Take us home, Doc:
Maybe That Girl isn't so crazy after all. When it comes to guys, she texts because she knows what she wants. She asks to be exclusive because she knows what she deserves. She also knows what she needs — and if that is what defines neediness then, yes, she is needy. Does she overshare sometimes? Sure. Is she the most sought-after girl among young men who are looking to play the field? Unlikely. Might she struggle to find a partner who will meet her high expectations? You bet. She has determined that these are worthwhile prices to pay for establishing self-respecting patterns for sex and romance.
Image by Jim Cooke.