Let Us Discuss the ‘Starter Girlfriend’ Concept

Pop quiz! Is a "starter girlfriend" a) an "unattractive" girl who serves as sex practice for a virgin/inexperienced guy, b) merely a first girlfriend, c) the first "real" girlfriend who imparts hard-earned knowledge about adult relationships, or d) all of the above. Answer: Depends who you ask!

I used to think I was a "starter girlfriend" in the manner of option C. Translation: I break horses. I offer a difficult but educational girlfriend experience: bust some balls, get a guy to open up and communicate, but the relationship itself is sacrificed on the Altar of Progress. You know, like dating a manic pixie dream girl, plus nightmares. You do your work in the trenches, but in the end, at least you can say you sent that pony out into the world ready to have a real relationship with someone else. The ultimate paying it forward.

But notions differ out there in the online universe (and probably also with my ex-boyfriends). First, there's this terrible meme called "Generic Fugly Homely Girl" with the message, "I'm What My Dad Calls a Starter Girlfriend."

Moving away from that shit pile to a slightly less steaming turd, there's this message board for bodybuilding where a male poster asks, "Why Can't I Get a Girlfriend?" He indicates that girls claim he is funny with a good personality — so what's the problem? Among the award-winningly dumb advice he receives is this:

I suggest you lower your standards TC, and get yourself a starter girlfriend. You know, she's not too bright, good-looking, doesn't have much going for her, but at least you can get some practice. Also it's when you are taken that girls seem to take notice of you.

Then this stinky blog post from 2009 about baseball says, "The Washington Nationals are Baseball's Starter Girlfriend." To wit:

When everyone else turns you down, calls you ugly, says they have to wash their hair every time you ask them out, the Nationals are there waiting for you to walk all over them. They are baseball's slumpbuster, except, if you ask Nats fans how the team looks after a few drinks, they'd still say "ugly" without flinching.

Then there's this more sympathetic take from a collection of teen-angst-washed diary entries in a book called Mortified: Love is a Battlefield, which says:

…I really wanted a girlfriend. So I ended up dating the first girl who showed me any attention at all.

Turn your inquiring minds to the "fairer sex," who view the concept with an arguably less seedy regard:

In this smelly cry for help entitled "Crying at work, ugh- am I a "starter girlfriend"? from the marriage-minded board called Weddingbee, she's been dating a dude five years, and he said he would propose in his late twenties and they'd get married, but when she described this standstill to "another message board," they told her that:

…I was being strung along, fooled with, and that I'm basically a "starter wife" except not married- that he's going to drag me along for 10+ years or something, finally I'll dump him, and then he'll marry someone who's 20 about 6 months later.

Note the reference to "Starter Wife," which Urban D calls:

A man's first wife that (usually) marries out of love and helps him achieve wealth, power, etc., but is then promptly discarded upon reaching said goal for a younger more attractive woman. Can sometimes result in the starter wife getting half. As soon as he made his first million, Donald left his starter wife for a young Slavic model named Melania, which cost him half.

There's an equal opportunity term in the water called "Starter Husband" which is defined far less insidiously: a first husband, married in youth and divorced not long after, esp. relationships without children. I just married my starter husband at 18 to get away from my family.

Now that just sounds sad. And of course we are all aware of "Starter Marriages," which usually imply a young first marriage doomed to fail but necessary to a lasting relationships later. But that's an equal-opportunity fail.

Eventually, we return full circle to what I thought the term meant originally: A primer relationship full of value-added experience from woman to man, AKA, the Costco of girlfriends, from which a man goes onto make a terrific partner to some "Lucky" Lady Who Is Not You:

I feel like I was that girl who my ex learned so much from and loved but now will move on and find someone else to apply all that he's learned. I feel like he'll be a much better boyfriend to the next girl in his life. Because he just needed a starter girlfriend to get him on his way.

Another lady-oriented site called SirensMag backs this up:

I don't want to be someone’s mom or personal relationship coach anymore. I’m getting a little tired of being the Starter Girlfriend. Some women break horses. Others break in shoes. I break in men. To clarify: I don’t break them. In fact, I make them: Many go on to fulfilling relationships after me. They come out so well in fact, I should start charging for the service.

(Yes, the "starter boyfriend" exists too, but again, it's a far kinder designation than "fuck practice," i.e., A boyfriend you have as practice for real relationships you plan to have in the future. Like a starter marriage, this relationship is simply built on the idea of convenience.

I honestly can't say I've ever known any woman who had this, but I might be sheltered.

Back to the dudes: Apparently, seduction guides are big fans of the "starter girlfriend." This one, by a guy calling himself "Mack Tight," makes a point to say he hates the term "Starter ho" that apparently is actually used out there, but that's just a semantic argument. Starter girlfriends, whatever you may call them, he insists, are still critical for men climbing the ladder of tail from gargoyle to supermodel:

So what’s MY example of a starter girlfriend?

It would be any girl you can hook-up with without issue but who doesn’t completely match what you’re looking for regarding looks, personality or compatibility. Think of a group of 6 girls at a night club or bar. There’s probably 1-2 really hot girls that are the most desirable. There’s also 1-2 who are the least desirable. A good starter girlfriend would be any girl in that group that falls in the middle of those two extremes.

The goal is to settle for the time being in order to develop the experience and skills to not have to settle in the future. In fact, you’re not even really settling if you have no better options currently available. “Settling” would mean being celibate and jerking off.

Don’t jerk off or chase unicorns. Do the best with what you got and keep pursuing what truly makes you happy.

Could I jerk off TO a unicorn? Just curious.

But seriously. Seriously everybody. Honestly, I don't know who really uses these terms in the sleazier senses we've described here. I also know that women or men who are eager to lose their virginity don't need "relationships" to do it.

But I still have to say the male take on the concept is way shittier. Here's why: the biggest difference between the way the (online) sexes seem to regard these terms is perspective, and perspective is everything: Men seem to use the term BEFORE hooking up with a girl. It's a conscious, willful designation to pick someone they don't consider their first choice, or any choice, but who serves a utility on their way up the fuck ladder.

Women, on the other hand, use the term in the rearview mirror: We just broke up. Things didn't work out. Dude moved on to an ostensibly better relationship or a marriage. I'm bummed/resigned to never being the "permanent girlfriend."

Of course, both of these notions are supremely flawed, just for different reasons. And both ultimately perpetuate stubbornly sexist ideas about what men and women want. NEVER FORGET:

  • All men are eager to carve a notch in the bedpost.
  • All women are chomping at the bit to lock a guy down forever.

I think if there's anything to learn from this weirdly cruel/limited/arrogant way of thinking of relationships, there should be some scrutiny going on here at the individual level.

The road to a lasting, mature relationship — if that's what you're after — is not a ladder. It's a winding journey. Two people, no matter their experiences, ought to have something of worth to impart to a relationship. Every relationship is not a failure simply because it didn't last. It's a failure if you learned nothing about yourself.

If, as a guy, you have no interest in people but body counts on your mountainous trek toward the ultimate piece of tail, well, I have to say, you're already jerking off to unicorns. And if you're a woman (like I once was) who finds yourself with a disproportionate number of men in your past for whom you feel that you imparted more than you left with, maybe it's worth asking why you were so willing to settle for someone so deeply mismatched (and ultimately, this means you DID learn something important, you just discounted it). Perhaps you weren't comfortable with being the one who was truly challenged, and preferred instead to do all the talking. But really, it means you weren't really looking for an equal, but a fixer-upper. And that, my friend, never ends well.