To Be Messy is Human

In the movie Friends with Money, the Frances McDormand character was quite unlikeable…everyone in the movie thought so, every critic I read said so…and yet …her frustration at the person jumping the line, been there. But her calling out rude people for being rude (admittedly with great and increasing stridency) had friends and critics alike trotting out the C-word…no not that one, the one likely to have you prescribed mood altering medications…preferably by a professional.

From Fatal Attraction to Gone Girl to just about every episode of Snapped, there’s a part of us, if we’re honest, that …hopes we’d make better choices…but, on some level, understands…not the actions (poor bunny) but the emotions. Doubt it? Think back to every gripe session with your girlfriends. Now, yes, it’s a helluva leap from frustrated to homicidal (seriously, don’t make that leap) but feeling shafted, feeling betrayed, feeling frustrated, being messy as bleep, who can’t relate to that? It’s okay, you don’t have to admit it …don’t cry out loud.

Many reviewers of Oh Gad! even or perhaps especially the ones who like the book call out main character Nikki for her messiness. She’s emotionally distant; she carries grudges from childhood against one parent who is dead, and another parent who has moved on; she breaks up with a lover she doesn’t love enough, using his infidelity as a loophole instead of owning up to her part in the break-up; she falls for someone any sensible woman could have seen for what he was – or so several readers have said after the fact, and no I’m not about to call them on hindsight being 20/20 because we don’t know anyone out here loving the wrong man or maybe just the fact that he gives good love … nah that’s only in fiction (and really great love songs); she gripes and moans about her misfortunes, a contrast to her blunter (brutally blunt) sister who just gets on with it, because, really, life didn’t promise it’d be fair or smooth.

Nikki is also someone though who grew up feeling emotionally isolated because her father was distant and her mother was miles away on an island in the Caribbean – and I’ve conversed with enough daughters who have been shipped off for a better life to know that the reasons might be noble, a better life and what not, to know that often, to the child it still feels like abandonment. And I know women older than Nikki who still haven’t gotten over it.

I watch her struggle to let people in and, sure, she frustrates me but I also know that trust can be a fragile thing…and that this business of who we love and why can be complicated (and often without discernable rhyme or reason)…and that sometimes we don’t know the real deal when we see it.  To be messy is human.

I say this to say that I understand Nikki, and Selena (yeah, she’s in line for a smacking by many a reader-account, too), in the way that I do some of those other unlikeable women in fiction. Maybe like many a reader I want to smack them but I sometimes want to smack myself too and I think if more people were honest with themselves, their frustrations at the self-sabotaging behavior they see in the less-than-perfect woman walking around in their skin – her bad choices in love, her failure to let go of things etc etc – we might admit that part of the frustration characters like Nikki, Selena, and other unlikeable women inspire is just a wee bit of projection. Just a wee bit?

No?

Okay, maybe, maybe not (you know you best)…maybe this is just the defense of Nikki I promised I’d never write. Yeah, tell yourself this is just about another movie/book where the psycho bitch trope had your skin itching, Joanne. I’m messy enough (and honest about my messiness) to admit that my reasons might be complicated though.

And I say where is it written that women have to be good girls all the time – never admitting their neuroses, never acknowledging their fears and failures, never stumbling over nothing but their own bad decisions, never giving rein to their anger or frustration or feelings of betrayal, never giving themselves the luxury of being human? Where is it written that only men get to be messy in life and in fiction?

Other interesting reading on unlikeable women in fiction here here here …and other places, no doubt.

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