I need a hero

I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong, he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light
He’s gotta be sure, he’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life

… Isn’t there a superman to sweep me off my feet?

—crooned by Bonnie Tyler, written by Jim Steinman and Dean Pitchford

I was a profoundly unhappy teenager, despite many worldly privileges. To this day I’m convinced I baffled my parents: how could I be so unpopular and weird when they’d worked so hard to clothe me and remove all physical distractions from a life of happiness?

Or, as teenage me might have said, my fridge is full, but my heart is empty.

I insisted on dressing in leggings and big animal t-shirts in middle school, when baby doll dresses and jeans ran the day. I liked dark stories in cemetaries with fairies and sword fights and talking animals. I was an easy target for the mean kids and got my fair share of anonymous cyber bullying.

Dirty chink! Slut!

(Never mind that I was pathologically undateable and barely even touched a boy until high school, where my wildly more popular boyfriend was told I was a loser and ‘scary’)

I didn’t like the world I lived in and being a minor, I couldn’t peace out and find a new one. I longed for the beautiful worlds I read in novels, where losers like me could win if they were pure of heart and where there was a soulmate for every lonely soul. When I played The Sims I’d make beautiful suitors. When I wrote stories they would have noble, emotionally intelligent men who would rescue their heroines from a manufactured dystopia.

In retrospect it has the veneer of an embarrassing fantasy. My earliest stories were a plea to the universe, to the man of my dreams, the hero waiting in the wings.

The man, the myth, the legend

The man I wanted to rescue me would have been stormy, too serious with flashes of humor he’d only share with the most intimate of friends. He’d be bookish and have a keen interest in music. Others would describe him as striking, but a bit intimidating. In other words, I had the hots for an emo intellectual with resting bitch face.

Even as I finally began to date actual boys, I still thought about this man. This sparse selection of actual boys ran a surprising gamut — musical class presidents, gamers who built drama sets and goofy sweet best friends. No dark and stormy, though.

Ten years later, after the rise and fall and rise of many men in my life, I think of this man for the first time in years. My hero never arrived. And, yet, I have shed the ache I felt as a girl. Instead of pleading the universe for completion, I feel a duty to take an active part in course-correcting it, in what small ways that I can.

I re-examine my descriptions of him and replace he with she. I realize that I am now this man. I skulk in bookstores and play sad songs on the ukulele. My mood can turn in an instant and I avoid light conversation. I am a little black raincloud with glimpses of levity. I have absorbed the man who was going to rescue me.

Manic pixie dreamboys

As women we are particularly taught that we are perfect in our incompleteness. I watched so many movies of women who have a hole in their life that only their hero can fix. Smart, successful women who are still barren wastelands until their Mr. Right comes along. While eligible bachelors are Dos Equis men and Old Spice charmers, well-travelled and strong, we are halves. We are fated to wander the Earth in search of the piece that will make us whole. We are clumsy rom-com heroes, manic pixie dreamgirls waiting to be discovered in hip cafes and dark bars.

The people we want to love, who we think will complete us — they are often versions of ourselves that we wish we could be. They are missing pieces that keep us from fully loving ourselves, from feeling complete. It stops us from real love, from seeking out people who understand us and challenge us to be better versions of ourselves.

If we can absorb the people we want to love, we make room for people who are real. These are lovely people with their very own complex stories. They are not our heroes. They are fascinating companions who Netflix, eat cookies, travel and sit with us.

The man I love today is no dark and stormy. He is intelligent and logical. He is emotionally stable and generally amiable unless he is hungry. He enjoys the company of friends and his job. When I show him something that makes me cry because I am overwhelmed with emotion, he examines it.

“There, there,” he says. Then he feeds me cookies and sits with me.