Note: I have a bunch of non-fiction pieces I wrote a while ago that have been languishing on my computer in nowhereville, so I'm going to post them here over the next few weeks before they become utterly obsolete. This is the first.
Lloyd Dobler is real.
Unfortunately, Vince Vaughn from Swingers is real, too. Vince Vaughn from Swingers is half the reason a lot of us can’t find our Lloyd Doblers. One time, in a restaurant, a guy came up to me and said, “I think you should go out with me because you’re cool and I’m cool and we’d be cool together.” Putting aside my awareness that this might be the single most uncool statement ever made, the only reason I finally agreed to a date with him at all was because it was clear he wasn’t going to let me enjoy my dinner with the girls until I agreed about our mutual coolness. This was a mistake. If a guy ever comes up to you and tells you he’s a dentist and an actor, and that he’s cool and you’re cool and you’d be cool together, turn right around and walk briskly in the opposite direction. The Vince Vaughn from Swingers of the world might very well be able to pull this off, but I am sure it’s only because he isn’t also a dentist. If Vince Vaughn from Swingers had been in Say Anything, I’m sure he would have tried to messed with Lloyd Dobler’s head just like he messed with Jon Favreau from Swingers’ head (“You have to wait a week before you call”) just like the Vince Vaughn from Swingers of the real world are out there messing with the heads of a lot of other perfectly nice guys inclined to call whenever the spirit of calling moves them and not at some predetermined calling time. But it took four whole dudes at the Gas n’ Sip to try to convince Lloyd Dobler that he had to “go out, find another girl who looks like Diane, you gotta nail her, and then you gotta dump her, man,” and since they failed, I doubt Vince Vaughn from Swingers could do it either. That’s the difference between Lloyd Dobler and Jon Favreau from Swingers. Lloyd Dobler knows who he is and he knows what he wants.
I know Lloyd Dobler is real because he lives in my house. He also lives in Sue’s house, and Megan’s house and Anne’s house and also in Caren’s house and a lot of my other friend’s houses, which leads me to believe he has residences all over the country as well.
I didn’t always believe this.
I wanted to, but I didn’t really, not until he moved into my house. In my house he goes by the name of Ben Brandt, but I am not fooled. He is my own personal Lloyd Dobler.
My Lloyd Dobler never gave me a blue letter, never held a boombox playing In Your Eyes outside my window and knows better than to try to teach me to drive a stick. My Lloyd Dobler is tall, though, and he doesn’t sell anything bought or processed and doesn’t process anything sold or bought. I can’t say for sure if he’s ever bought anything processed or sold, but I know he doesn’t do it for a living. Also, unlike Say Anything Lloyd Dobler, he knows what he wants to do for a living, and I am not it. But he has a spectacular talent for making me feel as though, like movie Lloyd, being with me is what he’s good at.
Okay, let me sidebar for a while here. If you’re a guy, like a lot of guys, I am sure you have strong opinions about how Lloyd Dobler has ruined your life. I just read an article that argued that Lloyd Dobler was a stalker on account of the boombox moment. Mmmm, I don’t think so. One boombox does not a stalker make, and if that’s stalking, sign me up. This is at best, a weak example of a guy trying to excuse his unDoblerness. Deep down, I am sure most guys know that Lloyd Dobler is every girl’s dream, and that they are not that, and many of them are probably right. This is not just any romantic comedy. This is a romantic comedy with the model for what a guy should be. And let me say that with all due respect to John Cusack (whose name I hesitate to use here, because I want to be clear about differentiating between Lloyd Dobler, who I know a lot about, and John Cusack, who I know nothing about except for he’s from Chicago, which is definitely in his favor, but which in and of itself tells me very little about John Cusack’s character, and of course does not account for the fact that plenty of non-Lloyd Doblers are from Chicago, most of whom drink MGD and call it MGD and hang out at places like the Cubby Bear and put shorts and flip-flops on on the first sixty-degree day in March and can quote most of Caddyshack at will), Mr. Cusack, who is plenty cute, is certainly not the cutest guy who ever lived. Lloyd Dobler, however, just might be, and although they do bear a striking physical similarity, if this hasn’t occurred to you already, it is his Lloyd Doblerness that makes him supremely cute. Let me also add that although I know nothing about John Cusack, I would imagine he must find himself in a dating conundrum of epic proportions due to having played Lloyd Dobler, because it seems that almost no girl on the face of the earth has not loved Lloyd Dobler, and so imagine if you’re the guy who played Lloyd Dobler, knowing that you are really John Cusack but that women want you to be and believe you to be Lloyd Dobler, it would seem to me that he, like every other famous actor, would be left with only one option romantically, which would be to date other celebrities who “understand” him, although I can’t think of even one movie in which there was a female equivalent of Lloyd Dobler (which is not to say that there isn’t a long list of excellent female characters, just not any that are equivlent to Lloyd Dobler and frankly if there were, it might not be such a good thing, because a woman who was uniquely good at loving a man might be considered a step back, feminism-wise, although frankly, as I write this, it certainly seems noble enough to me, and perhaps I will write that story myself). Although I suspect that even other celebrity women have their feelings about Lloyd Dobler, leaving him in the truly unique situation of having to weed out a lot of women who don’t want John Cusack for John Cusack the person and not the Lloyd Dobler. That said, he has the best possible chance anyone could have for becoming Lloyd Doblerish if he so chose, if he doesn’t already happen to be the best guy ever, for obvious reasons. I’m not saying I feel sorry for him, and maybe he has that other thing I never understood, where people don’t care if other people like them for the right reasons, like men who attract women because they’re “powerful?” What’s that all about? If Donald Trump singlehandedly erased AIDS, poverty and terrorism worldwide, yeah, I might rethink him as a human being, but I still wouldn’t want to have sex with him. I’m just saying that if let’s say John Cusack would kick the glass away from your path but he wouldn’t call you by Wednesday for a Saturday night date, it’s not like he couldn’t decide to call by Wednesday. That’s the whole point. Anyone can. It’s just not that hard to be like Lloyd Dobler. I’d almost argue it’s easier to be a nice guy than it is to put the effort into being a poser or a full-on Vince Vaughn from Swingers. (I feel the need to mention right now that I have been referring to him as Vince Vaughn from Swingers not just because I don’t know his character’s name, but because unlike Lloyd Dobler, his character was so fully the anti-Dobler that I don’t want to know his name.) If they had cast, let’s say, Brad Pitt or Jude Law as Lloyd Dobler, I doubt I’d have any awareness of the name Lloyd Dobler at all, much less the concept of Lloyd Dobler. It would be theoretical, and I might have little hope at all that anything resembling a nice guy I wanted to have sex with existed. By now you have surely realized that I will use the name Lloyd Dobler as many times as possible because listen to it, it’s positively musical.
What I’m saying is that anyone can be Lloyd Dobler. (Okay, I’m ruling out serial killers and child molesters, obviously.) It’s a choice. You know how Lloyd says to his sister near the beginning, “Get in a good mood! How hard is it to just decide to be in a good mood and be in a good mood?” It’s as simple as this. Be Lloyd Dobler! How hard would it be to just decide to be Lloyd Dobler and be Lloyd Dobler? It turns out, bad boys are overrated. No, for real. My friends and I, with a collective ridiculous number of frequent flier miles on Angst Boy Air, enough to circle the globe ninety bajillion times, have unilaterally turned the corner on this. Well, okay, let me say those of us who are over twenty-seven, and speaking for myself only, it took me a little bit more research, like about another decade than everyone else, but I’ve always been slow. Like Lloyd’s best friend Corey (played by the brilliant Lili Taylor), we have all been with our share of Joes, although our songs may not be as memorable. Joes do lie when they cry. They do like gi-hirls with names like Ashley. They may not hang out at the Gas n’ Sip, but do not be fooled. If they do not kick the glass out of your path, if they do not look at you like you are Diane Court in the flesh, move right along, friends, nothing to see there.
Lloyd Doblers are layered. I could quote pages of the dialogue in Say Anything, which is, I daresay, genius, but really, that would require way too many pages. Half of what’s amazing about this movie isn’t even in the dialogue, it’s in Lloyd Dobler’s eyes. Think about the iconic scene where Lloyd is holding up the boombox. Visually, it’s a striking one, even from a distance. But take a good long look at his face. There are a million things going on on Lloyd’s face in this scene. Heartbreak. Longing. Fear. Regret. Determination. This scene alone, even a still shot from this scene, I propose, warrants an honorary Oscar for John Cusack somewhere down the road when the Oscar-giving people come to their senses. Lloyd Dobler knows he isn’t in Diane Court’s league, but he also knows that very few people are at their age. He knows he’s nineteen and that everyone doesn’t have their life mapped out at nineteen and that he’s not a college kind of guy but that he’s looking for a “dare-to-be-great situation” and in the meantime he’s just gonna hang with Diane.
I realize a lot of people will argue the exact opposite of what I’m about to say now, but hear me out. Romantic movies, comedies more than dramas, often, I agree, have probably sent a Cinderella-ish message to the women of our culture that sets perhaps unreasonably high expectations in terms of what we want in a man (although as with the power thing, I’m not going to start on women who want rich men or giant penises, because I have no idea what that’s about beyond what it seems to be about, which I can’t really process), which is basically – everything. Looks, charm, brains, humor, success, kindness. Yes, we don’t necessarily choose men who meet more than one of these criteria at a time. Some of us are easily distracted by someone with only one of the above, if it’s outstanding enough, and we’ll overlook a penchant for excessive pot-smoking if let’s say the guy in question plays bass for our favorite indie rock band. Or we’ll pretend we’re okay with the relationship being “undefined” if the guy sends especially funny emails every other day even though he doesn’t make plans more than one night a month, usually at four-thirty on a Saturday afternoon for the same night – to just “hang out.” Poor choices aside, more than anything, we want to be romanced, to be swept off our feet, as they say, and a lot of us find ourselves single longer than we planned to be because it hasn’t happened yet, because life isn’t like a movie. There is an argument to be made that moderately nice and successful are enough. But many of us hold out and as we hold out, our grandmothers and other people tell us we’re too picky.
Which is so wrong on a million levels. I have always thought that a lot of us aren’t nearly picky enough. I have seen more than a few good friends of mine date men who stop just short of hitting them, and frankly, the verbal abuse dealt out by these people is no less brutal. I myself have dated one in particular who was given to unkind words, but even at my lowest point I had very little tolerance for this. Me, when the “c” word comes up, I tend to hang up the phone. I have, however, enjoyed any number of boyfriends who were emotionally unavailable. For years this seemed to be the only way I could classify my “type.” I’ve always said that if I were somehow able to gather everyone I’ve ever dated into one room, after getting over the initial shock of the vast number of mistakes I’ve made, I would defy anyone to say that I had a physical type, or what it was that any of these dudes had in common. I hoped against hope that at some point these men would avail themselves emotionally, but no. They had a unique inclination to avail themselves emotionally to someone else, however, disconcertingly often the very next girl who came along. So I waited. I waited while relatives undoubtedly wondered if I was gay (and if so, why didn’t I have a girlfriend?), seriously messed up, or neuter, I waited through a lot of loneliness, I waited through life moments wonderful and terrible, I waited through dry spells heretofore unimagined, and the wait was worth it, but I will say forever, I will never know now how long I would have continued to wait, when the loneliness would have been too much, enough for me to settle in some way, but I know I had at least a few more years of waiting in me.
Okay, I’m coming around to the rest of my point. This is what I’ve learned from Lloyd Dobler, which is a concept I formerly opposed rather vehemently. Need is good. It was once a source of extremely misguided pride on my part that I could take care of myself and that I needed no one, thank you very much, which is pretty funny I’m sure if you even just ask Nina for one, about what I like to call “The Codependent Years,” which ran approximately from eighth grade, when I scheduled all my classes to match hers because I was terrified of being in a class without her, ending sometime in the early nineties. I once briefly dated a guy who told me that if a girl said to him the words “I need” or “I want” it didn’t matter what followed, that it was the biggest possible turn on. This stuck in my craw for a long time, but I always had a hard time differentiating between “need” and “needy,” which drives me insane. It turns out they are not the same. Needy is not what I’m talking about. Lloyd Dobler made me understand the difference. There’s a scene in the kickboxing studio where Diane Court comes back to Lloyd after she’s broken up with him and finds out her dad has been embezzling money from old people. Appropriately wary, he says to her, “Are you here because you need someone or because you need me? Nevermind, I don’t care.” Thankfully, she says she needs him, which is a crucial distinction. In real life, if you only need someone? You can always find someone. Someone is a lot of people. Eight million dating websites indicate as much. Here is what I have learned. We all need someone, but it’s much better to need the right someone. We do not live in a vacuum. People who do not need people, not to go totally Streisand on you, are few and far between and tend to make bombs out of sagebrush and write manifestoes on their plans for the destruction of humankind. Everyone needs help. We all have friends, we all ask them for favors, we all pay someone to do things we don’t know how to do or couldn’t possibly do without making costly mistakes, like filling out tax forms. Relationships, it turns out are no different. I didn’t realize this until after I got married, of course, actually I didn’t realize it until I watched Say Anything again for the twenty-fourth time the other day. I do not need my husband to brush my teeth for me, although he did it once, and although there’s some chance in the hopefully distant future where one or the other of us might need to help the other do so. As for the difference between need and needy, I also do not need my husband to stand next to me for the duration of a dinner party, I do not need him to tell me he’s stopping at Stanley’s for a bag of apples on the way home and I do not need him to tell me the exact longitude and latitude of his location at any given moment. I do not need him to wash my dishes or do my laundry (although I suspect he might need me for those things) or even take out the trash and mop the floors (although I am grateful that he does) and I do not need him to read my mind (although he’s uncannily good at it anyway) and I do not need him to be anything he isn’t already, because, well, because he’s my Lloyd Dobler. I need him because he’s Ben Brandt. I need him because he fills my life with love and joy and giggles and art and goofy songs and I need him because he’s that thing that being Betsy Crane just isn’t quite enough without.
Wait for Lloyd Dobler. Lloyd Dobler would beat Vince Vaughn from Swingers in a fight in like, one round and that’s even if you put an eyepatch on him and gave Vince Vaughn from Swingers the weapon of your choice and maybe a superpower.
As an alternative, The Pickle Man from Crossing Delancey is close. He may not have hit it quite as big as Lloyd, but he’s from the same school. They’re out there.