A Brief History of Fictional Women Falling in Love With Fictional Men Who Don't Give a Sh*t
Jill Soloway's new show, I Love Dick, based on Chris Kraus' 1997 memoir-ish book of the same name, explores a relationship where a woman is passionately infatuated with a man and the man... could really care less. He accepts the attention as his due, but is mildly confused at the woman's passion for him. He, ultimately, is not worth this woman's time but she can't seem to get him out of her thoughts.
Soloway calls the show a chance for the "female gaze," or "a woman returning the [male] gaze," of becoming a subject instead of an object. By showing her affections loudly and proudly, partly because they're not being returned or even acknowledged, Chris (Kathryn Hahn) becomes the subjective gaze on her object of affection, Dick (Kevin Bacon). It's a tale as old as time, and one that people would rather not see. Girl meets boy, boy ignores girl, then maybe sleeps with her, then ignores her, then remembers she's around, then forgets again and lives his life. Girl yearns for this punk the whole time, despite his complete indifference to her existence. Which, GIRL.
Anyone who has a passion for stories knows this has been a regular theme in the history of human heterosexuality, but so often we hear and see it from a man's point-of-view. The guys might be rewarded with returned affections. Woman in the same situations are often seen as foolish and open to judgment. But there are predecessors to I Love Dick -- dating way, way back.
The Greek Myth of Narcissus and Echo, c. 900 - 800 B.C.
The story of Narcissus and Echo is one of those Greek myths that you immediately recognize because it contributed words to the English language. It's also one of those terrible romantic tragedies the ancient Greeks were so proud of, ripe with adultery (and without the usual incest). Basically, nymph Echo saw god Zeus cheating on his wife, the goddess Hera. Echo tried to distract the queen, but Hera found out anyway, and cursed Echo to be only able to repeat any words spoken to her, which did not help her snag her love, Narcissus, who only had eyes for himself. Echo desperately hoped for Narcissus to tell her he loved her so she could repeat it, but before that could happen, she died, leaving only her voice. Meanwhile, Narcissus was so in love with himself he died staring into a pond looking at his reflection, after which he turned into a flower, and a personality disorder.
Hamlet, c. 1599-1602
It's hard to watch Ophelia throw herself to Hamlet's feet over and over again while he insults her, ignores her, and treats her like shit. He's not even there for her when her dad dies! You want to get Ophelia out of there, but like, that "To be or not to be" speech works. It's hard to shake a guy who philosophizes about life and has a lot of feelings. Of course, this means it's only after Ophelia commits suicide by drowning herself does Hamlet confess his love. Then again, he also holds up an old friend's actual skull and waxes political about him, so maybe the philosophizing was more... madness?
The Lady of Shalott, c. 1833-1842
This poem, based on an Arthurian legend, is about a woman who is stuck in a tower and unable to look at anyone beyond a mirror facing the window, as a mysterious curse will beset her otherwise. But apparently Sir Lancelot was hot enough to literally turn her head, as she looks directly at him, causing her to die. What the hell? Does Lancelot even see her? We can't really blame the guy for this one. Mistakes were made.
The Little Mermaid, 1837
The Disney version ends with marriage, but Hans Christian Andersen's original story is a doozy of a tragedy. The mermaid does fall in love with her human from afar, but even after giving up her tail for an excruciatingly painful life with legs, she doesn't have nearly the same luck as Ariel. Instead, the object of her affections marries the woman he believed saved him, and lives a normal life, while the mermaid pines herself to death. The "happy" ending is one of love and sacrifice; the mermaid's spirit becomes an eternal human soul and go to heaven... after 300 years of doing good things for mankind. Is this the worst story, or is it the worst story?
Wuthering Heights, 1847
I first read Wuthering Heights in English class, but really, such a book should be taught in sex ed as an example of HOW NOT TO DATE, EVER. You might think I'm referring to Catherine and Heathcliff, who were siblings and childhood sweethearts (Heathcliff was adopted), except that they were desperately in love with each other for all time in a way that destroyed all the people around them. Catherine loved Heathcliff, but ultimately married her rich, fancy neighbor, Edgar Linton. In anger, Heathcliff flirts with Edgar's sister Isabella, eventually eloping with her and creating an even more poisonous marriage than Catherine and Edgar's. As they elope, Heathcliff hangs Isabella's poor dog off a gate to see if she's at all deterred by his true character. Instead, she's completely blinded by her love. But... the dog...
Fatal Attraction, 1987
As Allison P. Davis writes at The Cut, "unhinged psycho stalker" movies like Fatal Attraction are the "lowbrow I Love Dick," when a guy not giving a shit about a woman turns to violence. On the I Love Dick side, there's the "How can you dismiss me, when I've got all this passion for you?" On the unhinged psycho stalker side, it's "How dare you ignore me? Guess I've got to channel this passion somehow... "
The Office, 2005
Our first glimpse into the psyche of Mindy Kaling's Kelly is when Jim is relegated to the back of the office, in the cubicle where Kelly is left because she (much like Echo) is a total chatterbox. Ryan comes by and Kelly goes quiet till he leaves and immediately bombards poor Jim with questions, making him talk to Ryan for her. The couple explodes into a not-really-relationship from there, when they hook up on Valentine's Day. Afterwards it crashes and burns and re-ignites over and over and over again. Kelly clearly just wants a boyfriend. Ryan doesn't want to be that boyfriend. Kelly also craves the drama. Ryan acts like he doesn't want that either. However, even if she knows Ryan doesn't care, Kelly enjoys going crazy over him and Ryan equally relishes fueling the crazy. Healthy? Definitely not. But you just can't look away.