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Slacker Guys and Striver Girls 

When lazy men become projects for career women

Wednesday, Nov 14 2007
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The nightmare seemed so real that Amy began sobbing in her sleep. In it, she learned she was pregnant with her then-boyfriend's baby. Only there was no nine months of pregnancy, no long-drawn-out labor. "It was just all of a sudden I'm pregnant and then, boom, there's the baby!" says Amy, a stunning blonde whose green-hazel eyes still widen with terror when she describes the dream.

The shock of having an insta-baby only grew when she realized the new arrival was about to spit up. So she asked her boyfriend, an avid snowboarder who also worked as a massage therapist, to get her a towel.

He didn't say a word. Instead, he simply wandered off to his friend's house to get stoned.

For a year and a half, Amy had accepted her beau's constant pot smoking. But she remembers that nightmare, which she had about four years ago, as the moment she realized it wasn't a good idea to be with him any longer. "He actually woke me up because I was crying in my sleep, and so I told him about the dream," says Amy, now 30. "And he said, 'That's not how it would be!'"

Her response: "No, I'm afraid that's how it is."

Amy, a Lower Pacific Heights resident who works part-time for a green realty company while studying to get her master's in business administration, is no gold-digger. The nightmare wasn't about her man's income — it was about his attitude.

Her bad dream was a scene straight out of this summer's blockbuster comedy Knocked Up, where a phenomenally attractive correspondent for the E! television channel (played by blonde bombshell Katherine Heigl) and a bong-loving slacker dude (played by Seth Rogen) start a relationship after a drunken one-night stand results in an accidental pregnancy.

Chances are even those who missed director Judd Apatow's hit already know the storyline: A lost but lovable slacker meets the overachieving hottie of his dreams. He struggles, wrestling with urges to sink deeper into his prolonged adolescence with his crew of juvenile but good-hearted buddies. His choice eventually comes down to growing up or losing his love interest.

This trendy plotline has had a stranglehold on recent romantic comedies — especially over the summer movie season. It was dubbed the "slacker-striver" genre by film critic David Denby in a July article in The New Yorker titled "A Fine Romance: The new comedy of the sexes." In his essay, he contrasts today's romantic comedies with those of the past such as It Happened One Night, His Girl Friday, and Adam's Rib, in which lovers actually come together once they become equals. That was, he says, before the lazy lout became a romantic hero, at a time when movies were made in which "men wanted something." As Denby sees it, in today's slacker-striver movies, women are portrayed as vehicles whose "only real function is to make the men grow up."

Recently, pop culture has been turning increasing numbers of women into the romantic saviors. Think of films like High Fidelity, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, About a Boy, Wedding Crashers, and Failure to Launch. In these fantasy films, the slacker dudes often undergo a rapid transformation, fast enough to drive (or run, or sail) off into the sunset with the gorgeous striver girl. On television shows like According to Jim and King of Queens, slacker dudes play the lazy husbands who somehow convinced smart, gorgeous women to marry them.

What about in real life? Don't count on it, slackers. I say the jig is up.

Women like Amy, who is now dating another M.B.A. student, have learned their lessons about dating slackers. While she finds movies like Knocked Up really funny, she knows better than to confuse it with real life. She's figured out what many in San Francisco, not to mention Hollywood, need to realize: A girl who's going places is simply too busy to try to raise her boyfriend, even one who has "potential."

That's right, slacker dudes: Smart striver girls are just not that into you.


Before we go any further, let's get a few definitions out of the way. First, let's address the strivers. Strivers are those who tend to work hard, have ambition, take responsibility for their actions, and often have personal and professional goals in mind. (Become an excellent athlete, learn to cook, be a good parent, fight for environmental justice, win a Pulitzer Prize. That sort of thing.)

Just as there are varieties of strivers, there are also numerous brands of slackers. There are the relationship slackers — those who can't commit, or who are comfortable in relationships only if their partners are making most of the sacrifices and doing the lion's share of the work. There are the career slackers — who may be unemployed, borrow money with no clear repayment plan in order, or simply scrape by while working in aimless jobs without side ambitions or passions to speak of. Don't forget the bad-boy slackers, who use their wrong-side-of-the-tracks mystique to lure women — whether they're holed up in San Quentin or living large in the suburbs. And, of course, there are the Knocked Up–style stoner slackers. What binds them together is what you might describe as a Peter Pan–inspired, man-boy approach to life.

Meghan, a San Franciscan who clocked about four years with her last slacker boyfriend, has clearly put some thought into the whole "What is a slacker?" issue. She further divides them into categories of "resistant" and "responsive" slackers. Resistants, she says, are those who either refuse to admit they have slackage issues, or won't change or do anything about them; responsives are those who are open to growth, change, or improvement. Whatever flavor she's dealing with, Meghan describes the bottom line as whether the person is ready to change. "That's all there is to it," she says. "They have to want to do it and to grow up. And quit the Peter Pan shit."

Meghan, 41, describes her ex-boyfriend as the epitome of all slackers: a "fashion slacker," a "relationship slacker" (he was noncommittal), and a "professional slacker" (he was unemployed throughout much of their relationship). "He was a 360-degree slacker," she says. But it wasn't his unkempt, shaggy hair or his lack of interest in his appearance that bothered Meghan as much as the months he spent unemployed, especially because he had three master's degrees. "Six months went by without him getting a job, and then it was nine months," she says. "Then it was a year. And, then, you know, it blew me away."

About The Author

Mary Spicuzza

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