January 28th, 2003

rivka as ww

An essay

This is a thought I've had for a while. Comments, questions and additions all much appreciated.

Ode to the Floppy-Haired Boy

Floppy-haired boys (hereinafter FHBs) have been the light of many a woman’s life and the bane of her existence. Often at the same time. Women are especially vulnerable to the FHB spell in high school, when their self-absorption seems deep, their childishness charming, and their fear of commitment normal and, all-importantly, mutable.

But I should not sound so bitter. Life with a FHB has numerous rewards: the FHB is charming, gracious, an excellent conversationalist and easy on the eyes. He loves his mother and, by extension, loves women. (Sometimes too many and too well, but that’s to come.) In those glorious moments in which his focus is entirely on you, you seem to take on a bit of his golden glow.

A FHB is a wonderful companion in life, provided you can pull out of the tailspin of commitment-failure in time, find another lifetime partner, and remain detachedly engaged in the FHB’s neverending struggles for the perfect love – not you.

How can you identify the FHB? The following rules should help:

The FHB doesn’t mind beginning a relationship. But a FHB relationship never ends, at least not in the sense that other relationships do. You know your relationship with the FHB is over, mostly, when you discover him at another woman’s apartment. Possibly your college roommate’s. This indirect method of announcing a breakup occurs because the FHB is conflict-shy. A FHB, if he does say straight out that he doesn’t want to see you anymore, will retreat at the least pressing on your part and agree that, maybe, you could try again. He doesn’t mean that he wants to, but he’ll go through the motions as you go through the emotions.

FHBs are at least a little bit androgynous. Part of it is the physique: slender, boyish, often blonde. Part of it is the inherent flirtatiousness so central to the FHB personality. They might not be gay, but they might give you a gay thought.

FHBs don’t understand why they are attractive to women, though some of them do acknowledge their own attractiveness. More generally, FHBs, no matter how well trained, remain ignorant of the ways of women. Forget putting the toilet seat down – a FHB will never correlate mood swings with PMS, if he were to notice mood swings in the first place.

Hugh Grant plays FHBs. It’s not his fault (a repeated FHB theme) – after Four Weddings and a Funeral, he was the patron saint of FHBs. Shy, irresponsible, provoking the unrequited love of intense women, leaving it up to the woman to draw him out: his character was the ultimate FHB, down to proposing non-marriage to his beloved. It’s not just the characters he plays, though. Getting caught getting a blowjob when he had a girlfriend like Elizabeth Hurley was just the kind of thing a FHB does to avoid commitment.

Great FHBs of Literature:

Hamlet is a FHB. I don’t care if Olivier plays him; indecisiveness in intimate matters is the ne plus ultra of the FHB. Granted, usually the intimate matter is whom not to fuck anymore and not whom to kill, but the basics are there. And his treatment of Ophelia – dumping her after he’s won her – is total FHB, although Hamlet in his feigned madness is much more direct than the standard FHB tactics of avoidance, delay and denial.

Lord Peter Wimsey is perhaps the FHB. His major aberration is proposing marriage to Harriet Vane (and sticking around when she accepts), but the social realities of the day can explain this deviation. In the society in which they moved, being Harriet’s lover without being her husband would ruin her. No FHB would deliberately ruin the life of a woman he loves. That would spoil the fun of unintentionally doing so.

FHBs of fandom:

Fox Mulder is a FHB. Deep down, most FHBs believe that It Is Not Their Fault, and Mulder doesn’t have that characteristic, but the self-righteous ditch is practically diagnostic.

Spike is a FHB. He gelled it down for a while, but FHBishness will out regardless of what the actual H is doing. S7 Spike is moving away from FHB status, sadly, but getting a soul will do that to a guy.

Sam Seaborn is a FHB. Poor Ainsley Hayes. Josh Lyman is a fellow traveler, saved from FHBishness by his ability to make a total ass of himself in front of a woman he wants to impress, and not in a cute way. If he could be cute about it, he’d be a FHB, just like Hugh Grant.

Happy Angel is a FHB. Remember when Cordelia said he had gay man’s taste? The FHB in action. Dark Angel and Angelus are not FHBs.

Wesley – even Dark Wesley – is a FHB. You didn’t think he ended up with Lilah just to get laid, did you? A high-strung, intelligent brunette he can leave at the worst possible time is the FHB’s victim of choice.

Mal Reynolds is a FHB. That gleam in his eye, that oft-concealed but sharp wit, that thing he does where he makes eyes at Inara and then treats her worse than dirt - yeah, he's a proud member of the FHB crew.

Non-FHBs of fandom:

Krycek is not a FHB. While FHBs are all about collateral damage, when Krycek destroys it is generally on purpose.

Xander is not a FHB. While a stranger to the ways of women and afraid of commitment, he simply lacks the intellectual/pseudo-intellectual vibe that is an important FHB characteristic. Also, he shows deep emotion more readily than a FHB ought to. Perhaps most important, if Xander were a true FHB, Willow would still have a teensy little crush on him, even if she knew that she would never act on it.

Lex Luthor and Clark Kent are not FHBs. They'll commit until it kills them. In fact, they commit because it might kill them. "Unrequited" is not found in the FHB's dictionary.

John Crichton is not a FHB – he’s been damaged by the outside world, not his parents or the inscrutable workings of his own psyche (I'm not counting Harvey, because, again, that's externally imposed).

Jayne is not a FHB. But you knew that.