A Tough Act to Follow, or The Message in the Mixtape

As originally published on The Gaggle

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I am easily won over with a mixtape.

While the more tangible mixtape of the 80s is relatively extinct, the concept behind it is alive and well. I’m referring to when you’re gifted a musical playlist by that special someone, filled with random pop-hits and – if you’re lucky – a promise that he’ll make love to you, like you want him to as this mix provides the soundtrack to your falling for one another.  Better yet, for the communicatively challenged, the mixtape has been known to provide hints pertaining to your relationship; a sort of figurative progress report for your burgeoning young love.

The first time Peter Parker (my boo-thing) gave me a mixtape, he told me – point blank – not to read into any of the songs; not their titles, lyrics, not even a romantically fueled riff.  He was very clear that he had compiled this group of songs solely to present me with roughly an hour of easy listening.

Remember that bit of time in the beginning of your relationship back before you slept with your significant other?  That time you insisted on taking it slow to ensure it was real?  As if to suggest that if he could successfully withstand blue balls time and time again, he might be a keeper.  He was doing his own version of that to me.  He was emotionally cock-blocking me.  As if to suggest that if I could successfully accept his playlist as just a playlist and not an invitation to be his soul mate, I might be a keeper.

Read into those songs I did not.  But then the second mixtape arrived; a mixtape with no such disclaimer denying emotional responsibility.  Hot dog!

Mix #2 (the official title) has played at full volume and on repeat in my Ford Focus for six straight weeks.  Favorites include Boom! Clap! by Charli XCX (it should be noted that there are no exclamation points in the title of that song; I just wish there were), Bed Peace by Jhene Aiko/Childish Gambino (sexy/sexy), and a cover of Hall and Oats’ Maneater by Grace Mitchell (I may or may not have an issue with biting).

It was the inclusion of Simplethings by Miguel that had me just tickled though. In this song, Miguel – with his smooth, provocative tones – states “I don’t need a model / I don’t need a debutant / just be a tough act to follow / you know, a free spirit with a wild heart.”  I get lost in this song.  I roll my windows down, feel that hot, smoggy LA wind on my face, and think, you hear that Hollywood?!  He doesn’t need a model; he’s content with a socially awkward Midwestern comedy writer with big feet and a messy backseat! (That last part’s not a euphemism; the backseat of my Focus is just obscenely, embarrassingly messy.)

Just be a tough act to follow.

Do you know what kind of beautiful relationship advice this is to a young woman in the entertainment industry; to a young woman living and doing her best to thrive in Hollywood, the epicenter of all that is insecure and malnourished?

Don’t let the Kardashians fool you; this is such a horrible place for love.  We don’t all get to have our [second] televised dream wedding [in 3 years] to [everyone’s favorite cuddle monster] Kanye West.  Most of us are just aimlessly wandering love-hungry loons.  We’re doing all sorts of idiotic things like dating naked on VH1 or worse, believing The Bachelor/Bachelorette have something legitimate to offer by way of relationship advice.  We’re reading Cosmo as if it were Blow Jobs for Dummies and desperately designing profiles that convey we’re attractive, well-groomed, well-educated, employed, devoid of daddy-issues, all in (3) simple photographs.  Add one casual selfie in your best push up bra.  Please swipe right.

We’re lonely, mostly, I’d say; and starved for true human connection.  Worst of all, we’re inundated with widespread and easily accessible bad information on what it means to be a good girlfriend or boyfriend – as if it were that simple.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve worked very hard to embody “good girlfriend material” in your dating history.  I’ve been the cool girl, the girl who eats only salads, the girl who shaves herself to the likeness of a naked mole rat for optimum sexual appeal.  And I’ve done these sorts of things thinking they would guarantee me the kind of romance you see on the big screen.

In my last serious relationship – born out of the kind of forbidden, truest of true love that I couldn’t help but declare my own personal Nicholas Sparks’ mini-drama – we each worked very hard to epitomize the other’s perfect partner.  Five years of molding your own character to fit someone else’s would-be specifications leaves very little room for the kind of self-maintenance required to be a well-rounded, happy human being.  It’s the kind of behavior that makes you resent one another, and ultimately, sadly destroys your ability to work as a team.

Just be a tough act to follow.  A pretty common phrase in our vernacular and a pretty simple concept to grasp:  be so good that nothing could ever compare.  Love, like art, like entertainment, is entirely subjective; there is no right or wrong in any of it.  And how can you be that incomparable partner if you’re simply acting like everyone else and constructing a generic personality to someone else’s [or worse, society’s] criterion?  Answer is:  you can’t.

The best shot you have at being a tough act to follow is truly discovering what it means to be you, nurturing and glorifying your most unique features, and refusing ever to bring a less than honest version of yourself to the table.    This is what makes you incomparable and with that, I believe, affords your greatest shot at finding love that is grounded and true.

Be the type of person unafraid to admit you don’t like playing team sports if that’s the case; that never says “I don’t care where we eat” when you know what you really want for dinner is a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake.  If you want to be incredible in bed, put down the magazine and ask your partner what they like; and more importantly, show them what you like.  Be the type of person that stands for something, gets mad when its warranted, that sometimes need to shake off the bad days with an epic, solo dance party to the idiosyncratic mixtape that is your soul.  Yeah, I said it.  You owe it to yourself and to the ones you love.

Point taken, Miguel.  I’ll tell you one thing: this mixtape is going to be a tough act to follow.  Good luck, Parker.

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