[*Note: for the time being, this column will go over to a monthly format while I spend some time Arkansasing with my actual boyfriend, Brent.]
I think it’s pretty normal to have romantic fantasies about a type of person you wouldn’t realistically want to get romantic with. You’ll hear a lot about women who have burglar fantasies, but they don’t actually want a guy to break into their home. John Mayer thought it would be fun to go out with Jennifer Love Hewitt, and vice versa, before cruel reality descended In the same way, I have a thing Jason Segel’s needy, obsessive television characters while also recognizing that I would want to murder all of them if they were my boyfriends in ordinary life.
The other night, as I was flipping channels because I’ve already seen every true murder mystery show this season, I landed on a rerun of the Undeclared episode in which Segel’s leech of a boyfriend Eric tries to woo back his cheating girlfriend by constructing her a gigantic heart out of photocopied pictures of the two. He’s already given her a pillowcase printed with his head in profile so she can fall asleep “facing” him every night, and he calls a million times a day— just try to watch a movie in peace. He wears Jesus sandals; his facial hair looks like it smells like lentils. BUT, as played by Jason Segel, there’s something so unhinged about Eric that it crosses over into charm, and I start thinking, “Well, you’ve got to admire the sheer intensity of his passion.” And you don’t. You really don’t. If he were there, in the flesh, sobbing in your dorm’s showers and wedging himself and his infinite needs into your extra-long twin dorm bed, the psychic weight would be so unbearable that even a year abroad in the country farthest from his copy shop wouldn’t be enough to escape the distinct sensation that he’d taken the fetal position inside your brain. BUT because Jason Segel is Eric, somehow that clinginess is so raw that it charges right across the line into sexy.
It’s the same with his character from Freaks and Geeks. Does it sound great to have a guy sing to you? Hey, yeah, from a distance it does. When I watch Segel as Nick sing Styx’s “Lady” to a clearly ambivalent Lindsay, it frustrates me that she doesn’t seem to understand how cute and earnest and vulnerable he is, and I think she’s fucking nuts for not wanting to be his girlfriend. That is, until I think about how much I loathe being sung to, being read poetry to, being read anything to, and I realize how pinned I would feel were I sitting on that basement couch amidst all those nakedly optimistic candles— it would be ten times what I experience when musical theater performers break the fourth wall come down into the aisles to try to get me to clap or dance. You know how they say that some Native Americans believe that cameras have the power to steal your soul? Well, that’s how I feel about the eyes of a person who’s staring directly at you while he’s reciting something, musical or not. I might even feel the same way about someone staring at me while playing Peter Gabriel on a boom box, if that person’s gaze was a sand trap of need.
In the beginning with Brent, it was the opposite of this fantasy construction: I thought I wouldn’t realistically want to get romantic with him because of the unappealing character I imagined him to be. Before I met him in person, I’d seen a couple of photos and a YouTube performance reel that he’d tried to hide from me by emailing from a joke Gmail account, except Gmail automatically supplied his name in the sender line. The first photo showed him up on a stage, holding a microphone, and for whatever reason, I took away the impression that he was doing improv, and I thought, “He’s going to be doing bits at the table, and he’s going to need a response from me. Even worse, he’s going to need a starting word.” In the second photo he wore a black zipper knit, and for whatever reason, in my mind this choice said “magician.” I thought, “He is the kind of person who behaves like a magician at a party.” BUT Brent was very persistent about us meeting in real life, and when we finally did (and when he didn’t pull a coin from my ear), I knew right away he was one of my kind. And by the time we walked away that morning, I had a sneaky feeling that he wasn’t going to steal my soul, but help me get a little bit more of one instead.