Learn From This: Pretty In Pink

You can’t really talk about taking the wrong lessons from romantic comedies without talking about the ouvre of John Hughes. No one person – with the possible exceptions of Cameron Crowe and Nora Ephron – have done more psychic damage to impressionable nerds with the messages about love, requited and otherwise. Naturally I was going to have to cover him for Learn From This. Now, rather than try to pick from the rich tapestry of mixed messages and bad advice, I left it up to the readers on the Facebook page and Twitter feed to decide which John Hughes movie I should cover because I was only ever going to do one.

With the exception of a couple of smart-asses who voted for St. Elmo’s Fire (Joel Schumacher doing his best John Hughes impression), Curly Sue and the Home Alone series ( ha ha, it is to laugh, ho ho, very funny) Pretty In Pink won out easily.

It’s not terribly surprising; it’s easily Hughes’ most popular, even iconic movie, one that latched it’s hooks into an entire generation of 80s kids and managed to continue it’s hold nearly 30 years later.

But let’s face it: ya’ll aren’t hear to listen to me talk about the odd ideas of what constitutes shameful poverty (their house is paid for, she has her own car, there’s never any sign that Andi’s family is having issues keeping the lights on or food on the table), social stratification between the haves and the have-nots (which seems mostly to be about who gets to wear oversized linen suits to school) or the struggles of a young proto-hipster trying to date a rich kid where the only issues keeping them apart are painfully artificial and paper thin, or even my long-standing crush on Molly Ringwald.

Nope. Be honest.

Ya’ll are wanting me to talk about the Patron Saint of the Friend Zone: Philip “Duckie” Dale.


The Martyrdom of the Platonic Friend

As much as the movie is about Andie (Molly Ringwald) trying to negotiate the snobbish dickery of the rich kids at her high-school while dating Blaine (Andrew McCarthy), a not-insignificant portion of the film is devoted to the heartfelt suffering of poor, poor Duckie (John Cryer). Duckie’s plight was a mini cause-celebre amongst self-identified hopeless romantics. In fact, in an earlier cut of the film (reportedly Hughes’ preferred vision) had Andie getting together with Duckie at the end; this tested poorly with audiences and carried the unfortunate implication that people should ultimately only date within their social class.  Thus a last-minute re-shoot has Andie dating Blane and Duckie getting a consolation prize in the form of an uncredited Kristy Swanson. Hughes would later go on to try to correct this in a gender-inverted followup “Some Kind of Wonderful”, a movie that ultimately ended his working relationship with Ringwald.

Now I will admit: having seen this at a younger age1 , I could easily identify with Duckie’s plight; god knows I’d cast myself into the Friend Zone enough times. But looking at the movie with a more mature and more experienced eye, it’s impossible to not notice all of the ways that Duckie manages to screw himself over as he tries to clown his way out of the friend zone and into Andie’s heart.

Well… at least until he becomes comfortable enough with himself to admit that he’s gay, but that’s another matter.

He’s one “What, what WHAT are you doing??” away from being the “Sassy Gay Friend”

In many ways, Duckie is the prototype for the “platonic best friend” character who is always pining away for the girl who only sees him like a brother, paving the way for characters like Steve Urkel (Family Matters), Nick (Youth in Revolt), Jacob (Twilight), Xander (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Ross (Friends), Ted (How I Met Your Mother) and almost every nerd who’s ever had a crush on his childhood friend.

The problem is: Duckie’s kind of an asshole. So we’re going to be doing things a little differently this time. This time, what we can learn from this is how not to act.

Proximity Doesn’t Work Like That

Duckie seems to take the attitude that many love-struck nerds do: that the best way to win a woman’s favor is to insinuate yourself into her life as much as humanly possible; that way she’ll realize that she couldn’t possibly see a life without you and that she’s really been in love with you all along.

Unfortunately, while in rom-coms this can seem quirky and appealing, in the real world… well, it comes off as clingy and needy at best.

Duckie does himself no favors here. By insisting on hanging around Andie at every possible opportunity, he’s only making himself look like an annoying little brother who thinks it’s funny to bother her at work by repeatedly setting off the alarm in order to get her attention, calling and leaving messages on her answering machine 20 times in a row (with less than a minute between calls), using studying with Andie as a way to try to force her into spending more time with him.

Later on, he graduates to increasingly unsettling, even creepy behavior, riding his bike back and forth in front of her house for hours – hundreds of times by his own estimation – then following her all the way to Chinatown just to stand out on the street-corner and stare up at the window of Iona’s apartment. What he intends to accomplish by doing this is hard to say; call her to the window via telepathy where she will see him, realize just how hurt he is and be swept up in waves of sympathy that lead to sloppy makeouts in the back of her car?

The film wants us to feel sorry for Duckie, who, in the narrative of the film, is losing both his best friend and the woman he’s been in love with for most of his life.

In the real world, this is the sort of behavior that ends with a judge telling you that you now have to keep at least 500 yards away from someone or they get to call the cops.

Learn To Read The Signs. Learn To Accept The Truth.

There are undoubtedly those who feel that Duckie was cruelly used by Andie, lead on by all of those times when she tells him how wonderful she thinks he is and how she can’t imagine what they’re going to do without seeing each other 20 times a day or more. Anyone who has found themselves in the Friend Zone has almost certainly had similar conversations with their own crushes, carrying elation of “she cares for me” with the heartbreak of “like a brother”. But for all of the ways that Andie lets Duckie know that she does care for him, there’s no question that she’s not that into him… he’s just refusing to see.

At no point does Andie ever indicate a non-platonic interest in him. She rolls her eyes at his compliments, never cracks a smile at his only-joking-if-she-says-no come-ons. She doesn’t hold hands with him, touch him other than to smack him for being stupid or give him the big goofy grin she gives just at the thought of Blane.

Hell, the fact that she goes to a club that she knows won’t let him should, by all rights, be a huge sign by anybodys reckoning. When the person you’re in love with goes out of her way to go to a place where you can’t follow, it’s a pretty big clue that she’s trying to get away from you.

And on some level, Duckie knows this; this is why he spends so much time trying to convince himself that today is going to be the day that he finally confesses his love to Andie…. and chokes every time. He knows damn good and well deep down that the answer is going to be “I don’t like you that way,” and he’d much rather keep the illusion of hope alive rather than deal with the harsh reality that his crush is ultimately going nowhere.

I’ve said it before: sometimes you have to accept that people aren’t going to love you the way you love them. You can’t always escape the friend zone, and the sooner you can accept that, the happier you will be, ultimately.

Duckie doesn’t, which leads to…

Familiarity Doesn’t Breed Contempt. Whinging Does.

It’s one thing to know, deep down, that Andie isn’t going to love him back the way he wants her too. He – like many nerds before him – has convinced himself that he’s ok with just loving her from afar, being her friend and dwelling in the melancholy that makes him so special in the movie in his own mind.

As soon as he realizes that Andie is starting to show interest in somebody else, Duckie loses his shit. His attempts to capture Andie’s heart – or at least her attention – takes on a desperate quality. There’s a manic gleam in his eye as he realizes that Andie being involved with somebody else means that he’s going to be forced to acknowledge that it’s just never going to happen and he just. Can’t. Take it.

This ultimately culminates in a fight with Andie at her job when he realizes she’s planning on going out on a date with the dreaded Blane. He appeals to her sense of working-class solidarity and the us-vs-them mentality she’d been cultivating over the course of the movie before having a full-on tantrum and breaking up with her as a friend.

Pro tip: ending a friendship because somebody has the temerity to date someone (who is not you) says a lot about the true nature of your friendship. Duckie is willing to throw a lifetime of friendship under the bus because of his own selfishness, which carries the rather strong hint that he’s only friends with her because he’s been waiting all this time for her to finally fall in love with him. Nobody appreciates friendship under false pretenses.

But even if we allow for the fact that Andie and Duckie have a genuine friendship and not one built on a base of fundamental dishonesty, Duckie’s behavior later don’t make things any better. After finally getting in to Cat’s (with Iona’s help), he acts like a child when Andie and Blane show up. Andie is willing to forgive and forget; Duckie, on the other hand, graduates from annoying to full-blown pathetic asshole. He starts off by pointedly giving Andie the silent treatment and then compounds it by acting like a dick to Blane whose only crime is being the person Andie wants instead.

Let me tell you, there’s nothing women find sexier than a grown-ass man acting like a sulky child.

Turn on your droolers, girls!

Oh, and he also assaults someone for insulting Andie. Because there’s no bigger turn-on than acting like a psychopath.

It’s Only By Letting Go That We Can Move On

By the end of the movie, Duckie has made peace with the fact that his love for Andie is one-sided. She may not love him the way that he wants, but she does love him as best that she can – and he’s willing to accept this. Pushing her towards Blane may hurt… but ultimately, if he wants to be a real friend to Andie, it’s the only thing he can do.

The fact that he’s immediately rewarded by a director’s attempt to clean up the romantic loose ends is an accelerated version of what ultimately would happen in real life.

In the movie, he turns around to find Kristy Swanson waiting for him. In the real world, there would be a painful adjustment period where he mourned the loss of a dream and slowly begin to heal and realize that his life is better for having finally accepted the inevitable truth. By being willing to finally let go of his futile hope for a romantic relationship with Andie, he’s able to move on and realize that there are other women out there – women who actually want what he has to offer, rather than a fantasy that only causes him pain.


  1. I was trying to impress a girl. Shut up. []

  • So where is the line between giving up, and trying harder? (Obviously in a non-creepy way.) Should you give up at the first sign of friend-zoning?
    When should you try to escape the friend-zone, and when should you accept it as inevitable?

    • Honestly, just be honest with it. It'll hurt if she says no, but you might be able to salvage a friendship without actually going to the friendzone and being miserable in your unrequited feelings.

  • rachelmack

    Marty Farley –

    There is, in fact, a link to a post that deals with your very questions RIGHT WITHIN THIS POST, *and* a handy category tag!

    • Clicking on the "friend zone" tag it shows me how to avoid, and how to escape it. I do not see any articles discussing what Dr. NL was highlighting here… when you shouldn't bother trying to escape it and just accept that is where you are. Which is what I was asking about.

      In both of those articles I mentioned, Dr. NL mentions how if you're in the Friend Zone, you've screwed up in some way, and you should be avoiding it instead. This suggests that, if you are taking the correct steps, you can avoid/escape the Friend fate.

      However, in THIS article, he discusses how Duckie should have just accepted that Andie had no romantic interest in him, suggesting that it would not be possible for Duckie to avoid/escape the friend zone.

      Thus my question…. when do you know you can avoid/escape the Friend Zone, and when do you just accept that is where you are?

      • Okay, wish I could edit these…. Dr. NL does explain the different types of friend zones. I guess I just don't understand how you can end up in the Friend Zone because you screwed up, and yet at the same time accept that she sees you as a friend just because (the first zone.)

        • Amber

          If you screwed up it means you entered the friendship under false pretenses – you were interested but didn't make that clear so now you are friends because you want more. That isn't a real friendship. To "get out of the friend zone" ASK HER OUT. If she's not interested you can choose whether you want a GENUINE friendship (ie no ulterior motives) or you can no longer be friends with her. What you CANNOT do is pretend to be fine with being her friend while waiting around for her to change her mind.

          Basically – if she's not interested, accept that. How do you know? Ask her out.

  • Ed O'Malley

    Yeah… I had not seen this movie in a long time, and a few months ago ran into it on TV… The Duck is a dick!

    • LeeEsq

      Which is probably why audiences didn't like the ending where Andie ended up with Duck because they could tell that Duck was a dick. Sometimes test audiences are correct. Some Kind of Wonderful works better the Pretty in Pink because the working class characters are really working class and Watts isn't a jerk and willing to give up. It was still plainly unrealistic for Stoltz's character to have a sudden love realization.

      • trooper6

        Dear LeeEsq: Thank you!

        I never liked the ending of Some Kind of Wonderful because it was so plainly unrealistic for Stoltz's character to have the love realization. Heck, Amanda Jones had to *tell* him to go after Watts. And really, Watts deserved way better than Eric Stoltz's character.

  • dvid22

    real great example who is next ray ramono. you really do have nothing but comtempt for males. fyi ive had friendship with females who end it as soon as she dates some dude but of course that was my fault under doctornerdlove logic.

    • Dr_NerdLove

      Ray Ramano? Sir, that is the vilest slander AND I WILL NOT HAVE IT! Pistols at dawn!

      • LeeEsq

        You should never duel at dawn. There isn't enough light and you might end up shooting yourself instead of your opponent or at least missing badly. Always make sure you can see your opponent to avoid making a fuel of yourself. Duels are serious business and its best to avoid drama in favor of success. Just like dating.

        • ARC

          Trick your opponent into challenging *you* to a duel. This allows you to dictate the weapons. In Dr. NL's case, I would suggest a blog-off to the death.

  • LeeEsq

    Pretty in Pink is probably impossible to remake because the temptation would be to make Duckie into a sassy gay friend. Either you have to completely change Duckie's personality or take away the love triangle aspect and make it more about interclass dating.

  • oh the huge manatee!

    if you're rich you get a girlfriend
    if you're poor you get friendzoned
    got it!

    • LeeEsq

      This is actually something like the dating advice that I've seen being given men bellow average stature on the internet, which includes myself. The advice seems to boil down to, if you are a short man who could still get a girlfriend if you are successful with Hollywood stars, very rich men, and high level politicians given as the example. This advice is unrealistic since the chances of most men rising to this level of success is unrealistic. I really wish that short men could find more practical dating advice. A dating service that I used listed my shortness as one of the negative attributes that the dates they set up on me gave in feedback. The other two negative attributes I could work on, not so much my height.

      • ellorgast

        Short guys don't get enough love. I happen to prefer short guys.

      • Gentleman Johnny

        As a gentleman of not quite average height, let me suggest this – anyone who has a problem dating you because of your height is not worth your time. Anyone who will only date you because you are a Wall Street financial advisor is not worth your time. However, with such obvious cues removed, romance will require things like getting to know each other, communication, feelings of mutual attraction and all that other stuff that so rarely gets mentioned in pop-psych advice columns that tell short men that they can only be romantically successful as rich short men.

  • Yuki

    I'm honestly not sure where the snark in some of the other comments are coming from, but I thought Dr.Nerdlove made a pretty good analysis of Duckie as a character.

  • I haven't seen this movie and based on this blog I'm not really encouraged to see it.

    But I do think a similar effect happens in the movie 'Bedeviled' I think it's called, with that guy from the Mummy movies.

    He keeps wishing and wanting her into his life regardless of how she feels about it, and it doesn't work out. It's only when he lets her go and be happy without him that he finds his own happiness with someone else (potentially.)

    I've thought a lot about 'love' and how certain kinds of sensations that people tend to call 'love' tend to be selfish as all get-out. They want this person in their lives more than they want the person to be happy.

    Now is all love like that? No. But I think some people use 'love' when what they really mean is 'infatuation' or some other word.

    I don't know if links are allowed, but if they are, Alanis Morissette's "You Owe Me Nothing In Return" has made me think about what the common definition of 'love' is, and isn't. "This is the only kind of love, as I understand it, that there really is." That's sort of how I feel as well. I do think that there's other types of feelings we currently call love that I don't know better words for, but when it comes to "actual love", this song describes my thoughts perfectly.

    • LeeEsq

      The movie is Bedazzled and the original British version with Dudley Moore is much funnier and better. It has an equally appropriate message of, you have to pursue the one you want yourself. Nobody can do it for you.

  • A.P. Delchi

    Wow , way to trash on the Duckman. Treating a naive kid who hardly knows a thing about life like a 30 year old stalker. You think he is a creep? What about Blaine and his friends, you know the ones who decide to ditch the prom and take their dates ( who are obviously not happy about it ) to the hotel room they rented? The way Andie was used and thrown away? Seriously? You don’t even touch on the creep factor there? While the future frat boys of america are renting hotel rooms and using the master bedroom in their mansions for ‘ dates ‘ , and calling women ” nothing ” and ” worthless ” a kid sings love songs from a generation before him and tries to figure out what to do with the emotions in his head, and says some mean things out of pain and anger. What kind of anger? Well the kind that comes from watching people trash talk about a woman you love. Yeah totally creepy.

    Also : If you are going to critique the end you might want to touch on the fact that the ending was changed at the insistence of a focus group. Read the book , check out the script. In the original story She is mistreated and emotionally abused by Blaine, and ends up with Duckie. A focus group decided she should land the poor little rich boy and Bam – new ending. Learn from that.

    • Dr_NerdLove

      Apparently you missed this part:

      In fact, in an earlier cut of the film (reportedly Hughes’ preferred vision) had Andie getting together with Duckie at the end; this tested poorly with audiences and carried the unfortunate implication that people should ultimately only date within their social class. Thus a last-minute re-shoot has Andie dating Blane and Duckie getting a consolation prize in the form of an uncredited Kristy Swanson. Hughes would later go on to try to correct this in a gender-inverted followup “Some Kind of Wonderful”, a movie that ultimately ended his working relationship with Ringwald.

    • Beardy

      "a kid sings love songs from a generation before him and tries to figure out what to do with the emotions in his head,"

      And he does it poorly, which is why we should Learn From This (trademark Dr_NerdLove).

      You do have a very good point about Blaine, but this isn't about Blaine. In fact, while the good Dr probably would like to see, as a side effect of his blog, the Blaine type behavior diminish, he is trying to help the Duckies of the world. Which means he needs a different focus than "Blaine does some really bad things."

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  • Monkey

    Hmm… yeah…

    Some Kind Of Wonderful didn't "correct" anything. It just showed the double standard.

  • Where does The Breakfast Club fit in? Asking partly because it seems a more complex movie, relationship-wise, but most because it's the only John Hughes movie I've ever actually seen.

  • I was wondering if you ever considered changing the page layout of your
    website? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people
    could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or
    two images. Maybe you could space it out better?

  • What Then

    The problem is that you assume there IS someone out there who wants what he has to offer.

    Years on dating sites and well, 30+ years of life experience have taught me that going for the damaged woman isn't going to work in the end but damned if no other type of woman wants me.

    Sometimes it's not a matter of not going after "healthy" women or women who want what you have to offer, but rather healthy women nor for that matter any other women in the world wanting what you have to offer, despite a life's worth of "any woman would be LUCKY to have you!!!" from the women who don't want you.