You know, I wasn’t planning to like this. I was honestly expecting a fairly lame, by-the-numbers boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-girl with a variation on the Magic Indie Pixie Girl. I wasn’t expecting a remarkably touching relationship film, and I certainly wasn’t expecting a surprisingly subtle damning critique of the pharmaceutical and insurance companies.
Although I’ve got to admit, Anne Hathaway’s copious nudity didn’t hurt my intentions to cover it for a Learn From This.
I love my job.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Randall, a med-school dropout turned slacker turned newbie pharmaceutical rep who’s only real gifts are his classic good looks and his immeasurable charm. Anne Hathaway plays Maggie Murdock, a different, surprisingly direct woman who may be immune to his charm and affects him in a way that he never expected. Gyllenhaal’s turn as an inveterate and shameless charmer obviously offers a great deal for nerds to learn from – assuming they know what they’re learning – but his relationship with Hathaway provides some valuable lessons in and of itself.
So what can we learn from this?
Jaime Randall is the sort of character nerds both envy and hate. He attracts women the way that cheese attracts mice and it seems so effortless at first that it’s not fair. However, there’s a certain level of thought and consideration in Jaime’s seductions, and if you know what to look for, there’s a lot to learn. Such as:
Fun is the Key: There’s a reason when women list what they find attractive in a man, a great sense of humor is ranked near – if not at – the top. A guy who can make girls laugh and have fun is a guy who can be successful with women. Jaime’s sense of fun is infectious and he’s seemingly completely unselfconscious when he’s goofing around with the women he charms. When they’re having fun, then the game is won.
SMILE ALREADY, GODDAMNIT: Watch Gyllenhaal in every scene where he’s charming a woman. He always has a giant, toothy grin plastered on his face even when he’s saying things that could otherwise be seen as being offensive. A genuine smile goes a very long way, and I’ve seen far too many solemn nerds trying to flirt.
Practice, Practice, Practice: Jaime spends a great deal of his time in the beginning practicing his sales patter in the mirror. Why does this apply to meeting and charming women? Because it means that he knows exactly what he’s going to say in the field. He’s increasing his own confidence in himself and won’t stumble over his own tongue as he’s trying to seal the deal, whether it’s with the doctor or the receptionists he’s charming to gain access. You don’t need to memorize pre-scripted routines, but you do need to be able to hold up your end of the conversation without constant verbal place-holders like “um..” “uh…” “and, er…”
Ignore What Doesn’t Move You Forward: Early in his career, Jaime learns quickly that the first obstacle to getting access to one of the most influential doctors in his sales area are his receptionists. And they have seen it all, heard it all, and they’re not impressed by the new slickster who’s come by, repeating “Leave your samples with me.” Jaime ignores this and plows through until the ladies succumb to his not inconsiderable charm. This applies in life too; guys give up far too easily at the first sign of resistance or indifference. Unless you’re being met by outright hostility or demands to leave anything that doesn’t help move towards the result you’re hoping for (a number, a smile, something) should sound to you as “My hovercraft is full of eels.” Similarly…
If They Don’t Leave or Send You Away, You’re Still In: Jamie and Maggie’s first meeting is… less than optimal, and the way he gets her number borders on the creepy if you a) aren’t Jake Gyllenhaal and b) aren’t in a romantic comedy. But while Maggie expresses disinterest in him, she never expressly tells him to go away. She’s still intrigued enough to let him make his case. Even when she insults him on their coffee date, she doesn’t get up and leave. This is part of how Jaime knows he still has a chance.
A critical point: This – and the previous lesson – are not license to “not take no for an answer”. There’s a fine line between being a rake and an asshole. It may take some practice to find that line, but you don’t want to cross it. Don’t be an asshole.
The Secret Circle: Humans are pack-animals. We have an inherent desire to be included in a group. We’re even more interested in being in an exclusive group; it’s part of why secret or mysterious societies are so compelling to us. When Jaime is talking with girls, whether he’s trying to get into their pants or get another girl’s number from them, he uses the concept of the Secret Circle; an exclusive us-vs-them mentality that separates the two of them from everyone around them. “We’re being naughty”. “We are being bad and everyone else would be shocked to find out!” This mini-roleplay/conspiracy of two who’re up to no good can be incredibly powerful at building a rapport and chemistry.
Open Up, Emotionally: Jaime is an admitted self-involved bastard who’s full of shit, and it’s the rare person who can make him open up and be honest. This is part of the bad-boy fantasy that many women have; it’s not enough that he’s a confident, swinging dick, but she’s the only one who gets to see the real person inside. The magic ratio seems to be approximately 85% asshole, 10% nice guy.
Confidence Isn’t Everything: Yes, confidence is important. Confidence is attractive. Confidence and self-assurance aren’t the entire game, as Jaime’s brother Josh quickly discovers. You can be 100% confident about being the greatest basketball player in the world, but LeBron is still going to smoke you if you don’t have the skills to back them up.
Sex Won’t Close The Hole: Maggie calls it with pinpoint accuracy: ” Because this isn’t about connection for you. This isn’t even about sex for you. This is about finding an hour or two of relief from the pain of being you.” The only aspect of Jaime that he values is skill with women; he throws himself into casual sex because he hopes that it will distract him from the emptiness in his life. Josh, on the other hand envies his brother’s great sexual experience even while he himself is far more successful than Jaime. A lot of men assume that being good with women will magically translate into solving all the other aspects of their lives. It won’t; at best, it provides a distraction and the problems will still be there when the sex fades.
His And Her Emotional Baggage: Jamie’s self-worth is almost non-existant and he has never had a real emotional connection to another person in almost his entire adult life. Maggie’s afraid of the inevitable rejection that comes when men realize they don’t want to deal with the sick girl. As odd as it sounds, it’s their emotional problems that help their relationship survive. Everybody has baggage; it’s an inevitable fact of life. Instead of worrying about finding flaws, one should look for baggage that goes with their own.
She’s a Woman, Not A Project: There is a tendency amongst geeks to gravitate to girls with problems; emotional issues, abuse survivors, chronic illnesses… I refer to this as White Knight syndrome. The guy sees himself as the White Knight on his dashing charger, sweeping in to rescue the girl from all of her ills… and it’s both insulting and misguided. It’s equal parts a nerds trying to feel “worthy” of a girl by “saving” her and – unconsciously – wanting the girl to feel obligated to him; he’s saved her, now he gets to have his reward. There are many, many problems with this attitude, not the least of which is that it fetishizes the girl and her condition; he doesn’t see her as a person so much as a series of IF-THEN statements that lead towards him as the hero and she as his prize. Inevitably, this mindset ruins the relationship when reality sets in. He realizes that life is messy and dealing with a chronic condition is difficult, emotionally and physically draining and permanent. Meanwhile, she realizes that her friend isn’t interested in her, just in her situation; she is almost secondary to him.
When Jaime is confronted with the reality of what Maggie’s Parkinson’s will do, he becomes obsessed with saving her. Before long, their relationship has fallen apart – she’s no longer a person but a sickness and she is worried that he is going to be the latest in a long series of men who are ultimately afraid of what the future will bring but doesn’t want to be the asshole who runs off. It’s only after they break up that Jaime can understand what he was doing and remembers what it was about her that he loved… and makes the decision to face the reality of the situation instead of the fantasy that he can fix her.
Nerds with White Knight syndrome need to spend more time working on their own issues rather than trying to prove “worthy” and trying to solve someone else’s problems. Until they get over it, all they do is make themselves and others miserable. Life is complicated and messy and it’s for the best to approach it with honesty.