The Death of Quirky

monkey“She wasn’t quirky. She was crazy.”

This was my friend’s assessment of a woman I had met on OKCupid. She had ended our pleasant test drive after two months when I showed ambivalence about naked time, which sometimes happens when I realize I’m not in it for the long haul but still enjoy the dinner conversation. Sort of like an actor in a play that’s closing. Even if the backstage mood sucks, you might still like getting dressed and going on.

My friend’s comment wasn’t empty. She was psychologically troubled. It didn’t take a medical degree to see that. Bits of her past trickled out in the first two weeks and then dropped in large chunks. An abusive parent, pill addiction, years of crippling depression, weight swings, promiscuous eras. On “medication.” The drugs were heavy-duty mood stabilizers, not like the ones in the commercial with the frowny ball. Ads for these pills could use Amanda Bynes.

Sadly enough, this is a fairly typical load of baggage for females in their thirties and forties I’ve met on sites like OKCupid, eHarmony and Match.com—or at least the small subset of women I’ve been lucky enough to encounter. Specifically, the subset that doesn’t recoil at my photo, finds my described life acceptable and, in ideal cases, gives me a least a little rise. Where these circles converge, the cohort will bear no resemblance to the motley horde at large. Dark hair, large breasts and mental instability might run 70 percent.

You pays your money and you takes your chances.

“A long time ago being crazy meant something. Nowadays everybody’s crazy.”—Charles Manson

“Everyone’s crazy, so you’re just trying to see if your crazies line up,” one woman I met on eHarmony told me. She had a small platoon of mundane demons not dissimilar to those accompanying the OKCupid woman—meaning her life could have been an after-school special in 1975 but wouldn’t get a yawn from a Dr. Phil booker now.

She was simply saying there’s someone for everyone—the proverbial lid for every pot—as long as you’re not looking for cinematic perfection but rather a human being you’ll like most of the time.

It’s a reassuring thought: We’re all nuts, each one of us a stinking sack of Freudian horrors just trying to survive.1  The wacky need not walk alone; no matter how demented you are, a tolerable mate—your mirror-mutilated lid—is out there.

We know what kind of crazy2 is being referred to in “everyone’s crazy.” It’s everyday crazy. Peculiar. Harmlessly neurotic. Different-drum eccentric. Maybe even occasionally off-the-rails kooky. But never malicious, unnervingly strange or sick-ass weird. Phoebe on Friends, not Adam Lanza.

It means—how I hate the word—quirky.

The death of quirky

Quirky, according to the Oxford American English Dictionary, means “having or characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits or aspects.” It’s from quirk, which appears in the early 16th Century to mean a “subtle verbal twist, quibble.”

Crazy means “mentally deranged, especially as manifested in a wild or aggressive way.” Its root, craze, traces to “late Middle English (in the sense ‘break, shatter, produce cracks’).”

The connotative meanings of crazy have wandered into quirky’s front yard (“dig that crazy hat”), but the differences are clear:

1. Quirky maxes at strange but tax paying and presentable. And the quirks may be deliberate choice.

2. Crazy has no grip on reality and may start breaking shit.

In 2014, everyone is quirky. It is literally the new normal.

This is largely because the threshold for deeming someone quirky is almost non-existent. You will call a person quirky if they have at least one habit or behavior that you find bizarre, pointless or annoying but not a relationship deal-breaker. Like eating a hamburger with utensils. Or wearing a Bear Bryant hat during sex.

When you’re sizing up another human as closely as you do in dating, you will inevitably find at least one—and probably 35—such quirks. The harder up you are the less they’ll initially bother you. At minimum, though, with old-fashioned quirky, which will hereafter be known as normal, you will not strongly suspect that the quirks stem from a troubling psychological issue that could turn your life into Stephen King fodder.

The birth of quirky-crazy

Given that quirky is ubiquitous, it ceases to be. There is no quirky. Should you meet someone who is strangely devoid of quirk, you’ve met another Ted Bundy.

The death of quirky leaves three main categories in mate selection:

1. Quirky-crazy

2. Crazy

3. Crazy-crazy

Quirky-crazy is now the step below normal. It’s quirky that really starts to worry you or piss you off. The quirks don’t seem to be performed by whim of choice, and they have strong negatives—usually by dint of being a pain in the ass to you.

Importantly, in quirky-crazy, you do strongly suspect that the offending habits or behaviors stem from a troubling psychological problem. You can only take heart in knowing you have no goddamned idea what you’re talking about.

Finally, the odd habit or behavior could become a deal-breaker, depending on how hard up you are.

Some examples of quirky-crazy:

  • She needs to get to the airport eleven hours early for a domestic flight.
  • She must leave all the lights on when sleeping.
  • She cannot eat in front of another human being.

It is not “she hacked your email account” or “she stores walnuts in her anus.”

Those are crazy, which gets into the severely destructive, you-need-serious-help shit. In rare cases crazy may devolve into crazy-crazy, which might watch you wake one day to find a bloody nub above your speechless testicles.

Dating quirky-crazy

The distribution of quirky-crazy and crazy in the single population in New York, and I’m sure most elsewhere, presents a pickle for a man in his late thirties or forties who’s looking for a wife (especially when he’s not solidly certain in which of those buckets he sits). From his point of view, and by his I mean mine, every woman he’ll encounter will have at least a dozen big-boned skeletons, and he’s packing a graveyard himself.

In these circumstances, you must disregard deficiencies that you may have once considered to be deal-breakers if you desire coupledom.

For example, in my early twenties, finding Zoloft or Prozac in a woman’s medicine cabinet was enough to start moseying for the hills. It was a trite joke among men my age at the time. More than once, I recall a college friend saying “found the happy pills in the bathroom” with a resigned sigh, as if he regretted having held out that naïve sliver of hope for the new bird he’d been seeing.

Happy pills were viewed as a clear indication of quirky-crazy, and they also raised the odds of crazy. At minimum, you were warned that you’d be in for bouts of Exorcist-like behavior if you stuck around.

Remember, this was the dark ages of 1992. “Depression” still mainly brought Sylvia Plath to mind and “antidepressants” conjured the pointing-finger photo of Marilyn Monroe’s nightstand.

Then Prozac buried North America.

By 2001, in New York City, you had a better chance of finding Bin Laden busking in the subway with a lute than finding a 30-something woman who wasn’t on antidepressants. So it lost nearly all relevance as a dating qualifier. In fact, when it came to alarming a would-be suitor, most psychiatric medications took a step down. Antipsychotics became antidepressants, and antidepressants became M&Ms.

Thus, quirky-crazy is not only viable relationship material, it’s probably the best you’re going to do if you’re not exactly Tyrone Power. In fact, it’s both cruel and wrong to reject a romantic partner for being mildly quirky-crazy. I think I first learned this from Ally McBeal. Social norms demand that you laugh at quirky-crazy, which is why television comedy writers wallow in its marshes. You must also laugh at seriously pathological quirky-crazy when it’s packaged for entertainment; I think I first learned this from Monk.

Mild quirky-crazy deserves the benefit of the doubt in dating because, at minimum, we assume the person is aware of their weird behavior and wouldn’t do anything truly heinous. And let’s not forget that the quirky-crazy person presents the two huge advantages of existing and being sexually attracted to you. These overcome a container-ship full of negatives for many men.

Parsing mild quirky-crazy from its more malignant form—in which the underlying psychological problems are significant enough to up-end life or, unthinkably, worsen into genuine crazy—is an incredibly difficult sifting feat. There are no clear lines of demarcation separating mild quirky-crazy, dangerous quirky-crazy and (gulp) legit crazy-in-waiting. Rather, there are hundreds—thousands—of gray zones shooting through universes of behaviors and contexts.

Spotting even crazy-crazy is a tough call, as it likes to put on a quirky-crazy teeshirt and mingle incognito. The school and workplace shootings in recent years have generated a lot of talk about how people might flag crazy-crazy when it’s walking around being merely non-homicidally crazy, or—far worse—annoyingly quirky-crazy inches from you. Experts insist you can’t do it. The coworker who sobs uncontrollably in the bathroom stall and sucks both thumbs at once in meetings may never hurt a soul, while the one who buys the department muffins every week may be preparing to sew your head on his dog’s carcass at this moment.

In life and dating, you can only pray that you’ll sniff out real trouble early enough to do something about it—without missing out on a beautiful opportunity just because it comes to you soaked in uncertainty.

You pays your money and you takes your chances.

 

Footnotes

1I may have extrapolated her basic sentiment in ways she had not considered.

2There’s a segment in the mental health community that objects to the use of the word “crazy.” They feel it’s objectifying, hurtful or something called ableist—which apparently describes a word or phrase that pokes fun at, or is somehow linked to, a disability. “Lame” is a common example. “Retarded” is the hot one.

In southern New Jersey in the 1970s, “retarded” meant boring, unfunny, meaningless, compulsory, not the right brand, out of the ordinary in a bad way, out of the ordinary in a good way, highly valued by the person you wish to put down, careless, messed up, illogical, difficult, uncooperative, conspicuous, precious or twee. If it was used in reference to an actual developmentally challenged person, which almost never occurred, one would say “mentally retarded.”

 

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