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In college, I only went without a boyfriend for a year. That College Boyfriend is an entirely separate story. Just say that it was pretty horrible in parts and involved camping, yoga classes and Phish concerts. I KNOW.

So after all that monogamy, by my senior year, I was ready for some sleazy trouble-making.

Unfortunately, the Norwegian College for Mostly White People I attended was severely lacking in thrill-seeking guys. Sure, there were binge-drinking alcoholics and potheads with four-foot bongs they built themselves and pushy, sweaty, date-rapey jock guys, but, you know – YUCK. These weren’t options. The substance-addled were too meek to make advances and the icky behemoth athletes swam in different circles from me and my friends.

Add to this that many of the somewhat interesting guys had paired off by senior year with their future wives so pickings were slim. Still my friends and I tried our best to look for kicks: drinking too much and smoking too much and going out to sketchy parties and bars just to see what would happen. For some reason, I had very little luck, which confounds me. I wasn’t the kind of girl who would make you wait until the third date for sex. I mean, you didn’t even have to take me on a date to begin with, really. It’s very sad to contemplate, how willing I was and how poorly I fared in this department.

It was during this time that my friends and I started using the word ‘oatmeal’ as pejorative. It was often something we said about an otherwise-awesome guy we’d know, who would be unavailable because he had a girlfriend who we found unworthy of him. We would use this word by saying something like, “His girlfriend is a total bowl of Oatmeal.”

Or we’d say, “Yeah, he’s cool, but he’s got a Gruelfriend.”

My friends and I were very high on ourselves at this point. Despite my lack of luck in hooking up, I don’t recall having better self-esteem at any point in my whole life, then or since, actually. This was probably because I was writing like a fiend as well as smoking 30+ cigarettes a day. Light-headed with nicotine and fantasy. It was probably the writing that made me feel good, but whatever. None of it was apparently sustainable.

Our unnaturally high self-esteem caused us to judge women as Oatmeally not just because of their looks. Some of these Oatmeal Girls were very pretty, though to be honest, they tended to follow a trend at our Norwegian College for Mostly White People: blond, thin, no make-up, sturdy, hike-ready clothing from REI, lots of Teva sandals. This makes Oatmeal sound vaguely related to Granola but that word didn’t totally encompass the concept. Plus, if you see the above details regarding my College Boyfriend, I was a little Granola myself. Granola and Oatmeal were not synonyms, nor were they mutually exclusive.

An Oatmeal Girl was, above all, boring. She wouldn’t say anything outrageous. She wouldn’t get high while sledding on cafeteria trays and wearing three inch clogs which made her fall on her face every fifteen feet. She wouldn’t get caught sucking someone off in a laundry room or have sex in a Pro Pit on Sunday mornings while everyone else was a chapel. She wouldn’t throw up all over the dorm bathroom and have to clean it up in shame while the rest of the floor had their prissy Secret Santa exchange just before the holiday break.

An Oatmeal Girl would watch her boy play guitar at a party and clap and beam. She would laugh at everything he said. She wouldn’t embarrass him by drinking too much Jagermeister and insisting you blast Wrexx N Effects’ “Rumpshaker” at four in the morning. She wouldn’t pointedly ask some douche from Chaska what the hell he was doing wearing cowboy boots in the modern era. She wouldn’t get too drunk and she wouldn’t look too sexy and she wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t safe. She was Respectable.

If we’d thought ahead, we’d have pinpointed the trajectory of the Oatmeal Girl into Oatmeal Wife. She’d get her degree in psychology or English or something academic but not too high-powered. Maybe she’d go to graduate school, be a good little grade-getter. Still, you could put your babies into her and not fear that she’d leave you for some meth-shooting bullrider at a rodeo. You could install her in your old house in the gentrifying city and expect that she’d fit right in with the neighborhood watch and the built-in woodwork. But we couldn’t see that far. That the Oatmeal Girl could be us.

But back then, we mocked Oatmeal Girls because they were just so damn good for you. Nutritious. Nonperishable. Filling. Predictable. Warm.

But not hot. Not delicious. Not sizzling. Not spicy or exotic. Not full of some Thai pepper that would make your mucous membranes weep for weeks. And certainly not anything that would make you sick with feverish delusions. Gabriel Garcia Marquez never falls in love with an Oatmeal Girl, that’s for sure.

I know this whole concept is basically the bitchiness talking, but to this day I still think of Oatmeal Girls as a sort of caution against conformity. Maybe some people are naturally bland – surely there are some, right? – but maybe this blandness, this lack of spice and danger, this slavish sticking to standardized behaviors is what people do when they are afraid. When they want people to like them. When they aren’t sure who they are yet. Oatmeal Girls aren’t all the way grown-up into themselves then, yet. Maybe?

I don’t know. I’ve always known who I am, even if I was dabbling in camping and jam bands. I’ve never wanted to be anyone’s laugh track or clapping hands. I’ve never wanted to blend into the wallpaper and be merely satisfying. Even though it sounds counterintuitive, I’ve never wanted to be known as something ‘good for you.’


  • Carrie on Sep 08, 2012 Reply

    I didn’t know it when I was in my 20’s, but I hate camping and yoga both. Neither of them fit my personality or preferences in any way. I’m not really a big fan of Nature all up in my face and I don’t like stretching to the point of pain in a room full of other people while listening to a sitar. There’s a long list of other reasons for hating these activities, of course, but I won’t bore you. Everyone else in the world that I know loves camping/yoga (except for Adrian, thankfully).

    I like oatmeal once in a while. But mostly, I do not. If I’m gonna eat carbs in a bowl, I want to just dump some cereal in and skip the ‘cooking.’

  • Ela on Sep 07, 2012 Reply

    I so enjoyed reading this, both for your characterizations and fantasy avenues and for some of the places it took me too. You know in Quebecois they call healthfood store hippie types ‘grano’? Probably you did know that.

    But you’re a sly one with the oatmeal: ‘gruel’ is so repellent, just the sound of the word, but oatmeal, as you said, is inoffensive enough that eventually the namecallers can grow into the name. Which I doubt is true of you. And what’s wrong with yoga and camping? 😉

    Finally, these last few months among other enforced horizon-broadenings I was introduced to oatmeal, which is available gluten free. And I find it works so well, could even say I like it. I think I ate it every breakfast during the residency and sometimes for lunch or dinner too! Ned to recover some normalization or I’ll turn into oatmeal too!

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