On The Evolutionary Function Of Jackass Guys

by Heather O’Neill


I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t attracted to boys. I thought Tintin was handsome and I really wanted to date him. I remember being in elementary school and wanting to grab a boy’s apple and bite into it. I wanted to hold their hair with both my fists. I wanted to watch them pee. All this to say, there is always something a little bit mad about attraction: something that doesn’t make sense, some impulse that is beyond you, a very silly part of you that makes all the rules.

When I was a teenager, my dad would complain about my taste in boys to people at the grocery store. He was a single dad, so he would look for advice from the old ladies carefully squeezing tomatoes, and sympathy from the mothers taking out coupons in line for the cash. He would tell them that not only was I always chasing boys, but that I seemed to only like the ones who were bonafide idiots, and that you could tell, even though they were only 15, that they weren’t going to amount to anything.

He had a point. By that age, I had established a pattern of attraction to a certain type of reckless boy. I liked things that were foolhardy, such as hanging onto the back of a truck while on a bicycle. I liked guys who walked around in their slippers outdoors after dark. I liked guys who always needed to be hydrated. I very much liked the way they looked when they were knocking back a liter of some kind of fluid. I liked when they threw candies or peanuts into the air and then caught them in their mouths.

I liked guys who shoplifted duct tape and chocolate bars. I liked a guy who drove a car without a door, one who had a front tooth knocked out, another who got a rose from the Chinese takeout menu tattooed on his arm.

My dad would always say that once I got into university, I would find myself a different kind of boyfriend. He assumed I probably just hadn’t been exposed to regular guys. I lived too close to the train track. But once I got to McGill, I was still attracted to this kind of bon vivant ne’er-do-well.

I knew they weren’t going anywhere in life, but there was nothing in the world I could do to stop falling for them. I would find myself with them in small bedrooms with my lollipop patterned short-shorts down around my ankles. I’d crawl into the back seat of their parents’ Audis, and toss my velvet skirt over the steering wheel.

You’d think the traits one finds attractive in a partner would signify their usefulness as a potential mate. The guys I went out with were bad in school. They had dead-end jobs that you didn’t need a high school diploma for, like working at a car wash. They made it very clear they weren’t making preparations for getting old. They viewed the future as a conspiracy.

There was no way in the world I could possibly get into long-term relationship with any of these guys. They showed a certain disdain for loved ones and family members. They dated and broke up with all sorts of girls. They were all wildly romantic about hooking up the first few times. But, frankly, they would sleep with anybody in a skirt and had a natural proclivity for variety.

You would wonder why idiot guys haven’t disappeared like the Dodo bird, the Cro-Magnon person, or the Beta videotape. If being an idiot were not somehow necessary for human evolution, the gene would have slowly phased itself out.

The hummingbird has an extremely long beak to stick inside a honeysuckle. There is a reason the giraffe has a long neck, even though it looks totally ludicrous. Maybe the biological function of losers is to mix up the gene pool. Otherwise we would never be curious and stupid enough to take risks and move civilization forward. We need to have a developed ability to fail. It’s only through failing again and again that you are able to achieve anything.

The loser gene ensures there are people who will have absurd compulsions — to be motorcycle daredevils, to go into jungles, to be power-mad lunatics. The same gene that leads a guy to be a complete moron with outstanding tickets for walking his dogs without a leash could cause a person to come up with some sort of wildcard cure for an illness. We achieve major things while propelled by idiotic motivations. We write wonderful, philosophical 800-page novels in order to get more dates, we travel to outer space in order to get on talk shows to impress our old neighbors.

If there weren’t super hot jackasses going around having unprotected sex, the human race would be too sensible. We would stop thinking outside the box and coming up with the delightful curve balls that form the basis of science and art. Their attractiveness to girls like me assures their survival, and ours. And losers do sometimes have exceptional children who are inexplicably wonderful and full of surprises.

I had a baby when I was 20 with an absolute ne’er-do-well, and she turned out to be a totally ambitious and delightful version of him. His desire to stay out all night at every party manifested in her as boundless compassion toward and interest in other people. His self-destructive carelessness in her turned out to be confidence. His anti-establishment stance, which led him to drugs and a life on the fringes, led her to an interest in race and gender and social concerns. It’s hard not to notice they’ve always had the same huge smile.

Heather O’Neill is the author of the novels Lullabies for Little Criminals and The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. Her short story collection, Daydreams of Angels, comes out in the US this October.