More than likely, you’ve never heard of the name Mike Scully. This is rather unfortunate, since Mr. Scully can be credited with penning one of the most incisive comments on dating that pop culture has ever bequeathed.
Mike Scully is an accomplished TV sitcom writer, with credits that include Everybody Loves Raymond and, more recently, Parks and Recreation. But the genius of his work resides within the dozen or so episodes that he wrote for The Simpsons during its heyday in the late 90s, and in particular, for one episode entitled “Lisa’s Date With Density.” If you’ve ever asked yourself why jerks always land the ladies (and who among us hasn’t asked that question), then you need to wrap your head around this profound twenty-three minute cartoon.
The Simpsons have permeated the popular lexicon to such an extent that most of us know the major players. But for those recusant few who have managed to fully ignore the show for the past two decades, allow me to sketch out three relevant characters:
• Lisa Simpson: Bart’s little sister and polar opposite. Intelligent, sophisticated, prone to bombastic behavior at times but essentially sweet and kind.
• Nelson Muntz: The archetypal bully. While the show occasionally layers him with unexpected complexity, Nelson will always be an amalgam of all our childhood antagonists.
• Milhouse Van Houten: Bart’s best friend, awkward to the core, but decent and burdened by an unrequited love for Lisa.
With that out of the way, we can proceed to the crux of the issue. In the episode, Lisa surprises everyone (herself included) by revealing that her first schoolyard crush is on the thuggish, uncouth junior cro-magnon known as Nelson Muntz, who embodies everything that Lisa ostensibly detests about humanity. Confiding this revelation in Milhouse one day in the school cafeteria, an incredulous Milhouse responds as follows:
Milhouse: You like Nelson!? But he’s a creep and he chipped one of my permanent teeth!
Lisa: But I bet underneath, he’s a sweet sensitive person-like you…I guess you could say I want to bring out the Milhouse in Nelson.
Milhouse: But I’m all Milhouse!
And there you have it. In one brief exchange, the maestro Mike Scully has encapsulated thousands of years of nice guy frustration. Women would rather be friends with nice guys, date not-so-nice guys, and ask their nice guy friends how to make their not-so-nice boyfriends more nice, rather than date a nice guy to begin with.
Did you get all that?
So what’s the motivation behind this seemingly schizophrenic behavior? Dare we believe that even the gentle hearted, sophisticated Lisas of the world yearn deep down for a bit of the Neanderthal?
The one salvation that all those nice guys hang on to is the hope that the Milhouse Syndrome declines with age, and that one day thug appeal will be anything but appealing. In the mean time, take a step back. Survey your friends, deem them Milhouses or Nelsons, then ask yourself which category is more often relegated to that “strictly platonic” level.
And hats off to you, Mr. Scully, for hitting this nail so squarely on its head.