Those pieces of modern American folklore known as urban legends — you know, the absolutely true stories about how your cousin's boyfriend's ex-girlfriend totally ate a piece of gum that had a spider egg inside it, and then the spiders crawled through her head, and they went into her BRAIN— are an important part of our shared cultural heritage. Without them, how would we know not to flush a baby alligator down a toilet, or that there are evil haunted video games that are trying to murder us? But there's more to urban legends than just evil whimsy; urban legends are created to teach a lesson.
As pioneering urban legend analysis website Snopes.com noted, "Urban legends are often little morality plays designed to instill an important lesson about societal mores." And since many of our most beloved urban legends came into circulation around the middle of the 20th century, a lot of their most obvious lessons are, sadly, about how women are hysterical idiots who should never have sex with anyone. But I believe that we can get more out of urban legends. Once you dig into them a little, most of our most popular urban legends contain advice about trust, instincts, and common sense —rules that can be particularly helpful when navigating the sometimes-scarifying world of dating.
So, in the spirit of Halloween, here are five of the greatest American urban legends, and the dating lessons that we can learn from them. Oh, and if you come home late from a party and are worried about waking up your roommate, just turn on the light, for God's sake.
1. THE VANISHING HITCHHIKER
The Story: A man driving home spies a hot young girl in a prom dress hitchhiking by the side of the road. I mean, no one ever says that he picked her up because he thought she was hot, but I think it's a pretty obvious subtext. Anyway, his plans to romance that ethereal hottie are ruined when the man realizes that the hitchhiker has disappeared from his car. When he drives to the address that the girl had given him, he finds her bereaved parents, who tell him that their daughter died several years ago, on the very road where he picked her up.
The Advice: Things that seem too good to be true probably are. I mean, we'd all love to live in a world where sexy hitchhikers just want to make out with us, or a world where dudes who tell you that they played bass in Guster just long enough to put themselves through med school are telling the truth...but we don't. So, in dating and on dark deserted roads, it's wise to exercise caution. You might not accidentally hook up with a ghost, but you could hook up with a guy who has a secret girlfriend one town over, which is probably worse.
2. THE HOOK
The Story: A couple are making out in a car parked somewhere isolated, when they hear a radio news report about a hook-handed murderer who has escaped from an insane asylum. The woman becomes nervous and wants to go home, but the guy wants to keep making out. Eventually, they fight, the guy becomes irate, and he guns it back to the woman's house while pouting about their aborted make-out plans. When the woman exits the car, she finds a bloody hook hanging from the door handle.
The Advice: Don't isolate yourself — it can leave you too (emotionally) vulnerable. Even if there are no hook-handed maniacs running amok in your area code (and be honest — you can't ever be 100 percent sure on that front), emotionally isolating yourself from your friends so that you can spend all your time and energy on your significant other is generally a bad idea. It can seem romantic when you're in the early stages of a relationship, but full-on social isolation, where you never really see or talk to anyone besides your boyfriend or girlfriend, can lead to stress down the road —like when you find yourself and your beloved in a conflict about money, the future, or whether to risk your lives at Makeout Point, and you have no support system to help you take care of yourself and your own needs.
3. THE CLOWN STATUE
The Story: A babysitter, working for a new family, puts the kids to bed and decides to watch some TV. She wants to watch the nice TV, in the parents' bedroom, but the big creepy clown statue in the room unnerves her. What a pair of fucking weirdos these parents are, right? Who on earth has a clown statue in their bedroom? Well, it turns out these parents don't actually have a clown statue in their bedroom — when the babysitter calls the parents to ask for permission to move the creepy statue, they inform her that they don't have a clown statue, and that clown statue is actually an escaped murderer.
The Advice: Don't ignore red flags! Just as no one actually keeps a scary clown statue in their bedroom, no one who frequently bails on plans at the last second because "a thing came up," or is constantly texting but denies it, or who is in possession of five crates of off-brand Ukrainian sleeping pills that they're "holding for a friend" is actually on the up and up and worth your time. Run when you see the clown statue — don't wait for someone else to tell you what you knew in your gut the whole time. Also, people with clown statues in your bedrooms: I'm sorry for calling you weird, please don't make me the focus of your angry letter-writing campaign.
4. THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE
The Story: A babysitter begins receiving threatening anonymous phone calls while she works. The calls urge the babysitter to go upstairs and check on her charges. The babysitter blows the calls off the first few times, thinking that they're just prank calls; but after a few more, she phones the police, who tell her that if she gets another call, they'll trace it. She gets one more call, the police trace it, and they find that the calls are coming from inside the house...from the phone upstairs, in fact, where murderer has already killed all the children that she was watching.
The Advice: Denial is powerful. We can pretend that the creepy phone calls we're receiving aren't that creepy, or that our bad relationship problems aren't really that bad. It's easy to do— easier than confronting our actual problems, usually. But just because it's simpler in the short term doesn't mean that it's a good idea —if you're in denial about your relationship's problems, those problems will still eventually catch up with you, and they'll be much worse than they were when you first noticed them.
5. MURDERER IN THE BACKSEAT
The Story: A woman is driving home alone, late at night. A car begins following her closely, flashing its lights at her. The woman speeds up and does everything she can think of in order to get away from it, but the other car remains aggressive, following her and flashing its lights over and over. When she gets home, the car that's been following her pulls into her driveway, too — but as she runs into her house, the other car's driver tells her that there is a murderer in the backseat of her car, and that he had been flashing his lights at her to try to warn her.
The Advice: Sometimes, our friends are just goddamned busybodies, flashing their headlights at us and trying to point out problems in our love lives because they're bored or unhappy themselves. But sometimes, there are problems in our romantic lives that we can't see, because we're too close to the issue. We sometimes need our closest, most trusted friends to lend a little insight into our relationships and their problems, even when we've convinced ourselves that we know the whole story and have everything under control. So while you should obviously use your own judgment about whether your friends' concerns about a relationship are legit or not, try to pay them some attention — sometimes everyone can see the maniac in the backseat of our relationship except us.