I've made no secret of my fascination with "Girl." Some songs can simply cast a spell on you, and this is what "Girl" has done to me. Much of its allure is owed to John's spellbinding vocal, which I touched on and praised here. I won't rehash those points; instead, I'll dig a bit deeper (by indirect routes) into one of the other elements that accounts for the song's magnetism. And that is the girl herself, the bewildering subject of John's tortured tribute. She makes you wonder: Why is it that John can't help himself? Why can't he see her for what she is? Why can't he rid himself of her once and for all? She must be some prize, albeit a poisonous one.
"She's the kind of girl you want so much/It makes you sorry/Still you don't regret a single day."
I love the formulation of that line, opening as it does with, "She's the kind of girl." It's how someone in real life might lament a girl who has bewitched and beset him. For instance:
She's the kind of girl you shouldn't forgive.
She's the kind of girl who doesn't believe in a straight answer.
She's the kind of girl you know everything and nothing about.
She's the kind of girl who might read this but never openly acknowledge that she did.
She's the kind of girl who lies to herself and the world everyday.
She's the kind of girl you just want to sit next to.
She's the kind of girl you can't quit.
Yes, "Girl" draws you in because of the familiarity of its emotions. The details about the girl may vary. As in, yours may not intend to be cruel like John's does, and yours may not possess her boldness of temperament. Yours in fact may be something close to the opposite: quietly charming, warm-hearted, and fragile. But when the end result is the same, when bitter frustration takes hold after she lets you in for several sweet, fleeting moments and then recoils from you afterward because that's just what she does, that's when John's emotions become your own. That's when you walk in his path. And you realize that all of the thorny and fraught sentiments on "Girl" could easily be reduced to that timeless lyric written by one of John's heroes: "I don't like you/But I love you." I doubt there are eight words which could better capture the vexing experience of love that so many endure.
As John and Smokey convey, it's an experience of limbo: you're caught between love and hate, heart and mind, what you want to do versus what you should do. At times, the problem seems irresolvable. You rightly conclude that, if your love for her has survived such turmoil, then it probably is indeed love and is worth pursuing. Denying it will solve nothing. But neither will attempts to directly address the underlying issues. Or so it seems, anyway. John could rebuke his girl for the abuse she administers, but she would probably find some measure of amusement in his action, only making him feel smaller. And what of our possible real world parallel? You could confront her about everything, but her response would likely be to maintain her insouciant pose. While sprinkling in bits of truth, she would avoid the crux of the matter and leave you feeling embarrassed by how much you've dwelt on her and how you refuse to let go of her and how dear she is to you even as she's offered you scant reason to believe she shares your emotions. She'd give the impression that most of these thoughts had barely dawned on her; you see, she's just been far too wrapped up in living life to trifle with these matters of the heart. And for that, you hate her. "I don't like you/But I love you."
You wish you could be steadfast in the former so as to gradually kill the latter. You try to fool yourself into thinking that what is there actually isn't. Your head stages a coup against your heart. It calls to mind a poignant line from Franz Ferdinand's "Walk Away:" "I cannot turn to see those eyes/As apologies may rise/I must be strong and stay an unbeliever/And love the sound of you walking away."
To no surprise, each coup is foiled. You remain a believer. You press on, clinging to hopes that are fed by the faintest signs of requited affection. Limbo continues.
"And she promises the earth to me/And I believe her/After all this time I don't know why."
Why? That is where John and so many others find themselves stuck. They wonder, "Why must you be the way you are? Why can't our almost-romance be a joy instead of a hardship? Why can't you let me care for you without all of these entanglements rearing their head? If nothing's there, why can't you just say the word and end this?"