Why are we surprised to see Jenny Slate at the movies with Jon Hamm?

 It’s like your best friend just turned around and told you she’s dating Jon Hamm.

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An announcement: two human people have been pictured at the movies together. Those two people are known attractive persons Jenny Slate and Jon Hamm. There’s no word yet on what they actually went to see, whether popcorn was or was not consumed, or if either went for a mixed fountain drink.

But the internet was very interested regardless. The news comes after Slate’s high-profile break-up with another Hollywood actor generally considered to be A Hunk™: Chris Evans (aka Captain America). Speculation about whether the two are now dating was rife. New York Magazine’s The Cut sold their coverage of the pictures with the line, “Jon Hamm and Jenny Slate, who are both attractive and currently single, went to the movies together”, noting that “In February, eternally delightful person Jenny Slate broke up with your crush, Chris Evans. And now, she’s been pictured at the movies with your other crush, Jon Hamm.”

Elle went for the headline, “Jenny Slate Is Unequivocally Winning The Hollywood Dating Game Right Now”, while Buzzfeed opted for “Jenny Slate Might Be Dating Jon Hamm And Her Life Really Is A Dream Come True”. Twitter posts called Slate “an icon”, or posited, “if Jenny Slate is dating Jon Hamm right after breaking up with Chris Evans she is truly the most powerful heterosexual in the world”.

Always the tone of surprise. The implication of all these pieces is that Slate is, if not exactly batting above her average, something of a non-traditional choice for Hamm and Evans. Slate is not a 6 foot blonde supermodel, but she is an extremely successful and beautiful Hollywood actress who has also proved herself to be funny, charming, intelligent, emotionally self-aware and generally seems like really good fun. So what’s the issue?

Many of Slate’s fans noticed the backhanded elements to these compliments. “Jenny Slate is way hotter than Jon Hamm,” one Twitter user wrote. “Stop acting like she won the lottery.” Another wrote, “First Chris Evans, now Jon Hamm: neither of those men deserve Jenny Slate and her perfection.” One added, “Full disclosure, I would also like to throw my hat in the ring and try to date Jenny Slate if that is a possibility?”

In a widely-read interview with Vulture, Slate addressed the surprise that greeted her relationship with Chris Evans – including her own.

To be quite honest, I didn’t think I was his type,” she says. (Evans has dated Jessica Biel and Minka Kelly). “Eventually, when it was like, Oh, you have these feelings for me?, I was looking around like, Is this a prank? I mean, I understand why I think I’m beautiful, but if you’ve had a certain lifestyle and I’m a very, very different type of person — I don’t want to be an experiment.” Evans never made her feel that way, but it was hard to get past how so many people seemed to feel some ownership of him and view her as an interloper. “If you are a woman who really cares about her freedom, her rights, her sense of being an individual, it is confusing to go out with one of the most objectified people in the entire world,” she says. Especially when she’s aware that in Hollywood, she says, “I’m considered some sort of alternative option, even though I know I’m a majorly vibrant sexual being.”

Although she is a conventionally attractive, very successful actress, Slate knows she is “considered some sort of alternative option” when put next to stars like Jessica Biel.

But is there something else going on? 35-year-old Slate has enormous popularity amongst 20 and 30-something women, both thanks to her warm and funny performances in Obvious Child, Girls, and Parks and Recreation, and her generally warm and funny persona. Just look at this selection of tweets, which, with their blend of feminism, humour, self-deprecation and encouragement, are obviously written by the funnier, wiser older sister you never had:

And that Vulture piece is a rare thing in celebrity profiles – a genuinely candid and exposed interview. She talks openly about her feelings for Evan, the difficulties of meeting him at the same time as her divorce was going through, her lack of “prudence” in dating again so quickly. She even compares herself to ornamental mice:

Slate introduces me to the mascots of her new home, two cute mice figurines in jaunty outfits who look like they’re off to travel the world. “The way I feel now is I’ve stepped out of the woods and I’m a forest animal and I’m standing on the lawn,” she says. “And if anybody tried to approach me right now, they’re seeing a creature that’s just trying to figure out what the lawn is like. All I’m thinking about is the lawn. I’m not thinking about whether or not they are going to be a fun person to be on the lawn with, because I am just trying to be on the lawn.” And what or where is this lawn? “It’s just where I am,” she says. “I like the lawn. It’s filled with air, freedom, sunlight, and I’m alone.”

Part of the reason people feel so surprised by, and so invested in, Slate’s love life, and her closeness to society’s paragons of male attractiveness, is because they see themselves in her. Slate is generous enough to be open and vulnerable in a very public way, and that makes her simultaneously relatable and aspirational. It’s like your best friend just turned around and told you she’s dating Jon Hamm. You love your best friend. You think anyone would be lucky to date her. You’ve always thought she is radiant and beautiful and special. But you’re still shocked and excited to learn she’s dating Jon fucking Hamm.

The delight onlookers feel in glimpsing Slate’s love life in tabloids might be creepy, or misplaced, or even vaguely patronising. But, to me, it doesn’t seem malicious or insulting. Because who wouldn’t want to be Jenny Slate?

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

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