Somewhere in the September 1991 part of my teenage journal is a transcript of the time I called up my crush and asked her out.
I feel like I need to let that marinate for a moment because it might take a moment for you to understand that I called this girl up, asked her out, got a ‘maybe”, and then wrote down, word for word, what we said to one another.
I’m not sure why I did this except that I know I spent a lot of that journal’s pages writing about how I had this obsessive crush on her, so the fact that I was actually taking that step to see if she would go out with me must have been really important. Because it’s really all I seemed to be writing about as there is page after embarrassing page of “I LOVE SHARON”* and nothing remotely about the events of the world or my life at the time. All right, I did write about the time I ran for student council vice president and the time someone stole an expensive camera out of my locker**. But that was all secondary to this ginormous crush on this girl, and I’m surprised more people didn’t think that I was a total creep.
Even now, I’m having some trouble writing this entry because all I can think of is how I tended to act like ‘the puppy who followed you home” whenever I liked a girl throughout my teenage years. For instance, I knew most of my crush’s class schedule. Okay, so that took very little effort because the two of us were honors students and had multiple classes together for all of junior high and high school (we’re talking about five out of each day’s eight classes), and most people who went to high school around this time (boys and girls) probably knew similar minutiae of their crush’s lives. Still, that’s probably more attention than anyone would want placed on them by someone they don’t know very well.
All that has me thinking about every time I may have bothered someone a bit too much or been awkwardly flirty or weird. I want to chalk it all up to immaturity, but that seems like a cheap cop out even if it’s mostly true. As a high school freshman, I had terrible social skills and they were even worse when I liked someone because what would happen that I would act like a total goofball around that person. Then I’d go home and write in my journal about how much of an idiot I was. You know, when I wasn’t writing excitedly about any time that she or anyone else gave me positive attention.
My friends weren’t much better, either, so I was in similar company, although not all of them seemed to talk about girls as much as I did–well, at least in the context of wanting to date them. They tended to talk about them in that objectifying “guy talk” way that back then went along with hiding porno mags under your mattress.
And yes, this was “acceptable” in some manner nearly thirty years ago and I know that litigating the attitudes of myself and my friends when we were 14 is an exercise in navel gazing, but as I write this, I’m thinking about how I’m raising a soon-to-be 13-year-old boy and therefore I have a responsibility. I’ve seen the ways that men act as if they’re entitled to another person’s body and affection, and they often pass that on to the boys they are raising, along with a host of other toxic definitions of “manliness.” My son doesn’t need to slowly discover feminism and evolve through his teens, twenties, and thirties; those ideals should be a foundation as he grows up.
That’s simultaneously easy and hard. It’s easy because his parents can serve as good examples; it’s hard because we’re not the only people influencing him and as progressive as the area where I live can be, it is also filled with men who believe that your identity is tied to how well you can throw a ball. Plus, I had to break years of programming of “We don’t talk about these things” so that he could know that we can always have an honest conversation. It is, in the very least, a work in progress.
And in the very least, when Sharon talked to me couple of days after I called her and told me no, I took the hint and didn’t bother her again. I’d become skilled at taking those particular hints (although ironically never picked up on signals being sent to me by people who actually found me attractive), and while my journal shows an internal pining at a level that almost seems unhealthy, my external awkwardness and shyness at the time made sure it was internal. Flipping through my yearbooks at the time, I see stuff like “you’re a sweet guy” or “you’re so nice.” I’d like to think I’m genuinely like that and not pulling anything over on anyone, but I also don’t want to seem like I’m giving myself credit for … well, for anything, really.***
There is an amusing epilogue to this, by the way, and it takes place on the night I graduated high school. I was at my friend’s graduation party and ran into Sharon’s cousin. We got to talking and I joked that her cousin and I had so many classes over the years and she maybe said two words to me. Her cousin’s reply was, “I know you asked her out.”
That phone call from the beginning of high school was something I’d never told anyone about, so I was pretty surprised when she brought it up. I was even more surprised when she told me that Sharon had felt bad about having to turn me down and thought I hated her for it; I thought that she didn’t like me.
Then, my friend butted in with, “You asked out Sharon? I have so much more respect for you now.”
I think her cousin and I laughed out loud at that one and I closed out my high school journal by writing about that conversation–a weird bookend to my adolescence.
*Not her real name. You really didn’t think I’d use her name here, did you?
**It was my dad’s SLR camera and I don’t think I was ever forgiven for it, just like the time that someone stole my bike and I caught hell for it. A few years later, I had a recurring dream that I was hit head on by a drunk driver while waiting at a red light and then got yelled at for wrecking the car.
***Full disclosure: this is literally my fourth draft of this. And I still don’t think I’m getting across with any nuance the emotional struggle of boys like myself back then or now. There’s a lot that points to my also having undiagnosed anxiety and maybe depression, but beyond that I think I was also lonely.