This past week my son went on his first "date". I call it a "date", quotation marks and all, because his "friend" accompanied us to my birthday lunch and then a movie. She then joined us at home for a game of basketball, Yahtzee, and any other thing I could think of to keep the mood light and active as possible. Watching him struggle through the discomfort and angst of being with a girl he likes while still being a little unsure if this was a path he was ready to watch brought memories flooding back to me. It seemed like just yesterday that...
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First love never comes easy and it leaves even harder. It has to be easier for girls than for boys. Little girls are in love from the time they walk. Little girls play house, they get dressed up and pretend to get married, they express their adulation for the blonde boy in their class, and they understand they have this thing called feelings.
Little boys are a different story. Little boys grow up thinking of ways to ostracize themselves from little girls. Little boys have clubs that are solely designed to keep little girls from getting in. Little boys play with bugs and lizards and dogs. Little boys don’t use the word love unless it involves sports, animals, or ice cream. You just won’t find a little boy getting dressed up in his Sunday best pretending to walk down the aisle.
For all of these reasons, it has to be easier for a girl to have a first boyfriend than for a boy to finally acknowledge that girls exist. Think about it. When a six-year-old girl likes a boy how does she show it? Usually she draws him a picture and tells everyone that she is going to marry the little boy. When a six-year-old boy likes a girl how does he show it? Usually he pulls her hair, kicks her, pokes her with his pencil, tells everyone he can’t stand her, and then wishes he wouldn’t lose all of his friends by saying that he likes her.
By my accounts, little boys spend their entire elementary career making little girl’s lives difficult while at the same time building a wall of isolation around them to keep the girls out. Little girls spend their elementary years patiently waiting for the little boys to pull their heads out.
These years go by and then these little girls and little boys hit junior high and become preteens and early teens. Suddenly little boys who have spent a lifetime building a wall of isolation are tiptoeing to see what is on the other side (they usually stay on their tiptoes until at least eighth grade because the girls are taller than them at this point). So how does a preteen and early teen boy deal with the process of liking a girl, deal with the teasing he is going to get from his friends, and more importantly deal with the grief he will be getting from his older brother and sister and Dad (Moms don’t usually tease about first love, they still remember it fondly). And make no mistake, there is no crueler exploiter of first love angst than a Dad because he has been there and done that and he wants the grief to trickle downwards.
Her name was Melissa.
I don’t remember her last name but I will never forget her first name. I was twelve years old and in seventh grade. I was recently removed from the world of action figures and toy cars and cartoons and was now thrust into a world of popular music, name brand jeans, and girls. I found all three to be confusing. Two years ago clothes seemed optional, music was something that came out of wind up toys, and girls were target practice for a good pile of rocks. Now I was supposed to dress a certain way, listen to a certain style of music, and acknowledge that girls are good for something beyond accuracy practice. This was all very confusing.
To make matters worse there was this girl, named Melissa, who seemed to smile just right. She was nice and pretty and I did not have an urge to poke my pencil in her ear. Oh, these were hard times. I found myself talking to her in class and I wasn’t even describing gross things or making her the butt of my jokes. We actually talked about music and name brand jeans and all of the other things I found repulsive about teenage years. I talked as if I was interested and I grew more confused by the day.
The fateful day came when I was talking to Melissa about name brand jeans and popular music when she asked me if I had seen a movie that was now showing. I told her no; completely unaware that this was a trap that would commit me to a lifetime of female companionship, possibly even dominance. She asked me to meet her at the Saturday matinee and see the show with her and her friends. I said OK before I thought through the prospects of being at a show with her and her female friends. All I heard was movie and I said OK. It wasn’t until later that I realized I would be in a dark room with a girl and possibly some of her friends. I had just committed myself to the dark side.