I was flipping through my grade ten diary this morning, searching for blog fodder suitable for a slow Saturday, and I came across this entry comparing my symptoms of lovesickness with those of my friend (I’ll call her Felicia). I relied heavily on italics in those days, so instead of using the blockquote feature (which puts the whole thing in italics, thus obscuring the trademark of my fifteen-year-old style), I’ll just inform you that the entry begins HERE:
Felicia was in deep, deep, DEEP depression today at lunch because Bruce was talking to the girl with the black hair ("the sleaze bag"). Now I realize how ridiculous I was last year. Felicia does not agree, and never will that she is as bad as I was last year. Come on! Here are the symptoms I displayed:
- I worried over my hair and clothes whenever I thought I would see him [Jeff, the seventeen-year-old aspiring missionary who clearly required no introduction in my diary – when the word "him" has no clear antecedent, it always refers to Jeff]. Felicia is even worse than I was that way.
- When he ignored me I was plunged into the depths of despair. Felicia, undeniably and admittedly is too.
- When he spoke to other girls I wanted to scratch his eyes out – or better yet, hers. ("That sleaze-bag"?)
- I made a big deal out of all sorts of little things (i.e. any U2 song, red shoes, any expression he ever used). Felicia repeats reverently any phrase Bruce’s lips have uttered.
- I went crazy every time he paid any attention to me. Felicia dwells lovingly on all the details. She called me last night and spent half an hour telling me how Bruce noticed her pink binder.
- I talked about him ceaselessly. Has Felicia mentioned anything else?
- I tried many times (unsuccessfully) to get over him. Felicia is doing all of that now.
I don’t know what to tell her. Up until now I’ve been helpful because of my experience in these matters [rejection and unrequited love – the two areas in which my experience was already quite vast, though my experience in actually interacting with boys was still basically nil]. The way I got over Jeff, or at least got over the impatience and jealousy, was by leaving the country for awhile. This is, however, impracticable in Felicia’s case. [Yes, I really said "impracticable."]
A big kitty named Mack just came in. How privileged we are to have such a marvellous beast in our home!
Duncan asked if he could borrow my liquid paper today. It was so romantic.
[end of entry]
I assume, though I cannot be certain, that the final sentence was meant ironically. Duncan was my Rebound Crush, a boy in whom I cultivated an interest in order to bolster the fiction that I was over Jeff.
Reading that entry has made me curious, not for the first time, about the principles that govern the adolescent crush. In addition to the Rebound Crush, there are at least three additional sub-species:
The Boredom Crush: One of my favourite scenes in cinema is the opening sequence of My American Cousin, in which the twelve-year-old heroine lies flopped across her bed, writing in her diary with painstaking care the following words: "NOTHING. EVER. HAPPENS." That pretty much sums up my experience of adolescence, which I remember now as a constant struggle against the overwhelming uneventfulness of my life. The Boredom Crush was the best, and possibly the only way to alleviate that ever-present tedium. Ideally, the object of this crush should be elusive: there needs to be suspense – will I see him today when I walk past his locker? Will he smile if we pass each other in the halls? A distant acquaintance is better for this purpose than a total stranger, since there is the tantalizing possibility (rarely realized) of actual interaction. One of the most euphoric moments of my teenage life occurred when the mother of the best friend of my current Boredom Crush came into the fruit market where I worked and initiated a friendly chat. The following Monday, her son came up to me after French class – my Boredom Crush standing idly by – and said, "My mom met you the other day. She said you were really nice." It was several hours before I came down from the high of that excitement.
The Social Advancement Crush: A key element of the boyfriend fantasy is the social advancement that could be achieved if one could only attract the eye of the right boy. Not just any boyfriend would do; I can think of two girls who inhabited the same semi-nerdy netherworld I did who engaged in what I saw as all-too-palpable attempts to improve their social status through long and elaborately staged PDAs. The trouble was that their boyfriends were even more nerdy than they, and considerably less attractive, so the resulting spectacle was little more than a trainwreck, one of those rare occasions where the high school pecking order and the code of basic human decency were violated simultaneously. For the Social Advancement Crush to be effective, the object of one’s affections must occupy a higher echelon on the high-school hierarchy. In practice, this means that the Social Advancement Crush leads to an actual relationship only in movies like Some Kind of Wonderful and Pretty in Pink (and even then, Social Advancement often conflicts with True Love, and True Love always wins).
The Real Thing: The distinguishing feature of the Real Thing (as opposed to the Rebound, Boredom, and Social Advancement Crushes) is its involuntary nature. Those other crushes can be stopped at will; when the experience becomes more painful than entertaining, it’s time to move on. With the Real Thing, one remains skewered on a pin, wriggling in pain but unable to escape. In that sense, you don’t find out that what you’re feeling is the Real Thing until it’s already too late. But what is it that separates the Real Thing from the purely utilitarian crush? Why could I pick myself up and dust myself off after being publically and humiliatingly rejected by Duncan, but still continue to pine after Jeff for years to come?
To be sure, Jeff fulfilled my criteria of desirability more fully than anyone else I met in my high-school years. The minimum standards of desirability were as follows:
- attractive (but in a slightly geeky, non-bicep-related way): It was a matter of pride with me that I didn’t go for the broad-shouldered football-player types favoured by some of my more conventional friends. Tall, lanky, dark-haired and ever-so-slightly goth: that was my M.O.
- smart: Not necessarily smarter than me (that narrowed the pool a little too drastically), but intellectual. Idealistic. Interested in debating the arms race, or the existence of God, or the merits of Ronald Reagan as a President.
- well-liked: My crushes were never loners – they were unconventional, in some ways, but accepted in that way that guys had of accepting differences among themselves, so long as certain key attributes, such as heterosexuality and hockey ability, were observed.
Shyness was a plus, though not absolutely essential. I had a few half-hearted Social Advancement crushes on gregarious boys whose friendliness made them seem more attainable than they actually were, but my heart of hearts was always reserved for the quiet ones. I remember spending ten minutes in silence in the stands of the local arena, searching vainly for something to say to the quietly friendly boy with the beautiful eyebrows, who was almost certainly searching equally vainly for something to say to me. Eventually he gave up and went away – and ended up dating a talkative, outgoing, and wholly unsuitable girl who had far less in common with him than I did, while I kicked myself repeatedly for my stupidity.
Arena Boy was, for many years, the One Who Got Away. But I didn’t dedicate years of my life to mourning his loss – I reserved that for Jeff, and after reading Cinnamon Gurl’s recent post about the womanizer vs. the woman-lover, I think I may know why. The womanizer, Cin points out, "approaches seduction with a hint of deception; there is a sense of victory and triumph, like a warrior, when they are successful." Felicia’s Bruce may have been a bit of a womanizer, but I don’t think I’ve ever been attracted to one: it’s too easy to scent their deceit, to glimpse the forked tongue behind their words. The woman-lover, however, is another matter: these men are irresistibly sincere in their ability to find "something attractive about pretty much every woman they meet. They are genuine and warm and enthusiastic, but also not very loyal. They are great fun, and make you feel special, because they genuinely see the special-ness of every woman." Jeff was the church-youth-group version of the woman-lover: he had a trick of giving 100% of his attention to whomever he was talking to: he would focus the whole of his intense personality on whoever had caught his interest (and that would change from week to week). His path was strewn with corpses, of which I was only one.
As Charlotte Lucas so sagely points out, "there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement." I have always considered the teenage girl to be an exception to Charlotte’s rule: a romantic fourteen-year-old requires almost no encouragement at all to become a would-be stalker. But now I’m not so sure: perhaps my irrationality was at least in part due to my luckless encounter with a tall, smart, idealistic, Christian, teenage girl-lover.