Saturday, December 23, 2006

Anatomy of the Teenage Heart

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.

18 comments:

Mouse said...

"Interested in debating... the merits of Ronald Reagan as a President."

Can there be such a debate? Are there really two sides?

But I totally get you on the intellectual (i.e., nerdy) side of the crush. My high school boyfriend and I used to play with the etymology of words in Latin, French, and Spanish. For hours. And truly enjoy it.

bubandpie said...

Well, this was 1986. A lot of people really loved Ronald Reagan in those days (not me).

Mimi said...

You are a brave woman, B&P, both for the forthrightness of your crushes, and your willingness to return to them here. I only seemed to have the unstoppable kind, and never requited. Even in high school, I seemed mostly to dream of some far-distant retribution: perhaps a 10 year reunion where I would be fabulously adorned with Christian Slater? Or maybe Trent Reznor? And everyone would realize what they had missed out on ...

Anyhow, your taxonomy of crushes seems to indicate far greater control than I ever managed to pull off. Hope you got Felicia sorted out, eventually :-)

Veronica Mitchell said...

Reading this recalls a little too vividly the painful helplessness of the crush. Ugh. You have actually made me glad to be pregnant, the one state of being in which I am impervious to crushes.

MommyWithAttitude said...

This is a great post! Now I'm going to try to remember all of my adolescent crushes, and the high involved with just "passing him in the hall..."

Momish said...

You are so right on with the types of crushes. I had at least five of each throughout my teen years. None panned out, of course, so I feel your angst over Jeff!

I tended to always like the underdog (the Hutch instead of the Starsky, if you will) but I think it had more to do with less competition than the actual boy himself!

cinnamon gurl said...

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.

That was so me!!

Except I do go for loners. I think Sugar Daddy qualified as a loner to some extent, as did my first boyfriend (the first crush that actually grew into something mutual).

Mad Hatter said...

OK, I've got guests arriving in a minute and comment fully but I do need to say this: "an aspiring missionary" !?! So you were the St. John Rivers type were you? My goodness.

Oh, The Joys said...

I love when you categorize things like this!

Merry Christmas to you! Kisses to the Bub and Pie!

OTJ

Lady M said...

I think I was a junior in high school before I realized that it was much more interesting to have a crush on an acquaintance than a stranger. Like you wrote, there was always a chance that you'd talk, ask a question on homework, and potential for more!

TrudyJ said...

What? You didn't have the "rescue crush?" The "He's so lost and lonely and misunderstood, but I'm the only one who can see his beautiful inner soul and rescue him" crush? Also known as the "Leader of the Pack" crush ... with extra shadings of meaning for good little evangelical girls as he could also be "lost" in the theological sense, and in need of being saved by The Love of a Good Woman.

Aaahhh... those were the days. I still fall in love at the drop of a hat ... after getting married I realized having a crush on someone did not mean that person was a likely candidate to spend the rest of your life with ... wish I'd caught onto that sooner!

bubandpie said...

TrudyJ - Never experienced the Rescue Crush myself, though I did thoroughly enjoy reading about it in the last two books in the Keeping Days series (all of which, I later realized, portrayed deeply unhealthy relationships in ways that I perceived at the time as utterly romantic).

wordgirl said...

I burned the journals of my teenage years. I'm only slightly sorry that I did so. I'm curious about the things that happened to me (though, like you, it seemed that nothing ever did), but the emotions I would have to revisit would probably be too much.

I didn't like Ronald Reagan either, so you can imagine what a low opinion I have of GWB. I'm just saying.

Beck said...

Of all the things that I'm grateful for in this life, never having to be a miserable teenager again is pretty much on the top of my list. I believe that we had crushes on the exact same sort of guy - although mine was dating a girl who may as well have been my doppleganger. It was highly, highly tragic.

Mayberry said...

You've captured it once again.
My pain in rememberign these crushes lies mostly in the fact that on the few occasions that the crush eventually returned the feeling, I dropped him like a hot potato. What a meanie!

ewe are here said...

For some odd reason, when I was young all my crushes when were on totally unsuitable boys - generally cute but not necessarily real bright. Rather ridiculous now that I think about it, because once I got to know some of them I lost interest quickly because they all bored the heck out of me.

Thank goodness I've grown up since then!

Sandra said...

Oh how I felt this post!!!

Is it wrong I giggled every time I read "sleaze bag" because I think that phrase can absolutely be found in my teenage diary.

And the Real Thing ... swoon.

Ah...sweet high school crushes

TrudyJ said...

Oh gosh yes...those last two Keeping Days books ... Saranne and Paul were the poster children for dysfunctional relationships. If I'd read them as a teenager I probably would have thought it was soooo romantic. Fortunately I read them in my 20s when some hard-earned experience with Rescue Crushes made me want to go back in time and give Paul a good hard smack and Saranne a copy of "Codependent No More."