As promised, the first installment of my trip down my hall of failure – or rather, my previous misadventures with the opposite sex to try to figure where I went wrong.
Naturally, I know there is more to it than that, and part of it reaches back to childhood. As a Millennial (or of “Generation Y”), my childhood origins begin in the 1980’s. It was the era of Ronald Reagan, hair metal, He-Man, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Inspector Gadget, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Cold war paranoia ebbed and flowed, and manly action movies were all the rage featuring one square jawed muscle man with no emotions but tons of catch phrases after the next. I was raised by a single mother who, ironically, had been a “flower child” of the 60’s and 70’s and a very well “liberated” woman who was a major fan of sci-fi. Most trained in classical psychology would blame all of my problems on either her or the lack of a father figure, but I find that both dismissive and simplistic. If I did indeed need a father figure, I imagine I created some sort of ideal male image around what was projected at me by the media. A man was tough but honest, brave but compassionate, patient but whose righteous anger could come when most needed.
Unfortunately, I was never very physically inclined as a kid. I wasn’t good at sports and wasn’t very coordinated. I was never a violent child nor did I pursue it as a means to end conflicts.
Naturally, my earliest memories wouldn’t start until I was about 3-4 years old, as for most people. My mother once related a story about when I was about 1-2 years old on a train once, where she was talking with another parent who had a daughter who was roughly 4-5 at the time. Apparently I imitated something I’d seen on TV as I took her hand and kissed the front of it, as royals sometimes did in cartoons. Naturally I remember none of this, and it’s just my mother’s hearsay. According to her, I also probably took way too many of those lessons at the end of He-Man or Inspector Gadget episodes to heart as I often would encourage kids not to do something wrong on playgrounds, such as sliding backwards down a slide.
So, it seems even as a toddler, I was a boring drip.
Attempting to find solid day care for me so she could work full time again was quite a challenge for mom. I fell and lost a tooth at one center, which led to a lawsuit and a small settlement years later. At another I was traumatized by some experience involving one of the workers and “a bad doctor”, but to this day I remember none of it. Mother claims the very sight of a “Jack & the Beanstalk” Golden Book would cause me to become hysterical for a year or so after.
My first major foray into the opposite sex came in elementary school. I attended a private Catholic School from kindergarten to 5th grade. Although neither mom and I were Catholic, she chose the school because she thought it would offer a better education than public school, and that I’d likely be bullied at public school as well. Later experience would prove that her concerns were completely true. Perhaps the best thing about that experience is that aside for a new kid now and then, the same class which entered kindergarten any particular year would remain together for every grade after that; everyone knew everyone. The ratio of boys to girls at the school at the time was roughly 2:1. Most of us boys by then were going through Freud’s “latent” stage of psycho-sexual development, picking friends of our gender and thinking the other had “cooties”. To the best of my memory the girls also acted the same way in the earlier grades.
Yet there was one (whose name I will change to “Cynthia” to protect the innocent) who caught my interest despite this being the time of boys doing boyish things. It was either 2nd or 3rd grade and I forget many of the details, but my crush on her seemed to be an open secret within my class. Her mother and mine talked after school sometimes and eventually they knew it as well. It is very possible in one of the creative writing classes or homework assignments I made envisioned her as some princess to save or something. It is also possible I may have blurted something out in class some day, or just the general feeling the other kids picked up. We did talk sometimes, but I was always quite shy.
At one point, I think it was either 3rd or 4th grade, something different happened. Cynthia suddenly started talking to me a lot, hanging out with me in the schoolyard and even chatting with me at lunch if possible. She was acting very much like a girlfriend, even giving me her phone number and telling me I could call after school sometime. I was on cloud 9, wondering what I’d done to make this come true. Had I been charming? Handsome? Did I impress her at gym somehow?
I was always shy about calling girls on the phone, and after a few days I decided to take her up on her offer to call. Remember, this was long before cellular phones were nearly as common for everyday people to possess, especially kids in elementary school. Anyway, the conversation didn’t go for long until Cynthia dropped a bombshell. She’d been dared by her friends to “pretend” to be my girlfriend for a week, and she’d taken them up on it. She did feel bad about it, which was why she was telling me. I was more surprised and shocked than anything else.
By the time I was reaching 4th and 5th grade, that “latent” phase was starting to break down among my peers, and some were dating. I recall it being an awkward transition for me; I was comfortable remaining within my “tribe” of male friends for various activities, yet there was always some space for girls I liked, at least from afar. Let me take this moment to note that although I was a goodhearted kid, I was hardly above teasing other people on occasion, even girls I wasn’t as fond of. There was one newer girl at the time who I heartlessly nicknamed “horse-face” a few times. Years later, she really blossomed and when I ran into her during high school a few times, she’d become truly beautiful. By then I’d long regretted those taunts (especially since by junior high I’d been bullied for quite some time) and make a halfhearted attempt to apologize. She claimed to have barely even remembered it at all, and while we didn’t ever interact much she seemed to only have positive memories of sharing a class for a few grades. But now I am skipping ahead a bit.
After 5th grade, my grades were starting to slip and my mother was no longer able to afford my tuition there, so I would go to a public school for the last three grades of elementary school (often called “junior high”). It was a whole new world for me, going in as a new kid instead of the well known class clown of private school. The Catholic school did experiment and hold some dances (in the gym and church basement) for the kids by the time we were in 4th-5th grade and I usually attended. They were awkward affairs, usually full of bad dancing and hanging out, and some coupling for some. Naturally, Cynthia and I continued to be in the same class and we’d talk now and then as classmates do, and I think a part of me always wondered how true her statements were.
This was only the beginning, and I highly doubt my experience here would factor nearly as much as the trials and tribulations of junior high (7th grade in particular). Still, a first crush is usually some landmark memory for some, and mine ended up being nothing more to me than a childhood prank. I have to admit I did carry a torch for Cynthia longer than some kids probably should have, and even to this day I bare her no ill will at all. Kids are kids. Despite this anticlimax to my first case of “puppy love”, my time at that private school were some of the happiest and most innocent years of my life, despite having to deal with a lot of stern and often bitter nuns as teachers, as well as having religion crammed down my throat. I’ll never forget the priest’s face when I asked him why none of the twelve apostles were women, if Jesus Christ were so perfect. I always considered myself too open minded to believe in religion, instead trying to be a good person despite it.
Hopefully the end to this adventure doesn’t seem too disappointing. Trust me, they mostly go downhill from here.