I remember emerging from years of almost entirely same-sex friendships, shocked to find out how much girls had changed from what I remembered, and feeling like I needed a few good courses in cross-cultural communication.
Much of the incremental excitement of relationships at that age (apart from the obviously physical) comes from how “wholly other” the opposite sex seems. They don’t seem to think or act the same way about anything. So dating feels like you’re in an exotic city in some foreign country — which is kind of amazing.
Even the smallest amount of reflection indicates that we are just as strange and unpredictable to our dating partners as they seem to us.
At that age I did not, however, actually engage in even the smallest amount of reflection. From hence sprung many difficulties.
I was sixteen years old for almost my entire junior year in high school in 1978-79, and I was badly in need of a retread. I was still taking piano lessons, but my heart wasn’t in it. Or maybe, my heart was in the music, but it I had realized by that point that my heart would never be in performing, per se.
I had an older friend who was dating a classmate of mine; they were going to a Valentine’s banquet at our church. He suggested I ask one of the other girls at church to go and we could double-date, since I wasn’t old enough to drive.
“But I’ve never been on a date.” I said.
“I know, Owen. All of your friends know this, believe me. That’s why I’m offering to help. You should ask Medusa*,” he said. “I know she’d say yes.”
“We’ve never spoken more than two sentences to each other,” I said.
“I know she’d say yes,” he repeated. Then he handed me her phone number on a piece of paper.
He had come to the conversation prepared. I went to the phone and dialed. “Hello? May I speak to Medusa please? Yes, thank you.” … about 30 seconds … “Hi, Medusa? This is Owen. Would you like to go the Valentine’s banquet with me?”
She said, sure, but not with a lot of enthusiasm.
“Okay, great. Umm… we’ll be with Jon and Tammy, he’ll be driving. We’ll pick you up, um, ten minutes before time, since you live closest. Okay. Bye.”
He was smiling at me. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
I stared back at him. “What’s in this for you?”
“If it’s a double-date, her parents don’t insist on chaperoning. But it has to be people they know from church.”
“I hate you,” I said.
Long story short, the night was a complete fiasco. I never considered it a real date, and it was entirely evident she didn’t, either. But I had supplied valuable wingman service to my friend Jon, so there was that.
Wingmanning, as an important rite of passage, is not to be underestimated.
A few months later, I had turned seventeen and had my driver’s license. It was the weekend, and I was hanging out with several large clusters of teens. On that occasion, still another friend of mine suggested I should approach Medusa again.
“She likes you,” he said.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“No, she does. Just ask her to go for a drive with you,” he said.
“You’re insane,” I said.
“If she says no, I’ll give you five bucks,” he said.
Hey, five bucks is five bucks. I went and found her, talking with some other girls.
“Hey, can I talk to you for a second?”
She said, sure.
We walked a few paces away from her friends. “Would you like to go for a drive with me?” I asked, pretty sure I knew the answer.
“Okay,” she said, almost immediately.
We walked straight out to my car, with my friend grinning like the Cheshire Cat watching us go.
I knew why I was there, but didn’t really know why she was. Upon reflection, I can see that a very similar thought process served as my model for relationships for about twenty years thereafter.
But as for then and there, I had never kissed a girl and wanted to try it, and she was willing. I never learned much about her feelings beyond that.
I think the relationship, such as it was, lasted about two weeks. It ended as abruptly as it had started. Within a few weeks, I was on to another girl.
I was selfish and inconsiderate, of course; I wish I could say I stopped being that way at some point in my life. I think, at some point, my selfishness metastasized to where it is so widespread that I fear I am unable to detect it any more.
That being said, however, what remains is still true: in healthy relationships, we each want what we want and if the other person can’t provide it, we should move on, right?
I’m not sure that is right. It seems right, though.
* “Medusa” is actually shockingly close to this girl’s actual name, but not quite the same.