I’m not sure why, but I’ve always held the belief that dating in high school was pointless and stupid. I secretly scorned those who ventured out into romantic relationships before the “appropriate time,” which was some indeterminate age in The Future that I hadn’t ever really figured out; I watched with disdain as couples held hands in the hallways and showed off PDA by their lockers. I thought it was stupid to attach yourself to another person before (as I’d been told in middle school) your brain matured and adolescence ended at around the age of twenty-five. And even though all my friends around me talked about boys and some of them pleaded desperately for boyfriends at their birthday parties, I remained staunchly against it. I told myself over and over that 1) I would stay true to my personal dating manifesto (a.k.a. I WILL HOLD OUT LONGER THAN ALL YOU SUCKERS, JUST WATCH ME), and 2) it wouldn’t matter if I suddenly happened to change my mind anyway, because no boy would ever want to date me in the first place.
Well, turns out I was wrong about both of those things.
In eleventh grade, I met a guy by chance during my second block spare. I was introduced to him through a mutual friend and we hit it off as soon as I mentioned my *intense* love of manga and anime. It turned out we had a lot in common—we were both dorky, piano-playing anime “freaks” who held the same values in terms of what we wanted to do in life and what our core beliefs were. (It was also a little awkward because although I insisted I’d never seen him before, it turned out we’d attended the same junior high for three straight years.) Normally, it’s a long and difficult process for me to make friends—I get awkward and anti-social around new people, and it’s hard for people to really get close to me right off the bat—but that wasn’t the case with him. I spent every spare I had with him and our mutual friend Steven, playing epic rounds of Monopoly Deal and talking about random everyday stuff. We spent tons of time together: talking, texting, and going to movies and events, even after the semester ended and we didn’t have spare as an excuse to hang out together anymore. Slowly, we grew closer. He became one of my best friends, but over time he kind of crossed and blurred that border between Really, Really Good Friend and Something More.
I’m pretty sure Steven noticed (and he was not subtle AT ALL about his inferences), and although I never said anything my suspicions were eventually confirmed one summer. A tidbit about me: among other genres, I’m a big not-so-secret fan of shoujo manga—manga aimed at girls—like Sailor Moon and Kimi no Todoke, and there are a few common tropes in most shoujo manga that carry through most of the stories. One is that the couple will be walking through an empty tree-lined street when whoosh! The wind blows and the leaves on the trees dramatically sail through the air, causing the couple to look around in (gasp!) *wonder and amazement* while simultaneously experiencing a sickly-sweet moment of epiphany. Or the couple is in the rain and the two share an umbrella like a couple even though they haven’t fully acknowledged their feelings. Or the guy presents the girl with a flower, stammers and messes up what he intends to say, and everything is adorable (unrealistically so) because the audience, but not the characters, knows what the boy really meant to say. Of course, I thought this stuff was too cheesy to ever imagine happening in real life. I used the fact that I’d only ever seen these things in fictional Asian comics targeted at young girls as my evidence that this sort of thing would obviously never actually happen to someone. And, lo and behold, I was wrong again.
I’ll spare you the increasingly cheesy and sweet stuff that followed: the eventual revelation of the truth of how we felt, the well-mannered teasing by everyone around us, the awkward encounters with his family, that one time my cousin found out I was dating someone and gave me a serious talk that should not have been had inside a Tim Hortons coffee shop, and all the other things I never thought I would ever have to deal with for at least another decade, give or take. It made my head spin going through it all so quickly (by my perspective. I think most people wouldn’t consider my pace to fast at all, but my limited forays into the world of teenage romance made anything seem fast to me) and with the feeling that so many people watching and looking and aware.
It seems a little too perfect-sounding, and I’m pretty sure Past Me would’ve vomited out of disgust reading what I just wrote. But I think one of my friends summed it up best when I told her about it and she said, “You know, these kinds of things really only happen to people who don’t believe in them.” She then launched into a discussion about how I should be more over-the-moon and ecstatic, and how I should be thrilled that I now had someone to go on dates with and dance with and go to prom with. She said I was indescribably lucky, and that I should be jumping for joy that a boy had paid attention to me and that it had worked out in my favor. Flipping out over it in a good way, she said, was how I was supposed to act, and I wasn’t supposed to be so calm and collected. She insisted it wasn’t normal.
Keeping in mind that my friend is just as inexperienced as me in matters of *romance* and love, I know she meant only the best. I know she was just concerned that I wasn’t reacting the way she expected me to. But the thing with really becoming friends with someone, getting to know them inside and out, and slowly growing to love them more and more is that—well, for me at least—it took away a lot of the shock I might have felt if I’d bypassed the whole “getting to know you” thing and jumped right into dating. No doubt I was blown away for the first little while, but I grew accustomed to it quickly because I knew him so well already. It was like we’d just grown closer than we already were, and knowing him on such a deep level didn’t really allow for the whole I Am So Privileged And Lucky To Have Been Noticed By Him thing my friend was describing. I don’t think it was abnormal at all, and I don’t think I should have felt as though his noticing me in that way validated my entire existence. It didn’t. He’s special to me, and I care about him a lot, but his presence in my life doesn’t give sudden meaning to it just as mine doesn’t give meaning to his. Dating someone shouldn’t change your whole perception of yourself and leave you unable to talk about anything else but them. They may enhance your life, but you’re also an individual who can stand perfectly fine on their own. Beyoncé once said “I would not be the woman I am if I did not go home to [Jay-Z],” but we all know Beyoncé is totally awesome and amazing on her own and still would be even if she weren’t married to a famous rapper. She doesn’t discount herself in favor of her relationship with Jay-Z, but she does say that his presence in her life has been integral to her own personal development. She remarks that he gives her a foundation and helps her out on a lot of different levels and this, essentially, is what dating and love are all about. As two independent people, each can do perfectly fine on their own; their relationship with the other doesn’t lessen their own abilities and personal worth. Instead, partners in relationships help build up and support each other. I think relationships are more about two people who have a solid understanding of themselves and an already-developed sense of independence who can come together to be even stronger.
I can pretty well say I have this sense of independence. But for the longest time I was convinced—I’m not sure by who—the media? Society?—that women and girls who could stand on their own weren’t as attractive to guys as compliant, easily-controlled ones. I don’t know why I had the impression that this was how things were, but the fact remains that it made me completely certain of my *obviously inevitable* fate of Being Forever Alone. I resisted thinking about who could possibly *like* me that way; I insisted that I was ugly and undesirable because I didn’t match what I saw on TV and in magazines and ads. Honestly, I think my bitterness towards people who were dating stemmed from my increasing awareness of both feminism and the idea that I didn’t need someone else to validate my worth compounded with this perception I had about my future (which revolved primarily around being mired in loneliness and copious amounts of very fluffy cats). All these things combined made me into a very pessimistic and cynical teenager when it came to everything love-related. Only recently has my opinion begun to shift, a little, from what it was before.
I still think high school relationships are, by nature, fleeting and temporary. I still think there is a lot of sense in waiting until you’re older and wiser to start dating, and that there is no shame in remaining single into your twenties or even later. It’ll probably take a very long time for me to change my views completely, if I ever do; it’s hard to change an outlook that has been cultivated for years and years. But now I’m beginning to see the value of a relationship—even a potentially short, non-permanent one. It’s nice to have someone who wants to know everything about you, talk to you anytime you want, hang out with you, and make you happy. It’s wonderful. And this sort of thing could be found in an especially close friend or a significant other—for me, one person embodies both. I was afraid, at first, to admit that I felt more deeply for my (at the time) friend than I was currently acknowledging, probably because I was afraid that my worst fears would be proven true and nobody would want to ever entertain the idea of dating me. After stepping into the experience, though, I’ve been able to let go of the way I considered dating before and how I viewed myself. I’ve stopped rejecting the idea that someone could be attracted to me. Falling into a relationship with a person who cares about and respects me helped me come into myself a little more and grow more accepting of who I am, and ultimately, that far outweighs any of the skepticism I could have presented before. Maybe it doesn’t matter if you love every aspect of yourself before beginning to love someone else—maybe the love of another can help you accept who you are. Maybe you can develop into a better version of yourself, grow to love yourself more completely.
Just a thought.