Thursday, December 27, 2012

Junior High Sweethearts

Violet and Tate, American Horror Story (season 1, episode 4).
When I was in eighth grade, a seventh grader had a crush on me. He was friends with someone who was friends with someone who was friends with me. Word got around that he liked me. I'm pretty sure he wanted me to know. He told someone, if I'm not mistaken, to tell me.

I don't know what he thought was going to happen.

My response was not normal. Even at the time, as a young girl, I knew it was not normal. I was unnerved and upset, really the opposite of flattered. Knowing he had feelings for me actually gave me self-doubt and frightened me a little. So I refused to speak to him. I wouldn't even glance his way in the morning, when all the students huddled into the cafeteria from the snow to wait until school officially opened.

The problem? I didn't know this kid at all. When someone first told me his name, I had never heard it before. I didn't know who he was. This was a person I did not know who apparently had been in some sense watching me without my knowledge. That alone frightened me. He didn't know me, and if he didn't know me, on what basis could he have possibly had a crush on me?

I don't want to speak for women generally, but for me, it felt powerless and humiliating. This person I didn't know had been watching me -- that's the powerless part. And it was humiliating, or degrading might be a better word, to think someone would "like" me without ever having spoken to me. I know that's not at all what he intended.

While I was in grade school and even junior high, I didn't have those puppy love relationship that some kids have. Nothing about it ever seemed remotely right. I was still a fairly typical age at my first kiss, first snogging, first real date, but it took a lot of time and courage to get over those fears. There was never a point when I put them behind me. I surmounted them painfully every time.

I've been thinking (dwelling) lately on femininity and female identity, not in the feminist sense so much as my own individuality. The picture above is from the television show American Horror Story. Two young teen characters, Violet and Tate, develop a bond and eventually form a relationship, but in the pilot, there's a moment when he grabs her hands, when it's too early, before she knows him. Uncertainty and fear, the unknowingness of his feelings and whether her own feelings match his, comes across in Violet's face. Is she safe? Is this okay? Is this what she wants?

Some people describe this as the mixture of fear and excitement, but in plenty of instances for plenty of people, I'm sure the excitement is minimal, but the fear is real.

Horror story aside, it's a brilliantly scripted and acted moment that struck me in a profound way, even though the physicality of it is nothing more than two hands holding.

As we become adults, few people have the time to reflect back on those kinds of moments, and even fewer have the patience to let them happen again. After a certain age, people take a leap, move so fast they don't have time for that fear, and deal with any regret later. But I think adults might learn something from teenagers and junior high sweethearts.

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