Dear Chris (age 16),
Ask that boy to prom!
The first time I remember finding out that a boy wanted to ask me out on a date was my junior year of high school. In the locker room. After gym class.
My friends and I were sitting and talking about who was going to wear what to prom and I found myself lamenting the fact that yet another high school formal was coming and going and no one was interested in me. Most of my girlfriends didn’t have boyfriends consistently in those days, but this particular prom found a large number of them going with boys…without me.
And then something astounding happened. One of my best friends nonchalantly told me that this freshman (who several people already thought was my boyfriend because we got along so well and who I secretly had a crush on) had been planning to ask me to go, but she had told him not to because she knew I would say no.
Ok. In her defense I dimly recall having had a conversation about how weird it would be to have to drive your date to prom. I was, after all, 16 and finally driving. A high school junior. Free. And he was only a freshman, tied to the humdrum existence of having to beg rides from his mom.
High school. The days of never feeling anyone could be compatible with you if they were not the same height, age or social status. I mean, girls are supposed to like OLDER boys; not younger ones.
I remember feeling several things.
1 – Betrayal – Like my friend had done the most awful thing she could have done to me. Like it was possible she had ruined my life and kept me from true happiness.
2 – Rejection – Because if he really liked me, he would have asked me anyway.
3 – Sadness and disappointment – In myself because, truth be told, she was probably right. I probably would have said no because of what other people might have thought about me.
Because even though he was adorable and we were friends and had a lot in common and had fun together, I had denied this to others who would see us walking down the hall together and assumed we must be boyfriend/girlfriend.
THAT guy?! No way. We’re just friends.
My other memory of this same prom was that I desperately wanted to be asked to go by another boy (this one a senior) who I had a huge crush on. It’s the one time I can remember my mom giving me advice about dating. She came into my room and, though I did not open up to her often, I mentioned how much I liked him and cried because I thought he would never like me back and she said, “Why don’t you just ask him?”
So matter of fact as if that wouldn’t be the biggest risk I would ever take?! (Teen drama.) There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that that would ever happen because I KNEW that he would reject me, and that would be way worse than living with the pain of unrequited love. I mean, if he said no, I would just die!
So two boys to choose from…one who thought I would say no to him and the other I was sure would say no to me.
I learned early in life to deny that I wanted things, especially if there was any chance to get rejected. I still fight that in myself. Act like you don’t want something from someone and you won’t be as disappointed when they don’t come through. (Also known as expecting other people to read your mind.) Reject first to protect yourself from pain. Pretend like you don’t feel things to protect yourself from disappointment.
Except it doesn’t work.
You end up feeling shitty either way because people don’t know you want them to show up or help you…or go with you to prom…so they don’t.
I had a lot of crushes in my late teens and 20s on guys who never knew it…and I also shrunk away from people that I could tell had crushes on me because of fear. I had a good number of guys in my life that I held unspoken feelings for because I was scared that I’d lose them for good, and I cherished their friendships.
The first time I ever told a “boy” about my feelings for him, I was 30 years old. I was a bumbling fool doing it. (I left a voicemail…a rambling awkward voicemail…the kind where you need to stop talking but you can’t and you think that somehow if you keep talking you will make it better but you just keep making it worse. Kind of like that one time that we all hung out together and called Doug Nelson in junior high and I was so nervous when I was talking to him that I fell off the bed.) He didn’t laugh in my face as I had always expected someone would do. Well…actually he did laugh a little but…I mean, really, you should have heard the voicemail. He didn’t reciprocate, but he was still nice about it…and I didn’t die.
It’s a good thing to learn that rejection or other people’s opinions of you won’t kill you. It actually has the opposite effect. It can make you more resilient.
Since then, there are at least three men on the roster of “people I’ve dated” that I only went out with because I was willing to risk rejection. But I guess I had to learn that I wouldn’t die first. I just took a really long time for me to learn that. And what I finally realized is that, apparently, men are actually flattered when you tell them you think they’re great.
If I could talk to my 16 year old self, I’d say…
Ask Jon to prom. Drive him and you and his Vanilla Ice hair there in your mom’s car and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Buy a teal dress with big puffy sleeves and rat your bangs and take some pictures that you will want to hide as an adult until some smart ass friend from high school posts them on Facebook. And most of all, have fun, because life’s too short to miss out on the good stuff.