Teenage trials in love and friendship
There is something about this piece of writing that I am not completely sure about. Something that I am trying to grasp but am somehow not able to hold on to long enough to view it properly. But I can see there are glimmers here and there that could bring value for someone else. So I will leave this post here with you, in its slightly uncertain state.
My first relationship lasted for one day.
Maybe what we shared during that short period can’t really be called a relationship, but I think that this experience set the tone for my approach to future relationships, not only in terms of romance, but in terms of friendship. That is why I want to write about it, and share some of my contemplations on what that day, and the events leading up to it, signified to me.
I was thirteen years old and had started the first year of junior high, so there were many new people in my class.
There was a boy in my class, who wasn’t particularly outstanding in any way. He wasn’t the most popular or the most bright person. He was even somewhat ridiculed by the other boys. I remember they called him dense. But this was done with humour, in a strangely gentle way. Maybe that gentleness was a reflection of the gentleness the boy showed to his rowdy, teasing peers: he always answered the ridicule with a sense of calm and by flashing a joyful smile that showed a row of white teeth. His calm seemed to wash over whoever teased him in such a way that all teasing stopped right there. There was nothing more to do. Nothing except let this gentle calmness wash over you, and in turn let it flow back towards the boy you had just tried to ridicule.
Somehow this boy seemed to exist in his own world, slightly outside of the group, but still be accepted by the others. I think it was something about this energy that made me notice him. He held a sense of calm self-assurance, not because of any specific talent (at least the way we tend to think about talent). But simply because he seemed to be accepting himself in this gentle and joyful way, and thus, radiatied that sense of acceptance to others as well.
At that time, my friend group consisted of a group of girls who I had gone to elementary school with. In the first year of junior high, we were all put in the same class. These girls loved drama. There was always one of them that was being left out of things so that the other girls could talk about her behind her back. I did not like this, and did not join in when the conversations turned to talking about the pushed out person. But I did not try to fight against it either. I simply sat and let these exchanges flow around me, with an uneasy feeling growing in the pit of my stomach. They were the only friends I had at school at that time, and somehow I was a part of that group, despite clearly being seen as a bit of a weirdo since I didn’t enjoy makeovers or gossiping.
One evening, we were all hanging out in a playground outside the library, lounging around on the swings. The girls were talking about boys, and I made the mistake of mentioning that there was someone in our class who I thought was interesting. I did not mean anything in particular by that. My mind had simply wandered to the boy with the broad smile and sense of calm, and in a moment of carelessness, these thoughts had come out of my mouth. My friends latched onto my comment like it was a magnificent treasure. In my mind I see the visual of sharks, circling around a drop of blood in the water, trying to find its source so that they can get fed. One friend spontaneously bursted out: “She likes a boy - maybe she has finally grown up!” as though liking a boy was the measure of maturity. I let out a deep sigh, but silently, deep inside of my mind. I had actually already had crushes since I was eleven, but they didn’t know that. I had always been careful enough to never mention it to my friends since I knew that nothing good would follow. But now it was too late. I had to let the events unfold that I had set in motion when I so carelessly let those words out. My friends wouldn’t stop until I had spilled it all: Who was he? What did I like about him? What was I going to do?
Of course, the evening ended with my friends pressuring me (or me letting them pressure me?) into writing him a text message where I admitted my interest. I think they mostly did it in the hopes of witnessing some fresh drama. Or maybe I am being too cynical. Maybe they were really trying to help their awkward, weird friend. And to be honest, that pressure was not all in all a bad thing. Looking back, I am glad that I was pressured into taking that step, as it gave me a valuable experience. It enabled me to start communcating with a person who I might have otherwise never gotten to know. And I am glad that the boy got to know that someone was appreciating him, despite how awkward it made me feel.
This happened in the early 2000’s, so naturally my relationship with the boy mostly progressed over text messages. Basically, that was all it was. Messaging. Still, I was happy to have this contact, and to get to know him. There was an excuberance about him, and a kind of simplicity. I realized that our worlds were very different. My world seemed to only grow darker and more complicated as I started to grow into my teens. Growing into being a woman seemed to come with a lot of new reductions and limitations on how I was perceived, and how I was supposed to act. Instead, the boy mostly seemed to see growing older as an opening up for new possibilities and new sources of joy. He had friends outside of school, and they used to hang out in his parents’ basement drinking and playing games. This presented an answer to the mystery of how the boy could be so calm when teased by our classmates: he did not need them. He had other friends that appreciated him, and he carried this knowing with him into school as well.
In my memory, I feel that the messaging went on for a week or longer, but it probably only lasted for a few days. It is interesting how sense of time is often proportional to the weight that an event carries. Even though that messaging was no big thing as viewed from an outside perspective, it was my very first experience of actually interacting with someone I was interested in, and therefore, it was monumental. Looking back, I feel like it was a kind of test run or trial where I experimented with a set of behaviors, as presented by my friends, of how to act when you were interested in someone.
My friends’ sense of time seemed to differ from my own. I remember they were constantly asking how it was progressing, seemingly getting impatient with how long I was taking just writing and getting to know him. I guess that it wasn’t entertaining enough to follow from their perspective. Not enough drama. From my perspective, there was no hurry. I just enjoyed getting to know him as a person. But my friends seemed to want something else for me. They wanted things to progress faster. So they gave me some advice.
When someone gives you advice, notice how it makes you feel in your body. For me it expresses in the gut, but maybe for you it expresses in a different part of your body. For me, it was always in the gut. I spent years experimenting with either trusting that feeling in my gut, or completely ignoring it, and I can genuinely say that the results have been completely in favor of trusting my gut.
But back when I was thirteen years old, I had not learned that yet.
The moment when my friends instructed me to ask the boy to become my boyfriend, I got a heavy, sinking feeling in my gut. My gut was clearly saying no. This was not the step to take, at this time. But back then, I did not have any collection of experiences to fall back upon. And I can’t remember that anyone had really told me that the way to make decisions was to trust the feeling in your gut. That wasn’t an approach that was widely taught in school. So my mind jumped in, and interpreted that heavy feeling as fear. Maybe I was just nervous? My friends were more experienced, surely they knew better. Surely they knew how these things were supposed to go. It wasn’t as though I’d had any experiences of my own. But deep inside of me, there was another voice, the voice of my gut, or my intuition, that saw the emerging pathways that my different decisions would result in. I could continue as I had, letting the flow between us go on at its own pace, just getting to know each other, and potentially gain a new friend, maybe even a loved one. Or I could disrupt the flow by pronouncing the required role he were to play in my life, before we had even reached the point where that was something to consider. And that’s what I did. I asked him if he wanted to be my boyfriend.
He was surprised, understandably. It was out of character, and out of line with the way our interaction had previously flowed. In my memory, I can see my friends’ excited faces, full of glee, sitting next to me as I wrote the words to him. Fresh blood now flowed into the water and the sharks were licking their lips. But the next day, as I went to school, all I could feel was a heavy wrongness hanging over me. With each step I took, I felt the pressure of being “in a relationship”, but I did not know what to do with that. Was I supposed to say hello to him? Act different in some way? In the end, we didn’t interact at all, during the whole day. That was the first and last day of my first relationship. In the evening, he sent me a message, asking to just be friends. And I was relieved. But our friendship didn’t progress any further. It stopped right there. We didn’t write any more messages after that.
That was my first relationship. Short and sweet. Anticlimactic. But I still count it, as it holds value in being a very first experiment of a relationship, and I can see how it has informed some of my patterns in later relationships.
I developed a habit of being cautious to pronounce expected roles in my relationships, as I felt that this distracted from the pure essence of the connection itself. Now, I am not saying this approach is completely right or wrong. It is simply a habit I notice that I have adopted.
I am skeptical of taking advice from others, at least when it comes to decisions concerning my personal life. And particularly when it comes to matters of love.
The one thing I trust the most when making decisions is the feeling in my gut.
I am more aware of the mismatches between other peoples’ requirements for me and the requirements that I actually can, and want to fulfil.
I developed a sensitivity to noticing when another person’s expectations of me are motivated more by their own needs than wishes for my well-being.
I choose my friends carefully.
After these events, I did not trust my group of friends anymore. I did not think that their advice were serving my best interests. This was important, as it showed me a first example of how other peoples’ advice for me can be motivated by their own needs rather than wishing for my well-being. My friends had basically used me for their own entertainment, as opposed to tuning in to what would be best for me. This does not mean that I think of them as bad or evil. I think they were probably just acting from their own way of perceiving things, and from their own developmental stage. I do not think they were able to tune in to others, at that point. Perhaps they were too lost in their own process, and in their own teenage drama. Perhaps they have grown since then, and are in a different place today. And yet, as I remember the hurt I felt during this experience, I can understand why it served as the finishing blow to my friendship with that group of girls. It made me wish I could separate from that group, and find other friends instead. But I hoped that our friendship could end in some other way than in all the drama I had seen, when other members had tried to disentangle from the group.
Strangely enough, the universe seemed to hear my wish and offered me a way out. At the end of the school year, we found out that our particular class was going to be dismantled, and I was simply put into a different class from my old group of friends. Due to this, there was a natural transition into a new space, a new group of people, and new friends. My old friend group continued on, in their own class, in their own lives. We would walk past each other sometimes in the school hallways, without any kind of drama, but keeping a careful distance.
I can think of them tenderly now. I can view them in the light of being a special kind of teachers, the way that anyone who places pressure on you, or hurts you is. They were helping me grow into my own, by creating tension, by showing me how not to act. In a way, they were the first people to teach me to trust my own gut. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
*First image: Shark Sisters - Collage consisting of photographs and AI-generated imagery created in Stable Diffusion and edited in Affinity Photo.
**Second image: Tool for Teenage Trials in the early 2000’s - Collage consisting of photographs and AI-generated imagery created in Stable Diffusion and edited in Affinity Photo.