This post is the genesis of much internal turmoil and self-debate, as there are a number of angles I can come at Valentine’s Day with. The original plan was to come at it from my typical tongue-in-cheek style with a pinch of self-deprecation and bitterness over being single for the 20th time on the 14th of February. I could have made jokes about it being a “Hallmark holiday” and all that, like I typically do. Then, I came across Agricola’s post entitled Pad 39, a really nifty, sentimental piece about a part of his teenager-hood. A portion of the post, in which he compares his first kiss to “sticking [his] finger in an electric socket,” was really inspiring, and I nearly wrote about my first kiss, which was electric in its own right — it was on the beach with lightning in the distance, an unusually fitting first kiss for a weather nerd such as myself.
Then, I realized the timing of this year, and the subject matter of this post completely changed. Despite the risk of being accused of living in the past and dredging up old things that are likely irrelevant, I must use this precious space to do the right thing.
Last year, during the heat of one of those self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek moments that have come to characterize Valentine’s Day before and after my two and a half year relationship, I alluded to a “crisis within the first 45 waking minutes.” Ten years have passed since that so-called “crisis” — better known as the day I was introduced to the power of karma.
Let’s set the stage a bit: I’m 13 years old and in the eighth grade. I was a puny, dorky kid (still am, but that’s neither here nor there :)) who was still in what would be a long struggle for his identity and with Algebra I; in the meantime, I enjoyed blowing whistles and inserting Windows 95 into daily conversation. Like most 13-year-old boys, I had within the last couple years realized that females no longer harbored cooties and were actually desirable to talk to. I held a primary crush and two secondary crushes that were basically failover points in case something went seriously wrong with the primary crush — crush redundancy, if you will. Each name was tightly guarded and even protected with a codename, with the rationale that if they found out I liked them, catastrophe would occur and I would be further ostracized.
That morning, roughly a week before Valentine’s Day (my memory is pretty good, but not THAT good), I stepped off the bus into the typical congregation of students outside the school, standing by for that first bell to let students into homeroom at roughly 7:55 or so. About 10 minutes after I arrive, I’m sighted in the crowd by a few certain folks, igniting a whirlwind of events.
I had previously been told that somebody in one of my classes was unusually fond of me. That had never happened to me before, and I was unsure how to take it. She was not a member of the crush triumvirate; I didn’t find her that attractive, to be honest, and I had never really talked to her outside of a couple academic engagements in a seventh-period science class, so I didn’t know much about her. She was extremely shy and, at least to me, did not appear extremely social.
This is what made this morning so surprising, as the storm clouds that had been building on the horizon became a supercell. It was on this morning that I learned, in fact, that the rumors were true — this girl did like me. And she came out and said it in force, with a dozen red roses and a card asking me to be her Valentine. In front of EVERYBODY.
Heavy stuff. Again, this is something that had never happened to me before, and I was shellshocked. Surprised. A part of me even felt ambushed, as she was accompanied by an entourage of about four or five additional people who came to partially reinforce her confidence and attempt to reinforce the point to me that she liked me.
Stuck in the most unfamiliar situation of my life at that point, basic human instinct kicked in, and not the one most would expect — it was the flight response. When surrounded, though, it was hard to get away in a short period (not to mention I was at school, with a lot of restricted areas anyway). Shocked, I accepted the flowers and appeared very visually weirded out, and did everything I could do to maintain composure and not blow my lid. This wasn’t supposed to happen, not with the active pursuit of somebody else. I couldn’t tell this girl, though — who had received a very unflattering codename I dare not repeat — that I liked somebody else. Starting on that path would have eventually lead to me blowing the cover of the girls I liked…and then what? For a 13-year-old boy who was struggling mightily with his identity, who thought that revealing the name(s) of his crush(es) would lead to unrelenting harassment upon them and myself because of my (lack of) social stature, this was a cataclysmic PR disaster. It also negatively reinforced my thoughts on liking people; I became even more reserved, even more suspicious of the whole process than I already was. To this day, I am still somewhat weirded out when I discover somebody likes me.
The worst part of this, though, is that my response made her cry. That was wrong, period — no matter what age, but especially in those formative, impressionable years, where basic social fabrics were continuing to evolve (some, including myself and this girl, were late bloomers socially) and any negative situation can be potentially devastating. What’s worse is that I prolonged this mistake over the next three months; rather than facing up to her like a man, I kept trying to sweep the situation under the rug. That just caused prolonged headache; unintentionally, I continued to lead her on.
I repeated my mistake at the 8th grade dance; there, I was cornered to dance with her, and that same flight response kicked in. I broke down, though, at the sight of her tears, which had reappeared. I could not prolong this madness any longer. For the first time all that year, I abandoned my defenses, lowered the shields, and finally did the right thing and danced with her. It was a little nugget of reconciliation, but it was such a small morsel when compared to the big picture; there wasn’t much I could do that night to redeem myself for four long months of unabated jackassery. But dancing with her was a start.
Only now, when put in the context of history and the situation at the time, do I realize what unbelievable courage it took for her to do what she did. To gather up the guts to approach a guy she REALLY liked in front of the entire 8th grade with a dozen roses in hand, with the real possibility of about as public of a rejection possible, was a completely unprecedented and unfathomable act, especially for as someone as shy as she was. She far and away was gutsier than I have ever been when approaching someone that I had a romantic interest in. There she was, giving me a dozen roses in front of everybody while I was so afraid that people would find out that I liked somebody that I would obfuscate my crushes’ names in a Mission: Impossible-esque cloak of codenames and doublespeak and issue denials that Dick Cheney would be impressed by. And yet, I tore her down in such a way that I’m amazed she kept after me with the vigor that she did. Who was I, Jared McChickens***, to so vehemently and embarrassingly reject her when she displayed much more courage on that day than I have ever amassed in a single point during my lifetime? Where did I earn that right?
Simply, I didn’t.
I have no way of verifying if she ever recovered fully from what I did that day. It’s taken me far longer than it should have to learn a lesson from what happened, which is why I share it with you today, in an appeal to you to do your best not to make my same mistake, because even people my age can and still do make the same mistakes. Know that your actions have effects on others, and that those effects could potentially persist for years. While Valentine’s Day is typically associated with romantic relationships, we can’t forget the other relationships we have in our daily lives; everybody deserves a little love.
And if you’re that shy guy or girl out there, take this advice from someone who has lived it: You don’t have a chance to get what you want if you don’t try. This girl should be an inspiration to you to go after what you want. You won’t be successful all the time, but that’s a given about anything in life. Be persistent, and be patient. Life tends to reward both.
And to this girl, who will remain unnamed — the right people know who this is — go only my sincerest apologies for how I acted ten years ago, an immature 13-year-old in the heat of the moment who, in the end, was not deserving of her attention nor her affection.