The Real Boy

By now, it should come as no surprise that Brenna at sixteen is essentially an orderly creature.

True, she doesn’t always do her homework. She has a bad tendency to lose her pens and sometimes she shows up to PE only to realize that she’s wearing one purple sock and one brown one, but she is methodical. Self-contained. She is placid. You’d be hardpressed to hurt her or scare her or break her heart. Basically . . . she is this girl.

Even though she spends most of her time with Catherine, who is perpetually In Love (not always with the same person), she doesn’t believe in things like fate or destiny or soul mates.

When she considers the possibility of a boyfriend, it’s abstract. Which is not to say that she doesn’t think about it. She does, but only in the context of an activity, like sand volleyball. Or backgammon. She views dating as something that might be interesting to try, and also, she wants to know what it’s like to kiss someone. The idea of a boyfriend is appealing in a general way. It is, however, ruled out by the fact that she suspects she may be undatable.

She likes herself—don’t worry. In fact, some days she likes herself quite a bit. But she doesn’t really believe that anyone else will like her. This is mostly because she has a very low opinion of high school boys, but we’ll cut her some slack because so far, her test group has not been promising.

The thing is (occasional crushing boredom aside), she really finds herself very entertaining. She is ironic. She likes 80s horror and Quentin Tarantino and pasting foil decals on her fingernails. She enjoys the color red, but finds orange appalling. She likes Sweet Tarts, coffee, and drawing elaborate pictures of medieval fortresses and panopticons in her physics notes. She doesn’t believe in miracles, she believes in unknowns. When she zones out in class, she dreams the gleaming daydreams of scientists.

These are things she knows about herself. She doesn’t want to change.

But she’s beginning to suspect that if she wants to go on dates, she might have to. She has a hard time imagining that any boy is looking for this—what she is. And she has an even harder time imagining that any of the boys at school have anything to offer that she actually wants. So, instead of scouring her classes for potential suitors, she invents fictional ones. And fictional boys never disappoint.

She wants someone wistful and tender (and nicer than she is), but she wants him to be that way in secret. Sentimentality is only attractive if it’s private. She kind of wants to be adored, but not from mountaintops, never over the PA system. She wants shy, lingering glances and wishes made on stars, because nothing appeals to her more than longing. When she considers herself unromantic, she is lying. Did I mention that she is selfish in the way that only teenage girls can be?

It would be both gratifying and very literary to say that my wishlist ties into my first dating experience, but absolutely none of this has any bearing on what happens next.

Dill isn’t like the other boys in our grade. He’s taller than most of them, but not in a gawky way. He has an actual physique. He’s on the swim team and wears two different colored Chuck Taylor high tops and drives a red sports car.

And the thing is, he notices me.

To a girl who’s spent the last six months only being visible when it’s catastrophically inconvenient, Dill’s attention is a welcome change, but it also poses a set of very complex problems. It’s like being presented with a particle accelerator. I simply don’t know what to do with it.

Dill and I have PE together. We don’t really know each other, but he talks to me sometimes in a warm, casual way that is somehow not casual at all. When I catch him watching my reflection in the weight room mirrors . . . I trick myself that he’s not. I tell myself not to worry about it. I think he might-sort-of-possibly be a little interested, but I don’t expect anything to actually happen.

The thing I fail to take into account is, not everyone in the whole entire world is as passive as I am. There are people out there who know exactly what they want, and have no qualms about going after it.

Day One:

I was in the locker room after PE and Charlotte came up and said my name, which I didn’t even know she knew, and she said, “There’s a guy named Dill in your PE class, right?”

And I nodded. I never talk to Charlotte much.

“Well,” she said, “I’m supposed to tell you he kind of thinks you’re hot.”

So now I don’t know what to do. Boys don’t usually like me, but especially not boys like him, like tall and outgoing with exciting clothes and interesting hair, not like that.* Now what? Now what? Now what.

Day Two:

Dill, my less-than-covert admirer came up to me in the library today.

“Hi,” he said. “Charlotte’s been giving me a hard time. She says I should talk to you. So I figured I would. So here I am . . . talking to you.”

I gave him my phone number. He says he’ll call me. He’s very tall and has these clear blue eyes that are very steady, like he’s not afraid of me or that at least I don’t seem weird. It’s nice to have someone look at you like that, like you’re not a freak.

Any other week, this whole endeavor might have fizzled. If the timing had been off, even by a day, I might have done my normal song and dance (evaded like a pro), stared blankly up at him until he left.

But Dill finds me in the library on the afternoon of the Ass-Grabbing Incident and I’m still riding high on the sheer adrenaline of telling Pugsly to kiss** off, so when Dill asks if he can call me, I say yes without even thinking about it. Without freezing up or taking a short recess to debate the pros and cons. Without stopping to wonder if phone calls with a stranger are a good idea or if we should have some kind of existing rapport as friends first.

In short, I do the most un-Brennalike thing possible. I smile politely, and I give him my number.

For some reason, I think of this as the end of something, rather than the beginning. Like, I’ve reached some terminal and definitive goal. I’ve won at the game of Boys and should be getting my merit badge any minute now.

But it is not, in fact, the end and there’s no badge. In actuality (as one might expect), this opens up a whole new can of analytical and vaguely neurotic worms.

Day Three:

I barely know Dill at all. He called me last night. When he said he would. I didn’t think he meant he’d actually call. He talked to me for an hour and a half. He told me I was cool 62 times. He counted.

I don’t know what I should do. He’s nice, but it seems like he likes me too much. He says he wants me to be his girlfriend. What does that even mean? I barely even know him. [. . .]

He came and ate lunch with us today. Catherine gets along with him fine. He calls her “Cat” and they seem to speak the same language, which is sometimes tricky with Catherine. She says if she were me, she’d “hop on him in a minute.” He is far from bad-looking.

He wants to take me to the movies. He wants to hold my hand. I suppose all this means that he wants to kiss me. But really, I have no idea what I’m doing. He seems really nice, he doesn’t do drugs, he wears a black trench-coat. He seems within my reach. I don’t even know what I want.

At 16, I would never say these things to any of my friends—to Catherine, for instance—but in the privacy of my notebook, I declare them without artifice or irony. (Much, anyway. Without much irony.) I really, truly do not know what I want. I mean, I want the wistful boy—the imaginary one from my list—but I’m also working on a theory that a relationship with Dill is what I should want. It would be well-adjusted and normal and maybe even fun. It would be, like . . . a learning opportunity.

The thing is, Brenna then, just like Brenna now, takes a long time to get used to things. The fact that Dill calls me on a Wednesday and by Saturday, we are on a movie date—well, that by itself should be enough to indicate that this is not going to end well. In the coming months, I will learn that I am, in fact, pretty much undatable. Just not for any of the reasons I thought. When I make the brash assumption that I know myself, I have literally No Clue.

Here are just some of the problems in the hefty and kind of hilarious laundry list of problems: Brenna at 16 does not like to flirt, cuddle, confess things, share, talk on the phone, volunteer information, display affection, or hold hands in public. She doesn’t like lovelorn sighs, soulful gazes, apologizing, being apologized to, or the question, “What are you thinking right now?” She can be quiet literally for hours. Even on car trips. Even for no good reason. She thinks romantic songs, romantic movies, romantic gestures, and romance in general are stupid.

These are all things that make it very difficult for a relationship to flourish. Or develop. Or germinate. I’d invite you to place bets on how this whole fiasco is going to go down, but let’s be honest. You already know.

So instead of asking for bets, I’ll ask this instead: if anyone has a first boyfriend/first girlfriend/first date/first anything story they’d like to share, by all means, let’s hear it. Because I’m nosy as hell, but also, I’m working on a new theory. And the theory is that you cannot possibly compete with me for the merit badge of Awkward.

There. The gauntlet. It is thrown.

*By next year, I will have figured out that these are exactly the kind of boys who like me. Unfortunately for everyone involved, even though they tend to be interesting and charismatic and fun and there is nothing at all wrong with them, the simple fact is, any attempt at romance is destined to end in metaphorical tears and occasionally real ones. And also, those tears will not be mine.

**Only, yeah. Not that word. The other one.

32 thoughts on “The Real Boy

  1. Hmmmm…let’s see.
    There was a boy who liked to follow me around, but who I was not actually enthused about much. We went to dinner once, with both of our sets of parents present. He kissed me once, and then talked for a long time about how awesome it had been.
    When I was a sophomore, I boy I thought was the epitome of male beauty asked me to come to Thanksgiving dinner at his parents’ house. They let us drink wine. He got REALLY DRUNK (I was only a tiny bit tipsy). We were in the kitchen, alone, and we leaned against the wall and he kissed me, open mouthed. I was pleased for a half-second, and then horrified when his parents walked in.
    They took him upstairs, I don’t remember what I did for a while (wandered around downstairs? dishes? no idea). They came down and told me he wanted to talk to me. I went up. He told me he had made a mistake, and that he had a girlfriend, and that he wanted to stay with her. Then he puked on me.
    Eventually, the parents took me home.
    That was my first real, passionate kiss.

    • Oh my God—the Thanksgiving story! I’m sorry, I shouldn’t laugh, and I have my own trove of stories that are probably equally hilarious and some that are far more dysfunctional, but I don’t know what’s wrong with me—I can’t stop giggling. It’s the combination of the awkward, the horrifying, and the unrequited. And while I don’t know how accurate this is, my personal recollection is that while you were waiting for the family to reconvene, you cleaned their kitchen, which is somehow the crucial detail. It really ties the scene together . . .
      Also, I should mention that this whole incident wound up having a profound effect on me—and not the effect it should have had, not the stay-safely-back-from-drunk-boys effect. I was just so impressed that you’d had an actual passionate kiss! It gave me something to aspire to.
      In fact, looking back on this, I think the Thanksgiving Incident is probably at least partially responsible for my increased interest in kissing that year. So basically, what I’m saying: your unfortunate and highly cinematic Thanksgiving Fiasco was indirectly responsible for all dating mishaps that befell me in high school in my dispassionate quest for the passionate kiss.

      • Hee hee hee. I think you are right, I did clean their kitchen, in a slightly desperate way. I’d never MET them before, and now their drunk son was making out with me in their kitchen, with all their guests there, on THANKSGIVING? Mortifying, to be in a stranger’s house under those circumstances.
        I don’t care that you laugh at this misadventure, it is fairly hilarious in retrospect, even for me!
        I’m actually glad that it did SOMEONE good. My romantic adventures fell off after that until collage, where they resumed at approximatively the same level of awkwardness (ever had to explain to someone’s 6 year old sister why you are holding their 6 month old sister, and making out with their 18 year old brother???).
        I did not manage to data a reasonable human until the current one, everyone before that made a FANTASTIC story, but was utterly unsuitable for anything besides kissing and leaving IMMEDIATELY. Have I ever told you about the boy who boasted to me that he was down to 3 joints a day, offered to “take that virginity off your hands anytime you want”, and lived in the garage of one of his friends’ mothers? Oh, and at one point weighed less than me, though he was 6’7″?

        • I want to make, like, a movie of this. Or a comic strip. Or an elaborate series of needlepoint samplers. Sometimes, things just cry out to be immortalized in ridiculous ways . . .

  2. How odd it is that I identify completely with 16 year old Brenna… only I’m almost out of my teens and am in college? I am just as clueless and self-contained, and just like her, I feel like, while I like myself, there is no way anyone could like me in that way.
    Only thing is, I have yet to find a real boy. Sometimes, I think it’s my fault that I’m not putting myslef out there more. Other times, I don’t think it’s worth doing stuff I don’t enjoy just to get a boyriend.
    Besides, The Feminine Mystique and The Collected Stories of Edgar Allan Poe aren’t going to read themselves ;)

    • Wait, I lie. There was a boy, I think. But I was too peeved out by the thought of us being anything more than friends to actually consider anything happening. After our latest awkward face to face encounter, during which I felt he was getting a little too touchy-feely for my taste, I settled on avoiding him.
      On one side, I felt mortified for… well, lots of things. For looking too much into things, for example. For being annoyed with him suggesting a trip I wasn’t comfortable with making. For freaking out like I did (no, seriously, I almost had a panic-attack on the bus home).
      But on the other… I also felt guilty. Guilty that if he had been making a move, it would have been my fault. I like to speak my mind and I can be rather crass at times. I had no qualms about discussing everything with him, and when we met face to face, I was the first one to offer a hug. I had made it clear to him I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, but earlier that year, I had fallen in love (and, as you can guess, talked to him about it).
      This is not a date story, I’m afraid. But it’s one of ongoing mortification and guilt (on my part). I’ve spent quite some time agonizing over this, and quite frankly, I haven’t been able to quite get over it. I was (still am) horribly embarrassed with myself, and can’t help but think that maybe, if I had been more clear about the boundaries I have set for myself and others, I wouldn’t be feeling so confused right now.
      Oddly enough, reading “The Equality Illusion” and working my way through feminist manifestos has, actually, been of great help to me. I recognized that the feelings I was experiencing were a natural extension of my guilt as a woman – the problem is that we never have safe ground. If we’re open, we’re crass and inviting advances. If we’re prudent, we’re bitter and suffocated by our corsets. There is no way for me to have male friends because they misinterpret both my words and my silences.
      It’s sad, and unfair, and maybe I misinterpret things as well. But even if it doesn’t solve my problem, it makes me feel slightly better.

      • I totally, totally get this. Honestly, most of my stories up until I met my husband are not date stories—they are mortification stories in one form or another. Some are the okay kind, where they’re indulgent and soft-filter and nostalgic and whatever, but some are just giant, endless seas of Uncomfortable. And while yes, I will accept a lot of responsibility for some of these interactions, I certainly can’t be held accountable for all of it.
        There just seem to be so many opportunities for miscommunication between men and women (or people in general?). And yes, it’s usually worse when we’re younger, but as far as I can tell, it does *not* just go away with age.
        However, I do want to say that my junior year in high school, I somehow wound up with a guy for a best friend and over the years, it’s really been one of my favorite friendships. I feel like it’s such a rarity, but wow, I lucked out. I love that after all this time, I can still go out to coffee with him and talk about religion and philosophy and relationships for hours and it’s like we’re still 17 and sitting in the parking lot of Safeway, eating ice cream out of the carton.
        There was a boy, I think.
        Also, this right here is the story of my life.

    • Trust me, 16-year-old Brenna did not disappear—she just developed better camouflage :)
      Also, it took me years to learn to put myself out there. Even now, I can’t say that I’ve absolutely mastered it, and definitely not while I was in my teens. This is particularly true of romantic relationships. I was still flailing around with those for *years* after I’d nailed down the friendship basics.
      (Also-also, 16-year-old Brenna took a paperback copy of Poe’s collected short stories to class with her every single day. Because it’s not going to read itself.)

  3. Oh, this is excellent! I realize that we’re clearly in the minority, but there needs to be a class, or a manual, or SOMETHING explaining to the 4% of girls (or whatever this tragically low number is) that they are not simply failing to master a magical and elusive skill-set. That really, they’re probably just looking for something else altogether, and maybe they should check the computer labs or visit that little pack of kids hanging out behind the baseball diamonds and talking about German death metal and humanoid robotics and God.
    Seriously, I spent *years* thinking I was failing at being a girl, when really, it was more like the equivalent of me failing to be tall.

    • Everyone keeps *telling* you that you’re failing to be a girl too. Family, friends, your mother…’You’re too picky!’ and ‘There’s nothing wrong with him, what’s wrong with you?!’
      It’s like someone baking you a big pan of banana bread and then saying ‘You’re too picky!’ when you break the news that you’re allergic to bananas. You can’t *help* it. It’s not like you’re deliberately being awkward. There is nothing wrong with bananas, and nothing wrong with you. It’s just that the mere thought of putting banana bread in your mouth makes you want to vomit. So just get off our backs, OK? And take your bananas somewhere else.
      (I got so lost in that metaphor there. Oh, well)

      • Everyone keeps *telling* you that you’re failing to be a girl too.
        This is so much of it right here—the idea that you’re being willfully difficult, because it . . . somehow pleases you to feel strange, disoriented, and wildly uncertain? What?

    • Okay, so this comment is kind of a reply to this post and The Ice Girl. But I’ll just post it here, because I’m lazy that way.
      I think I’m a part of that minority. I’ve never had a boyfriend, and I do want one, but I’m not mushy and I have trouble saying “I love you” to people. It takes me AGES before I can say that to my friends. At the moment, I can only say those three words to seven people. I’m also incapable of talking to the majority of guys. I just don’t know how to communicate with them. As for:
      ‘Brenna at 16 does not like to flirt, cuddle, confess things, share, talk on the phone, volunteer information, display affection, or hold hands in public. She doesn’t like lovelorn sighs, soulful gazes, apologizing, being apologized to, or the question, “What are you thinking right now?”’
      Well you can check: flirt, confess things, talk on the phone, apologizing, being apologized to (I never know what to say back), the question, “What are you thinking right now?”
      Other things I don’t like: people who say “babe/baby”, “sweetie”, “honey”, people who ask me what I think of *their* outfit (I’m not the one wearing it, why should I care?), shopping, wearing dresses or skirts, nicknames (there are two people whose nicknames I use but only in emails or through Facebook–I never *say* their nicknames), talking about crushes (I have never had a conversation with a friend about a guy I had a crush on).
      It’s weird, because I’m very talkative and have no problem telling strangers certain details about myself, yet I could never tell my best friend (another thing I don’t like–people who call their best friends “bestie”) the things I think about at night, the things that make me cry or my worries.
      As for “failing at being a girl”, I’m very proud of my tomboyish characteristics and I would hate being called girly or feminine.
      – 17-year-old writer

      • I’ve always had a really hard time with endearments too. So much, in fact, that my senior year of high school, my best friend decided that what we needed were pet names for each other that no one else had even thought of. We called each other Poptart for years . . .
        As far as discussing crushes—NO! That was something I absolutely did not do. To the point that I once let all my friends think I liked this one guy (instead of the other guy) for almost 8 months, because even though I knew that was pretty weird, it still just seemed easier that way.

  4. Okay, that is adorable! I love dates that are really just a chance to spend time together. My very first date with my husband consisted of eating chicken sandwiches from Carl’s Jr. in his car on my half-hour lunch break when I worked as a fitting-room girl.
    (We went to high school together too, but didn’t get to know each other until after we’d graduated.)

  5. An awkward first kiss story
    I was sixteen and on a summer program in New York City. We were staying in a dorm that was sporadically occupied with summer school students. The 14 teenagers on my program were 10 girls and 4 boys (1 of whom was not interested at all in the concept of girls). You can see how this might have played out. Not being one to do sloppy seconds or thirds, I stayed out of it.
    One day, I was blissfully doing laundry in the basement and editing a friend’s short story, when this dark-haired bespectacled guy walked in. He was older, a sophomore in college, and taking summer classes. We talked for an hour until my laundry was done. I was sure we were soulmates when he asked to borrow my CD of a certain musical.
    He kept running into me around campus and in the dorms, and soon, my whole program knew. On the last week of the program, a meddling male friend takes matters into his own hands, telling The Guy I’ll meet him in his room. The Guy says I should come over in an hour because he’s finishing a paper. I freak out, and a different guy on my program I really like (but think I don’t have a chance with) serenades me with my favorite Beatles song to calm me down. Beatles Friend hugs me, tells me I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, and I go to meet The Guy.
    We talk and mostly squirm for the better part of thirty minutes. I start talking about how pandas don’t mate in captivity and he says “this is ridiculous” (true facts) before giving me my first kiss. Then he proceeds to eat my face. I remember wondering if kissing always involved chins. After a bit of this, I try to beat a slobbery retreat back to my room, only to find my roommate hooking up in it with the third eligible guy on my program. (It’s her first kiss.) The only place I have to go is back.
    When I return, the guy I like on my program (they’ve become friends) is there. I do not know if they have talked about me. Realize first kiss should have been with Beatles Friend who is now completely off-limits. I watch them play Mario Kart for an hour. The Beatles Friend leaves, but The Guy and I do not make out again.
    I miss check-in and my female staff member knocks, saying we better not be naked. I, mortified, run out and do not run into him again. My joke award on the end of the program is a “First Kiss Do-Over” certificate. Also, “The Dirtiest Story that Began with Clean Clothes.” Leave a note with contact information in The Guy’s mailbox. Never hear from him again.
    Later, I learn from a friend who attended the same college a year later that The Guy came out that following fall.
    In summary: laundry, musicals, a delayed set-up, The Beatles, pandas, “this is ridiculous,” chin-kissing, tandem first kisses, Mario Kart, mortification, roast by entire program, maybe being the last girl The Guy hooked up with. An auspicious start.

    • Re: An awkward first kiss story
      An addendum. I looked this Guy up on Facebook after writing this. Found he was a mutual friend of one of my best friends from college. Asked my friend (who happens to be gay) about him. Turns out, Friend has only known The Guy for two weeks and they had a drink together. This may be my romantic life in a nutshell: awkward, hilarious, haunting.

      • Re: An awkward first kiss story
        This HAPPENS! Why does it happen?! I swear, we never really leave things behind, they just come back to haunt us in new and often sly configurations.

        • Re: An awkward first kiss story
          I can’t even. Friend said there was no chemistry, and I’m still wondering if this is a good thing. (I also had a crush on Friend before he came out.)
          These two combined crushing-on-gay-guys experiences then caused me to blow a third crush who was NOT gay though I thought he came out to me on a date. I actually apologized to Crush later for the insensitive way I handled his subtle coming out and told him I was happy that he was honest with me about his sexuality. That pretty much killed it.

    • Re: An awkward first kiss story
      Auspicious indeed!
      In case you are wondering, this is the part where I actually started laughing out loud: I remember wondering if kissing always involved chins.
      Beatles Friend sounds excellent. And the fact that you recognized his excellence and still wrote off any possible relationship/romance/hook-up as un-gettable is just so . . . typical! (Not to mention, a predicament I completely relate to.)
      I spent so much of my high school career feeling like there was this schism that existed between what I wanted and what I thought I should want and what I thought I could actually get. The incongruity between these three things was huge. And more than that, it was absolutely nonsensical, but at the time, it seemed like LAW.

  6. My first date was with a guy that I knew from Drama Club in high school (the course of our relationship should now be obvious to anyone who was ever in a Drama Club). I was a sophomore, he was a senior with a car… He was not an attractive guy (whenever I told a classmate who I was going out with they said “Oh, that’s… cute…”) but I liked him for other reasons, not least of all because I was sixteen and he was the first boy to ever ask me out and what is there to say other than yes?! But we were both terribly awkward and he was too interested and I was mostly interested in being interesting to someone and not so much in the clammy hand-holding and the meeting of families and exchanging of gifts and certainly not in the down-on-one-knee prom invite backstage in the middle of a dress rehearsal! Two weeks after our first date I broke up with him. So much drama – ha! – in such a short time! I went on to have my first kiss two weeks before my seventeenth birthday with a fifteen-year-old boy I had met an hour before and never saw again. That is the way that sixteen-year-old Sandi liked interactions with boys: as neatly encapsulated moments free of planning or meaning.

    • That is the way that sixteen-year-old Sandi liked interactions with boys: as neatly encapsulated moments free of planning or meaning.
      Oh, this is familiar to an alarming degree! In the privacy of my 16-year-old journal, I liked to characterize myself as a ghost-girl or a nebula—something that looked solid and close enough to touch, but if you reached for it, your hand would go right through.
      In theory, I wanted all the dating things—late-night phone calls, and makeout sessions, and maybe even someone to really connect with—but at the same time, it just seemed SO much easier to be imaginary.

  7. Oh high school! Let’s see, my first experience with ‘dating’ someone seemed more like a BFF for the poor guy. I never held hands with him, or even let him kiss me. I hated to be touched so he was lucky if he could sneak a hug in! Sometimes he sat with me and my friends at lunch, and we’d pass notes back and forth all day long. The ‘l’ word was NEVER used. We’d hang out after marching band practice and track practice, but that was really it. He’d call sometimes, and we’d talk about silly things- I really just felt like I was ‘one of the guys’ with him.
    Eventually this became a problem with my parents. They knew I hung out with guys, and there were guys I liked, but I was the complete opposite of my older sister who was the girly girl and I was the tomboy. I was extremely close to the few female friends I had- So, all through out high school my parents thought I was a lesbian! It was a shock to them when I entered college, met a guy, fell in love, and married him! But that relationship started off awkwardly too because we both hated to be touched! It took 5 months of dated before we even kissed! LOL

    • I never held hands with him, or even let him kiss me. I hated to be touched so he was lucky if he could sneak a hug in!
      This pretty much describes the entire ensuing relationship with Dill, because as soon as I was presented with the actual opportunity for kissing, I started mentally backpedaling like no tomorrow.
      It would have been different, I think, if I’d felt differently about Dill, but at 16, I was still confusing good-on-paper with actual chemistry. Also, I don’t actually know how different it would have been, even if I’d been pining over him for months before he asked me out. I really just was not ready to dive into dating.
      In retrospect, Dill was a shockingly good sport about all of it. His only reaction was to rename my <a href="
      “>terrible hat the “Don’t Kiss Me Hat,” because it made my face impossible to get to. And I guess it’s particularly telling that after I stopped dating him, I also stopped wearing it.

  8. Heh. It was the oddest thing. Last year this guy came up and started talking to me and we had a conversation in the few minutes before class. Then the bell rang and he went back to his seat. The girl who sat next to me who had witnessed all of this then turned to me and said “I think he likes you.” To this, I said, “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!?!?” Because as far as I could tell, I was me. The kind of person who sits quietly in class and gets good grades and is pretty much a huge nerd. Not really the kind of person who people *like* like. It was very strange, very strange indeed.

    • This is actually what I was best at, all the way through high school: not having any clue that a boy could possibly be interested unless he basically went so far as to announce it in sky-writing. (Metaphorically speaking, although the real thing probably would have gotten through to me, too.)
      It didn’t matter what I liked about myself, what I thought was good at, where I thought I rested in the social hierarchy at any given point—I was still convinced that I was not the kind of person anyone *like* liked. Because I knew what it was like in my head, and I was just me.
      Also, if one of my friends said anything along the lines of, “I think he likes you,” I immediately responded with your very on-point “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!?!?” Usually followed with, “No, no way. He doesn’t. I know he doesn’t.”
      This kept me safe from embarrassing situations (mostly), but it also pretty much killed all chances with any guy who wasn’t either very secure, or very oblivious, because they all thought I hated them.

  9. I think you are my soulmate, though the 16-year-old me was sarcastic and dark. When The First Boy Ever asked her out, she immediately questioned him of “Were you set up? Is this a joke?” Apparently it wasn’t. My mom and friends and family were so excited that this boy asked me out – he was my age, he was a decent guy, we flirted in cross-country/track practice a lot. All the same, I had a bad, bad feeling when he asked me out. Don’t ask me why but I literally was sick to my stomach. I made him wait a week, hoping this weird feeling would go away, and then by the end of the week (after my parents and friends thinking I was weird for waiting a week since “he was hot and liked me and we should go out” etc), I turned him down. I still had a bad feeling. A year later, in junior year, he went out with my best friend. He did some unspeakable things. I knew that what he did…he was going to do to me, and I thank goodness every day that I said no. I finally got to turn to my friends and family and say “THAT is why I said no.”
    Also, the Now Me (older, yet not always wiser) turns down every guy that ever asks her out. Mostly because she is scared. Also, she literally runs away. Ex? Guy asked me out. I said yes because I thought “Hey maybe this will work out”. Then I ran away to study abroad in Australia. Said-guy is in US. …Yeah, it ain’t workin out.
    (All my girlfriends tell me my life would be a good YA novel. Bahaha.)

    • This is *exactly* why I am a huge proponent of listening to your instincts. While I don’t believe in intuition exactly, I definitely believe that everyone has all these little tells that we can pick up on even when we don’t consciously know that’s what we’re doing, and those tells can alert us to some very interesting information . . .
      And I *hate* having other people badger me about why I’m reacting to someone a certain way, because usually, I JUST AM. But in retrospect, it can often be traced back to some sort of actual fact.
      Also, wow. In my younger years, I was a runner for sure, but I never went so far as to retreat to the other side of the globe. That is definitely the stuff of a YA novel or a highly lyrical song involving a piano.

  10. Re: My first kiss do over
    Absolutely gorgeous! (Not to mention frustrating, bittersweet, and kind of heartbreaking.)
    This is exactly the kind of thing that 16-year-old Brenna spent all her imaginary-boy currency wishing for, except maybe without the being-an-occasional-jerk part, but would not actually have been able to handle had it happened in real life. Maybe at seventeen or eighteen, but not as a sophomore.
    I think part of the appeal in this kind of story is that I’ve never really been meant for the lightning-striking kind of courtship—boys who just showed up out of the blue and then wanted to date. My husband gave me five months to get used to him, in non-confrontational and carefully-measured steps, before asking me out. I have to say, that was just about the right amount.

    • Re: My first kiss do over
      I was also the girl who many a boy friend (notice the space between the words… I never actually ever had a boyfriend,) would come up to at school and say to me “If anyone askes, you’re my girlfriend.” umm… okay. No one ever did ask, but it was fun to think that I was being used as an excuse for other guys to avoid *those* girls who they wanted nothing to do with. (because we all know *those* types of girls exist.

  11. Bad first dates
    Ooooh too many to count, and I am SO glad, it’s not just me.
    Let’s see:
    1. The first boyfriend and first kiss. Nearly the entire ‘mom’ population of the neighborhood was at my house that day (I live in a small town) and stood around giggling when he came and picked me up. He was also my first kiss, and I still distinctly remember asking my sister, ‘Is kissing supposed to feel like a lizard is sticking its tongue in your mouth?’
    2. The boy who told me he ‘thought he was in love with me’ after a day and a half of knowing me, and then tried to take off his pants.
    3. The boy who was afraid to be quiet (I love to sit quietly and read or write or think) and who, because I was awkward and afraid and probably a little too ‘mean,’ broke up with while his favorite band (the same band that I can’t stand) was on.
    4. The guy in the bar who interrupted my watching of the Bruins game to ask if I was out on a girl’s night and if he could join it. He made the mistake of trying to put his arm around my chair, and I told him, without looking away from the game of course, ‘Sorry, I’m engaged.’ Which, of course, I am not.
    I’m 23 and still fairly convinced that I am undatable. This is probably also due to the fact that I don’t like wasting time, and when a guy tries to act flirty or romantic or whatever, I get awkward and freeze up, and generally run away, or, you know, pretend I’m engaged…

    • Re: Bad first dates
      These are all tremendously familiar situations (except the first one, because instead of a neighborhood mom-contingent, I have a huge family with a very laissez-faire attitude—they are eyebrow-raisers rather than gigglers)!
      Also, 2. The boy who told me he ‘thought he was in love with me’ after a day and a half of knowing me, and then tried to take off his pants.
      There is something to be said for comedic timing.

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