Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday Scribbling: Date

From here.

Where I grew up, we didn't date. Oh, not that we were chaste, at all, just that we didn't go through the whole John Hughes suburban ritual, complete with Breakfast Club postmortems and Sixteen Candles ends. Nobody asked anybody out for any sort of dinner and a movie (at least not so I remember). It wasn't our thing, dating. It wasn't our language.

Instead, we had our own rigid hierarchy in teenage relationships. First, there was “going with” as in, “I went with her.” While this might suggest dating, it actually was more akin to desperate sweaty gropes at the playground after dark. Then, if you went with someone more than a few times and continued to enjoy it, you might pursue “seeing” that person. This was exactly as breezy as it sounds—maybe you would see the person in the hallways and say, “hey,” perhaps even share a cheek-kiss before the warning bell reeled you towards class, its strident tone indicating that it knew you were up to no good. You could “see” many people at the same time (well, if you were a guy, alas the double standard!)

After an indefinite amount of time, you might slide towards the holy grail of our high school couplings. You might be officially “going out.” And no, this wasn't usually celebrated by an date either. This just meant that you were now boyfriend and girlfriend, exclusive. This was the end.

I allowed myself to be pulled through this rite because this was just the way things were. Sure, I tried to put my own rules out there. I usually managed to skip the pointless “seeing” phase (I was a good girl; if I went with a guy more than a few times, I liked him enough to move straight to going out. Usually). But...I really wanted to date the way the people in my movies did. It seemed like the way we did relationships was the way we did everything...haphazardly, sloppy. Why couldn't we WORK hard enough to make something tangible, put in the effort like the nice suburban rich kids? I wanted romance, swelling music. I would have settled for pizza and a VHS tape.

Most of my high school relationships revolved around the band, and I can trace the trajectory of each one through the schedule of football games and practices and band competitions we always lost, those long rides home on the bus, the couples claiming the back seats. Our horizontal bodies hugged by the Naugahyde seats that were always ripped, pieces of stuffing rising up like smoke. Eventually sitting up, dazed, staring out the window together, watching the unfamiliar landscape streak into our hometown.

This was always the source of much discussion---who ended up in those back seats, and when, and why. I was as involved as everyone else, but I always held a piece of myself back. See, I knew this was all temporary, however vital it seemed at the time. I knew that there was a larger world, where guys came to the door and met your parents and brought flowers. Where the buses were modern and whole. Where bands rehearsed as passionately as we gossiped and won awards at the same competitions where we placed fifth, if at all. I knew that eventually, I would figure out the secret of living and stop being ashamed, stop feeling wrong and half-assed.

I just had to wait.

Sometimes, if I really liked the guy I was going out with, I would gently approach the idea of going on an official, mainstream culture date. And sometimes, if he really liked me back, he would agree.

But somehow, those dates were never quite what I wanted. The easy natural conversation we always had would freeze up, leaving us to make strained small chatter about the food, or, um, about the football team, or um...nothing, usually. We couldn't shake the feeling that we were playacting at something that needed to be Serious, and that we were doing it Wrong. Sometimes, I would catch my Boy standing by the pay phone near the men's bathroom, fingering his dollar bills, looking clutched and sweaty in his hand. There was something beautiful about his attempt to please me, but I didn't know enough to see it back then. I just knew that it didn't look right, it wasn't Hollywood enough. It wasn't like those dates that I imagined those suburban band kids would go on, polished and cinematic.

It's taken years for me to see the rightness of what was right in front of me. To be proud of speaking my own language, relishing my own history.

But I won't lie. When TEG showed up at my house that first day and shook my father's hand, it was more than FINALLY right. It was better than any movie starring Molly Ringwald.

Of course, it wasn't a date. We were already going out at the time.

For more dates, go here.

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Blogger Jessie said...

oh, you are sooooo good and you've captured every single uncomfortable, desperate nuance of teenagers in love.

a true homage to real life love. ;)

9:31 AM, January 14, 2008  
Blogger Tammy said...

You reminded me of those days and I too wished for "real dating." Wonderful piece!

11:02 AM, January 14, 2008  
Blogger tumblewords said...

For sure, a well done piece about the teen years and the angst that went with them.

12:38 PM, January 14, 2008  
Blogger Lisa said...

I've never figured out where that term "dating" came from. Even in my high school years in the -- ahem -- 1770s, we said we were "going out with" someone, but it meant exactly the same thing you described.

Secret: All through the 80s, whenever I was broken hearted or feeling sorry for myself, I'd watch my videotape of Sixteen Candles. *sniff*

4:27 PM, January 14, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks was fun taking this trip down memory lane...and I didn't realize how strongly I felt about it until I wrote this. Weird.

And Lisa--that is a PERFECT "feel better" movie!

11:13 PM, January 16, 2008  

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