Tomorrow, I will be seeing my high school sweetheart for the first time in eight years.
It’s a crazy thought on so many levels. The fact I’m getting to see him; the fact we’ve kept in touch over the years– hell, the fact it’s been EIGHT YEARS. I’m not even close to old enough to have that long since I’ve seen someone significant, but there it is.
I should start at the beginning.
We were just kids when we met. When I started high school, I went on a volunteer trip with my church group. This one guy was a bit older, and I had a harmless schoolgirl crush on him. That is, until we talked a lot the last night of the trip and found out he liked me, too. Our group had stayed at the church we were rebuilding in the Blue Ridge mountains. We started talking about his training in the Army Reserve and plans to join after high school, and my particular hippie leanings as a pacifist. We wandered around the grounds and ended up in the field behind the church, under the night sky. Epic, adorable, romantic. Sparks flew. My teenage heart didn’t stand a chance.
And neither did our relationship. When my mom found out how old he was, she was [ok, fine, somewhat understandably] unsettled. I was a freshman, he was a senior. Three years is a pretty big difference, at that age. But I had always been an old soul, and a damn stubborn one at that. We fought over it. I had my first real taste of teenage rebellion, and relished the secret online contact and late-night phone calls that ended in us falling asleep. We talked constantly. I daydreamed in school. He wanted me to visit, meet his family, even go to Prom. I was smitten with the whole Romeo and Juliet vibe of it all. Not only was he a soon-to-be solider and I a card-carrying pacifist, but our families didn’t remotely approve.
This continued for months, until we had another church trip that winter. By then, the strain of distance and family disapproval had weighed on me. The adult supervisors were keen to the situation, and it soured the experience. It was bittersweet to see him, knowing I might not again. I crumbled under the pressure, and we agreed to get emotional distance to match the physical separation. I gave him a peace sign ring I always wore, as a joke to remember me by. I was utterly heartbroken.
In retrospect, I was a kid and bounced back just fine. We hadn’t been exclusive the entire time, so it wasn’t much of a social change for me, but the emotional impact felt real. The romance was over.
But the story didn’t end. We looked each other up over the years, and kept in contact pretty consistently. I found out that after we lost touch after the initial break, he did actually sign up with the Army. He was deployed to Iraq from ’05-’06, and was injured twice. The second injury was enough to have him sent home.
I heard through the grapevine that something had happened to him, and tracked him down via the wonderful interwebs. It had been two years since we’d talked. He said he had wanted to find me the second he got home from Iraq, but didn’t think I wanted to hear from him. Absurd. Of course I wanted to hear that he was alright. So we caught each other up, and went back into a sort of pen pal connection. We’d talk about our days, what kept us busy, who we were seeing, the heartaches, the happiness. Our favorite color. That awesome band we just saw live. The usual conversations of our age. Friendship.
There were sweeter moments, too. On nights when he couldn’t sleep after work, or I was up late writing a paper for college, we’d talk about that summer night under the stars, or the winter trip in the snow. It was fun to think back. When that movie, Dear John, came out about an Iraq War romance, we both watched it online together. [The movie is total crap, don't watch it; we ended up just laughing the whole time.] At some point over the years, he confessed how often he thought of me in Iraq. It comforted him to have someone to fight for, and it brightened his day to think of how I would have hated him holding a gun in the first place. Said he could hear me in his head sometimes, railing against the concept of war. Surrounded by bombs thundering and guns firing, I made him smile.
One night, he told me that he even brought the ring I had given him with to Iraq, and sometimes kept it on his dog tags for good luck. The second time he was injured, his Humvee was blown up. The explosion tore away both his tags and our ring. He told me how furious he was to have lost it. He always thought to come home safe, find me, and show me that it had been his good luck charm. I cried that it hadn’t been good enough to keep him safe. He replied that it did work; he was alive, wasn’t he?
Our relationship has represented a sort of romantic nostalgia over the years. It’s mellowed into a calm, warm place inside me. No matter how small other heartbreaks might tear me, those memories can always piece me back into a smile. He’s my chicken soup.
And now I get to see him, after all these years. He’s from Silver Spring, so he’s back this week for the holiday family visit, and we’re meeting up tomorrow. Jules Junior asked if I’m nervous– I can’t lie, butterflies have invaded my stomach. He hasn’t seen me since I was fifteen! Now that we’re adults, is this going to be weird? What the hell should I wear? And I’m concerned that he might want to initiate something! I don’t want to ruin what we have together by reigniting long-distance yearnings that spoil it. [And if Fairfax is too far away for me to date, South Carolina is practically the moon!] But it will be unreal to be in the same place just the same.
We’re going to meet on the steps of Natural History and kick around the museums and monuments. He hasn’t been down to DC proper in years, despite being a semi-local, so we’ll play at being tourists. Apparently we have a knack for being a picturesque, cliché duo. I’m not complaining. I’m pretty confident about our status in each other’s futures as the bright light/ chicken soup, and am bubbling with butterflies at the chance to add another day of memories to the story.
You know you’re just as excited for the sequel.
To be continued….
Sometimes after telling a friend about my most recent flirty shenanigans, they ask how I get up the guts. How? Easy-peasy: I just do it. Seriously, it’s that simple.
You have an impulse struggling to break free from the prison you’ve locked it into in the back of your mind? Slip it the key. Or better yet: explosives, so it can bust outta confinement in style. Out with a BANG!
That’s how I’ve tried to liberate myself since moving to DC. I’m in a new city, new lifestyle, and trying all the lovely new things along with it. I’ve been outgoing and decidedly-Me for most of my life, but this is bringing it to a whole new level. I go out dancing half the week, soak up new friends like it’s my job [wouldn't that be cool if being social was my job??], and strive daily to do ‘carpe diem’ proud. Vulnerability can be a surprisingly delicious feeling.
Most often, this fun growing habit [addiction?] manifests itself in my dating life. I think the bartender that always finds a way to knock down my tab is cute? Well, last Friday, I left him my number on the check along with a note saying “in case you’d like to grab the drink I definitely owe you now”. [Note: this is at a bar my friends and I frequent often, so there is sure to be follow-up on this particular one.] Impulses like these are healthy, natural, and downright exciting as hell– so everyone should take some initiative spice up their own life.
Months ago, there was this boy who played an acoustic and sang outside the metro across from my restaurant. He was cute, obviously did it just for kicks, and had a variety of genres he’d jump around in. All summer and fall, I’d listen to him while getting the patio ready for dinner or waiting for my bus home, and we’d do that adorable smiling-at-each-other-from-afar thing. Sometimes he’d play this great Hank Williams song, and I one time shouted that was my favorite– after that, any time I walked by, he’d immediately switch over to that song. I don’t usually carry cash on me, and started kicking myself nights he was there. So, I did what any decent girl would do.
I dug through my purse for paper, and wrote him a note. “I always seem to only have bus fare home on me, but have listened to your music long enough that I figure I owe you a drink by now– here’s my number in case you’d like to take me up on it some night.”
He called the next day. Not a text, but a phone call. We talked a bit, and he said he didn’t know bars in the NW neighborhood area very well, but I said the Red Derby had great beer. We each brought a friend, had a great night of conversation, and that was mostly it. He still played my metro stop, and was adorable but a little too timid for me to date. But that’s not the point. We’d talk whenever running into each other, so I just made a cool neighborhood friend and an even greater story.
Don’t give me that “oh, but you’re so much more outgoing than me, Jules!” crap. I was a morbidly shy girl up through most of middle school, complete with bright red blushes and the inability to speak when it came to boys and bullies. Then I took to heart my mama’s best piece of life advice: you are who you want to be. Seriously, it’s that easy. You want to be the extroverted girl flirting in a circle of guys or walking up to a cute guy to buy him a drink? Then get over yourself and just do it. The only thing holding you back is you.
I know this is coming off as preachy, but it’s because this is what’s running through my head whenever I get into such situations. I like a guy at a party, bar, coffeeshop, or any other random place. There’s something I want to say to him. The introvert deep inside wants to just watch or run away, so I tell her to shuttup and walk over before I lose my nerve. I’m a recovering shy girl, it’s a daily struggle to overcome. But I decided early on that I didn’t like being quiet and overlooked, didn’t like being the cute-girl’s-best-friend, and definitely didn’t like that feeling of lost opportunity.
So here’s the deal: the end game for this kind of thing isn’t finding a boyfriend, or even a date. I do them because they make people smile. If the Cute Bartender never calls because he isn’t available, isn’t interested, or isn’t assertive enough to do it, that’s fine. I’m peachy keen without any response. Regardless of the outcome for me, everyone likes knowing they’re admired, and I know my note brightened his day. And isn’t that worth taking a few seconds of your time to express something as simple as “I think you’re cute”? Because it always makes them feel a little better, and it will definitely give you awesome butterflies that you will soon learn to crave. Just like me.
So just do it!
So my little sister and her friend Abigail shot me this video the other day, and it’s naturally been stuck in my head ever since. I think the ridiculously cute lyrics/video/everything about it are pretty appropriate here. So thanks, sis.
Self-judgment is an ugly feeling. It’s always so much easier to play the comforter to friends, listening to their woes and validating their decisions. The fallout zone always seems so much more frightening when it’s in your own life. Foremost among many 20-somethings’ sexual concerns is their Number.
The ‘modern woman’ has been struggling with this for decades, since the sexual revolution really took hold and broadened social norms to allow some wiggle room on the whole pre-marital sex deal. It’s rarely ever ‘boy-meets-girl, love at first sight, and get married for the 2.5 kids with a white picket fence’ anymore. Chastity belts have been traded in for liberty, exploration, and more frequent free-condom-raids to the local Planned Parenthood.
My mother taught me to test drive a car before you buy it, and I hold to that wisdom. [Hey, even if you don’t make the purchase, the test drive can still be a whirlwind of fun!] Adventuring isn’t without its risks, though. (It wouldn’t be an adventure if it were totally safe, now would it?) Those Planned Parenthood trips aren’t only for condoms, and haven’t always been stress-free jaunts with girlfriends. Sometimes, they’re there for moral support as pregnancy tests are processed… and that’s somehow the least of the worries. This is a frightening new world we’ve been born to. Sex isn’t just fun—it can kill you.
It still is tough when the casualty is something like your heart,rather than your health. Sometimes I think that the stronger women hurt deeper. Everyone likes to treat us like we’re indestructible. They can throw anything they want our way, and we’ll keep trucking with barely a cold glance thrown their way. Hey, the higher you fly from hurt, the harder you fall, right? But more than anything, it’s likely just your bruised pride. [It’s total bullshit anyway, of course, to think my ego is more important than some vapid girl’s. A hurt girl is a hurt girl, bottom line.]
What I’ve always struggled with is the disconnect between my mind and my heart. I can examine, rationalize, and excuse an entire situation from beginning to end, but no degree of intellectual understanding will ease the emotional havoc surging through my veins. That I liked a guy, but never planned on committing because that spark wasn’t entirely there. I’m too young to settle down. He isn’t what I’m looking for. All those reasoned practicalities I figure out as I’m dating someone, they all go out the window when rejection walks through the door. Especially when it comes from a guy that slept with you, and turned around the next week with “I met someone else and want to try and see where it goes with her”. Via text. What a douche.
Even more so when at one point that night, when skirting around the question of what our Numbers are, he laughed and said, “well, not nearly enough to have to make a New Year’s Resolution about not sleeping with people, like you did”. Or something to that effect. I didn’t write it down, so don’t quote me word-for-word.
Yes, I had told him on date two that I wouldn’t sleep with him because I barely knew him. That only 24 hours from meeting, I wouldn’t be with someone past the PG-13 degrees of PDA. When pressed, I joked that it was a NYE resolution. After he said this the night that I did [perhaps mistakenly] sleep with him, I jerked up and set him straight. No, my number isn’t astronomical—it’s actually entirely average for my age. The need for a resolution isn’t a sexual one, it’s an emotional one. I went through a very dark time two years ago when I dealt with far more death, divorce, abandonment, and entirely life breakdown than a lot of people will experience in much of their lives. Even though I shouldn’t have needed to defend myself, I told him that my friends and I pulled through that year by any means necessary—and yes, sex was a key coping mechanism. But I’m not entirely back to how free I was at that time, because sexual liberation is still linked to mourning in my head. The emotions are a bit tangled, so I need to work on it a bit.
Not that it’s much of his business, to be honest. He didn’t comment much else on the topic, and I let it go, thinking it was just a moment of honesty in a conversation with a potentially consistent new guy. With my nifty 20/20 hindsight now, I wonder if that translated wrong to him. And by wrong, I mean that HIS perception is off, not my past. Because I damn well don’t regret my life and how I’ve survived grief—anyone that thinks I should feel ashamed can bite me and piss off.
And that’s the sexual long and short of it: women are shamed; men are acclaimed.
We have to do battle with the double-standard of sex. Among other gender inequities, women bear the humiliation while men get the benefits. Have you ever heard someone looking at a hungover guy walking home on a college campus at 7am laugh and comment on his Walk of Shame? No—because that’s something GIRLS do. Right? Today’s modern girl has to balance the empowerment of ‘I can explore my sexuality the same as any guy’ with the internalized repression that ‘girls who give it up are sluts’.
So where’s the trade-off? How do guys ‘get laid’, while girls ‘get trashy’ by committing the same act? Guys grow in each other’s esteem after sharing the news of another conquest, yet those girls’ stock plummets. They are lesser. Suddenly, they’re ‘undateable’. She’s now the kind of girl you meet at a bar or party to get drunk with and make stupid decisions. She’s never the girl to take to the movies, or meet for dinner. Which is amusing to me, because many guys have told me the reason they wouldn’t casually date me is because I’m the kind of girl you make your girlfriend. [Even if that’s not what I want at that time.]
I’m still figuring out where this unbalance happens, and how they [such men] could possibly think it’s just. I guess we’re all still trying to puzzle this one out, taking each obstacle as it comes. Yes, I struggle against my society and the internalized repression it still has instilled in me. Sure, I fight against the judgment of others for my sexual life. All I know is that for the most part, my Number is just right for me and my life, and I sure as hell won’t let anyone take that hard-earned knowledge from me. Because I know that with each of those numbers, I’ve climbed mountain after mountain of self-understanding that have taught me who I am. And I’m not done adding to that Number, or climbing those mountains. The rest of the world can just settle themselves down and mind their own fucking business.
Though I’m not genuinely this bitter, I can’t help laughing at dedicating this as a farewell to the Stealth Hippie:
I am the proud and vocal veteran of four Vagina Monologue casts. In college and since, I have learned my most valuable lessons as a VDAY girl about sexuality, love, relationships, and self-esteem. And yet, men still surprise me. It’s a mystery that I’ll never fully understand; I’m okay with that.
The next clue to tip me off that Stealth Hippie isn’t your average 20-something guy: his intuition in bed. Not only is he surprisingly dominant, but after the first time sleeping together, he boldly asked about my side of things.
I don’t think I’ve had a guy openly ask, “Do you orgasm?” with the knowledge that there are women out there that actually don’t. Guys know that women don’t always, but when I laughed a little and said of course I do, he countered with, “Well, I know some women don’t. Since you didn’t just now, I wanted to know.”
If that didn’t blow me away, the next bit would.
“So, what gets you over the edge, then?”
Not only did he notice I hadn’t orgasmed the first time we had sex, but he was both comfortable and knowledgeable enough to broach the topic? Curiousier and curiousier!
The most disturbing part was that I didn’t know how to respond. As a Vagina Monologue girl, I know a lot about sex, exploration, and the female body. It goes with the territory. I know all about sex toys, though I’ve never had the money to actually invest in one for myself [I know… it’s next on my list, once I get a real job and can comfortably afford rent]. I’ve read articles, advice columns, and journals regarding sexology. My women’s studies and sociology classes explored sexuality openly. As a card-carrying geek, I intellectually know all of this.
But that doesn’t exactly prepare you for real life. I might have a solid number of past partners, but they were all too transient to learn much about myself. One relationship of six months is about all I have in the way of genuine introspection into what works for me. In that way, I’m still pretty new at this and need to figure things out.
So I responded that yes, women are all wired differently. Some orgasm easily, some not at all, and others take a little work. I tend to fall in the last category—it’s happened before, but not every time. He asked, when I do orgasm, if it’s really intense. Nodding, I laughed a little, commenting on his intuition. He chalks it up to being a younger child in a family of females. He says younger kids pay attention and pick up things, while older children are assertive and get things done. Without saying anything, I laughed again and confirmed that yes, I am an older sibling and definitely the bossy one of my brood.
Then he asked again what it takes, and went on to ask about masturbation, toys, and positions. The guy was blowing me away, with the calm way he was discussing what I’ve always seen as a female issue. Talking about this kind of topic can make you feel pretty vulnerable. To be honest, though, this is the kind of exposure I appreciate—it’s a sensitive subject, and he wanted to know. He wanted to know ME.
I ended up saying that variety has always served me well, and definitely intensity. Feeling like I’m entirely consumed by the connection, stimulated by everything in him. It’s all about the experience for me, not the biology. If I’m fascinated, that means my entire mind and body’s attention will be focused enough to click. What works for me is someone who can match my passion, offering as much as he’s taking. Assertive personalities tend to fit the best. Not only rough, though I do lean in that direction more often. But just that. Intense.
Yes, all men should concern themselves with the satisfaction of their sex partners. My male friends all claim to be dedicated to it, including the ones I’ve slept with. [And yes, I’ve actually never really been disappointed with my choice of partner. Several of them would discuss or even ask questions, since they knew I’m open about it.] For the most part, though, they would talk a lot of talk, and I knew from conversations with their partners that their walk needed a bit of work. It’s mostly pride and not enough proof. But this was somehow different.
It was genuine. Intense. I still have a lot to learn about myself and my body, but that didn’t seem to put him off. I’m cautious to say that he might be along for the ride. Much like his controlled vibe, this focus made me shiver. And I’m fascinated.
It’s just one of those ubiquitous childhood lessons, no matter where, when, and how you’re born. Sure, Sesame Street had a heavy hand in the wording for my generation, but it’s taught everywhere. And it doesn’t get old—no matter what age you are, the truth stays strong, in every type of relationship. Especially romantic ones.
It takes many forms in relationships, though I’m not talking about sharing partners for the most part [polyamory is seeing a rationalized comeback, but not a part of my personal lifestyle]. No, I’m talking more about sharing yourself. Being open and receptive. It’s tough to be an open book; it takes a lot of trust in the reader, and this is just a harsh world to trust new people sometimes.
When I look at the people around me, and hear about their romantic woes and failures, it all comes down to trusting yourself and another. It’s a damn vulnerable feeling, laying yourself bare to another’s scrutiny, but it’s also one of the most liberating phenomena in the human experience.
Some people only want to share parts of themselves with others—they are serial daters. Not monogamists, but daters. They hop from person to person like a bee bouncing around the wallflowers, content to enjoy the activity for a time before going back to their hive without keeping anyone special in mind. There’s nothing wrong with the lifestyle [and for the most part is my own life of choice, for now], because these bees are perfectly happy on their adventures, knowing their home is sweet enough without needing anyone else there. I have a blast going on dates with new people all the time, even if several aren’t repeated, because I am happy with myself. I don’t date to fill a void, I date to meet new and exciting people, and share my life with others. I don’t have any one special person in particular because I haven’t met the right person yet, but that’s peachy keen with me. I’d rather be awesome and single than settling for someone that doesn’t quite fit—we’re still young, this is the time to explore.
What I’ve noticed, between my friends and these various suitors, is that a lot of people don’t trust the dating game. We’ve grown to become quite the cynical generation. Raised on Disney fairy tales, fed the belief in love-at-first-sight and dreams-come-true, but experiencing the reality of an ever-increasing divorce rate and the nightmare of nasty break-ups. It’s tough to trust your dreams when it seems like they’re only real in cartoons—even MTV only airs the failed romances. If beautiful, awesome people like Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore can’t make it, how can we expect to?
We all have our preconceived notions and ‘ideal mate’ daydreams, but are too protective of it and ourselves to share with potential realities. It’s almost as if we’re hoarding our dreams, because admitting them to someone risks the chance of it happening. Like a birthday wish—you can’t TELL anyone what you wish when you blow out your birthday candles, because then it won’t happen!
So we make lists. Get clinical, and you feel less absurd. Come up with dealbreakers to explain the breakup before it happens, rather than admit the relationships fail because you were too terrified to commit and give it your all. Cobble together all the attractive qualities from various celebrities you fantasize about, and convince yourself the result is out there somewhere. It’s a twisted arts’n’crafts collage setting us all up for disaster. And when the end comes, we tell ourselves ‘I told you so’ as if that takes the sting out of loneliness.
Love is an all-or-nothing bet. You can’t ask everything of someone else if you refuse to open up. We’ve all heard it, the ‘two-way street’ bit, and all. You know the sayings—your mama told you them often enough as a kid. They’re clichés for a reason, you know.
So take a leap—sharing is caring. If you want someone to care about you, then you have to SHARE you. Sometimes it really is just that easy.