I didn’t date when I was fourteen. The main reason was the lack of prospects, to be fair, but on top of that I simply wasn’t interested in dating when I was fourteen. At fourteen, I gazed briefly into that abyss, it gazed back into me, and I turned away and didn’t look back until I was old enough to vote.
I didn’t date when I was fourteen, because the sorts of fourteen-year-olds who dated were kids like Jessica and Matt, and it takes a special kind of self-loathing to want to be like Jessica and Matt. Jessica was this cute, perky, naïve fourteen-year-old girl who was ambitious in the way that cute, perky, naïve fourteen-year-old girls often are.
Her ambitions at fourteen, as prescribed by Seventeen and YM and other such tomes, included acquiring a boyfriend, and she did, in Matt. As for Matt…well, Matt was a nice guy, not particularly attractive or athletic or smart, but inoffensive enough that he was pretty well-liked, if not terribly popular. Matt didn’t talk much, but that wasn’t because he was boring. And it wasn’t because he was insecure, either. And it certainly wasn’t because he was a loser. He was just…thoughtful, you know? And sensitive. Thoughtful and sensitive.
I sat behind cute, perky, naïve, fourteen-year-old Jessica and her cute, perky, naïve fourteen-year-old friends in class, so I got to hear all about Matt’s shortcomings from the day that he and Jessica started dating until the day that she broke up with him two months later.
An abridged list of infractions, as best I remember them lo these many years later: Matt didn’t seem to really be as into the relationship as she was. He didn’t make time to see her. He hadn’t remembered their one-month anniversary! And worst of all, he didn’t seem to want to talk about their problems and stuff. Which she totally didn’t get, because he was such a sensitive guy. But he was really starting to piss her off.
Then why don’t you break up with him? I wanted to ask each and every time this topic came up, but I was never part of the conversation, so I stayed silent. That was the thing about cute, perky, naïve fourteen-year-old girls when I was that age: they never included me in their discussions, but they didn’t seem to mind talking about all sorts of things when I was around.
They probably assumed that I wasn’t listening. But of course I was listening, because what else was I going to do in the few minutes before science class started? Once when I was seventeen I made the mistake of indicating that I actually did listen to what my classmates were talking about, and I will go to my deathbed regretting that one, because that was the last time I ever heard about what Alyssa’s twenty-year-old boyfriend was like in the sack.
Anyway. That was Jessica’s side of the story. I never heard Matt’s, but I have a feeling that he didn’t really talk about their relationship to his friends. I suspect that sometimes his friends brought it up, in a teasing way, but mostly he’d try to change the subject, because the whole thing embarrassed him. The impression I got from Matt was that he thought – hoped – that if he ignored this relationship, it would go away.
After all, he had never wanted a girlfriend. He didn’t know what to do with a girlfriend! For crying out loud, he was fourteen! But then Jessica had kinda latched onto him for awhile, and she was nice and all, and they sorta became friends, and then she said something about going out, and before he knew it she was saying that he was like her boyfriend, and he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, you know? I mean, it wasn’t that he didn’t like her – he liked her a lot, and she was cute, cuter than he thought he deserved – but…they didn’t have much in common, you know?
And now she kept acting all disappointed that he wasn’t doing stuff she liked, but he didn’t know where she had ever gotten the impression that he did that kind of stuff, because he’d never said he did. It was like she expected him to be cooler than he was, and seriously, that was getting really annoying. Oh, God, did that mean he wasn’t even cool enough to break up with her? How do you even break up with someone, anyway? He still wanted to be her friend and everything.
Why I am writing about this now? Because I think about Jessica’s fantastical expectations of her hapless boyfriend whenever I read the most recent report about how very disappointed Bono is in Paul Martin.
[Update: Oh, Lord, I wrote about this before? How embarrassing.]