I was always one of those girls who was completely oblivious to the presence of guys. Up through the end of middle school, and even into high school, my main priorities were homework and my horse. In those years, the Dixie Chicks song “Ready to Run” was my mantra. Why did I need to worry about boys when there were so many fun, important things that I could do with my life? “What’s all this talk about love?” I sang with glee, meaning every word.
My first real introduction to the world of boys came in my freshman year of high school, when Miguel, the boy whom I sat next to in government class, asked me for my number at the end of the fall semester. I was shocked and blurted out the first thing that came to my mind, which was: “I don’t know it.” Technically, this was true, but I’m sure that Miguel didn’t believe me. After winter break had ended, and I discovered that our paths never crossed with our new course schedules, I realized that I felt bad for not thinking more thoroughly about what I had told him. We had become friends over the course of the semester, and, honestly, I was curious to learn what he really thought about me.
Shocked at where my thoughts were headed, I put in my earbuds and pulled up “Ready to Run,” but I couldn’t escape my newfound angst. “You see it feels like I’m starting to care/ and I’m going to be ready this time,” the Dixie Chicks sang, and I discovered a whole new layer of meaning in the song. Was I starting to care about what some guy thought about me? Me, the girl who practically lived at the barn, who barely knew how to talk to anyone outside of her small circle of friends, was suddenly concerned about the feelings of a boy that she had never spoken to until about three months ago?
No way. That wasn’t who I was, or who I was planning on becoming. “What’s all this talk about love?” I reminded myself, and then threw myself into school work and riding with renewed vigor. Often I was too busy to even talk very much to my female friends, and I was so quiet that I think most of the guys in my classes didn’t know what to think of me.
And yet I found that I couldn’t completely avoid the boys in my classes. In my sophomore year, it was Jordan, whom I had known since first grade, who began paying more attention to me. He went out of his way to talk to me and even sent me a note and some candy on Valentine’s Day. I never plucked up the courage to talk to him about it, and my best friend at the time teased me mercilessly, so I couldn’t even talk to him without her laughing at me and making the conversation awkward. I ended the school year frustrated and embarrassed, but I did my best to forget my troubles and focus on my riding. “What’s all this talk about love?” I reminded myself yet again, and, as summer dragged on, I began to believe it once more.
My junior year was a whirlwind of honors, AP, and dual enrollment classes. In the spring semester, I decided to branch out a little and do the spring musical. I was cast in several smaller roles, one of them being a married woman. My onstage husband was David, a friendly but rather awkward senior. He was always very affectionate towards me, often putting his arm around me or letting me rest my head on his shoulder when I was tired. “You two make such a cute couple,” my friend Dani told us, and I blushed furiously, acutely aware of David smiling at me. I made the mistake of telling my little sister about this encounter, and she teased me ceaselessly, even after the production had ended and David and I returned to our normal lives, where our paths did not cross. I was relieved when he took another girl to prom so I could convince myself and the rest of my family that we had never been, and never would be, any more than an onstage couple.
As my senior year rolled around, my closest friend suddenly got the attention of a boy in her choir group and became his prom date. I wasn’t jealous of her, exactly, but I wondered: what is it about her that guys notice that I don’t have? Was I too quiet? Was it the way I dressed? What did I have to do to prove that I was a normal girl who could have a relationship with a guy? For the first time, I was acutely aware of how many of the girls at my school had boyfriends, or just male friends in general. What was I doing to make people ignore me?
By senior prom, I had developed a plan to create a new persona for myself. For just one night, I would be outgoing. I would wear makeup, dress in something that I would never normally dare to wear, and dance no matter how awkward I looked.
And I got attention that night; but not from someone that I had ever expected. And, once again, I found myself considering, “what’s all this talk about love?” This new guy was John, whom I had known since sixth grade, but I had never spoken to him very much. I had always just thought of him as one of the choir guys, socially awkward, somewhat geeky, and never someone whom I would have ever spoken to outside of the choir room.
But now, out of nowhere, he was adding me on SnapChat and making an effort to talk to me. I truly wasn’t sure how I felt about him; he was nothing but nice to me, but I had heard bad things about him from other people. He’s misogynist, racist, and homophobic, my theater friends said. My twin sister and my best friend found the whole situation hilarious. I, on the other hand, was so confused that all I could do was pretend to be completely oblivious to his admittedly obvious crush. Does he like me because of what he saw at prom, or because he thinks I’m a nice person? I wondered frequently. The last thing I wanted to be was somebody’s accessory, but there was also something extremely flattering about being able to elicit such a reaction from a person. I was embarrassed when John would notice me and get a soppy expression on his face, but his clear infatuation also gave me a confidence boost.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that he was eventually going to try to get past the “talking” stage, but I did my best to not think about it. The idea of me being in a romantic relationship was interesting, but too bizarre to think about seriously. When John did ask me out, though, I knew immediately that there was only one answer. All of the attention that I had gotten from him was flattering, but I had also seen hints of the conservative, narrow-minded person whom my friends had warned me about, and I knew that I could never willingly choose to associate with someone like that. I turned him down as kindly as I could and went home that day feeling freer than I had in weeks.
So, really, “what’s all this talk about love?”. I’ve only gotten a glimpse of it, but I have the rest of my life to figure it out.