Look, honey, I know. You’re seventeen and living in a co-ed dorm. It was bound to happen. And really, you could have done much worse, brain-melting-crush-wise. He’s a sweet guy. Smart, funny, down-to-earth. Theater major, of course, but that time his family spent in Africa seems to have knocked most of the adolescent self-absorption out of him. He seems … capable. The fact that you’re drawn to the expert way he snaps his laundry into crease-free piles will serve you well later in life.
I know I can’t pull you back from the brink, and I guess I shouldn’t even try. This is all part of it, the first phase of adulthood. So go on ahead. It’ll be okay. You’ll survive the mixed signals and mysterious back-and-forths. You’ll think back with some version of pride on the night you walked to his room in your shortest nightgown, never mind that its print now calls to mind Bill Cosby eating his own sweater and throwing it up. Those were still your perfect teenage legs sticking out the bottom. And even if he sat at his desk and pretended not to notice while you asked his roommate for help on an assignment, you’ll know he saw you. And it won’t be a coincidence when he asks to go with you to some frat party the next Friday, a setting totally foreign to you both.
You’re going to re-live that night for a long time. Few experiences in your life will top it as far as dangling what you want in front of your face, just so you can see it dissolve close up.
Even as you leave the party and walk along the lake front together, the only two people along that long moonlit stretch of rock and sand, you’ll feel it slipping out of reach. Oh, no, sweetheart, it’s not even moonlight. It’s the orange glow of sodium lights, the campus security boxes watching the whole sorry thing.
You’ve always been able to tell when someone really likes you, and you’ll know this just isn’t right. That’s not sexual tension, it’s just tension. You’ll nearly argue. But still, something happens when he takes your hand to help you over the jagged rocks. The basic power of skin on skin still flips switches your broken conversation can’t. There’s really no question about him walking you home. You live fifty paces from each other. The only unknown is if he’ll ask you into his room or let you keep
Depeche Mode. Really—that’s his move. And what’s worse, it will work. Talked out and tired, you’ll push yourself to find out, to know for sure, to see if you can win him over in the most basic way. When you’re not talking and analyzing and dissecting and convincing, it goes pretty alright. He kisses well. He’s less timid than his slight frame suggests. But then more words, more frustration. The night is over. He doesn’t suggest trying again. He walks you to your room. Or maybe he doesn’t. But sometime soon after, you’ll brush your raw lips and you’ll realize: He didn’t shave for me. This wasn’t even a date.
You’ll never understand, really, what went wrong. There was something between you but it just didn’t go anywhere. He wasn’t messing with you. He’s not that guy. Maybe you’re just a little too intense. Maybe it’s the yellow tape put up by that whole Mormon thing you’ve got going. He’s still a 19-year-old male, after all. The missionary boyfriend-on-hold you write to every week probably didn’t help.
The year will pass and before it’s even over, you’ll be balancing an official, steady boyfriend along with that long-distance letter-getter. By the time the new boyfriend is in a play directed by the freshman crush, you’ll all be able to joke about it. Oh, young heartbreak. Ha.
And yet. There will be something of that almost-man that will inform your experience of male attraction for years to come. The calm presence, the sly smile, the easy competence, the soft bass voice. You’ll slowly realize that these pieces help form the picture of Your Ideal Man, even if you miss the mark for awhile. Okay, a long while.
But then you’ll get there. You will, at a time that seems ridiculously far away right now, find more ideal than you can even imagine. You’ll have a home and family and love beyond measure.
But hey, you know that telnet thing that lets you send messages to other people on campus? That’s about to explode. An amazing online world beyond your current comprehension is going to be out there someday, and through it, you’ll find that young man again, all grown up, just like you. You’ll see his wife and their babies. You’ll be happy for him. You’ll be grateful for the perspective. But still, somewhere, that 17-year-old part of you will wonder if he’s ever thought about those months again, ever considered that he made a mistake in passing you by.
And then one day, a gift will arrive in your virtual mailbox. One day, almost 20 years from now, you’re going to get an email with a subject line that will finally give that teenage heart some peace. You won’t understand what this means right now, but I’m going to tell you anyway, even though it seems like code from space. Stay strong, young friend, and one day you will see:
“Jake Hennington is now following you on Pinterest.”
You’re going to be fine, honey.
Computer lab photo by Ben Schumin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons.