Usually you’d hear that someone’s first crush or a wise word of advice from their mother shaped their dating lives. I think mine was shaped by a seventh grade girl.
For about two years in junior high, I liked the same guy. It was one of those early junior-high, admire-from-afar sorts of affairs, but of course I wanted to change that. I had class with this guy, and Ally too. She had the reputation of being a flirt, and everyone knew. Especially the guys. In particular, she was always flirting with my crush in question. It was so overt that one day the teacher jokingly-not-so-jokingly said that they either needed to start holding hands and make it official or she’d separate them.
You probably know where the story is going. You are expecting me to now tell you that this made me believe that only girls who are teases can get guys, it made me believe that no one likes nice girls, it made me think that I’d have to start being super-flirty to get this guy’s attention, etc., etc., etc.
All of those would be wrong.
You know what it did? It made me absolutely terrified of flirting.
For all of junior high, and early high school too, I was scared of talking to guys for fear that I might be as obvious as Ally. I remember getting advice from my mom about boy matters, and I’d tell her, “I just don’t want to be an Ally.” She’d always respond, “But Taylor, you have to say SOMETHING to them!”
At the time, I believed my fear stemmed from not wanting to have a bad reputation. I didn’t want to be “that girl.” But looking back, I think that my fear instead stemmed from something we can all relate to: vulnerability.
Emotional vulnerability is scary. Owning our feelings leaves us exposed, open for attack of the heart, where it hurts most. But it’s an absolutely necessary part of life should we ever wish to move forward with anything. If you want the dream job, there’s no use in going into the interview half-heartedly excited and half-believing that you aren’t going to get it. The people who excel are not only the people with the credentials but the people whose genuine excitement and passion shines through.
The same goes, of course, for relationships of any kind. Inviting a peer from class or work out for coffee means that you’re putting your feelings on the line. You’re expressing interest in spending time with that person, whether with platonic or romantic intentions. But if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. You might be missing out on the love of your life or on your new lifelong best friend.
For way too much of my teenage years, I allowed how I approached guys to be shaped unknowingly by a fear of vulnerability. I can’t say that things would have worked out any better had I been more forward with my feelings (do junior high relationships ever really work out well?), but at least I could have gotten my verdict of interested or not interested and moved on with my life.
Moral of the story: Don’t be Tiny Taylor (or medium-sized Taylor, as it were). Vulnerability is scary but it has immeasurable payoffs. There’s nothing worse than putting your feelings out on the line, nothing worse than feeling like your head is on the chopping block. But there’s also nothing better than casting that line into the water and getting a bite. (Especially when that bite turns into a three-year relationship. :))