Valentine’s Day is coming up. Let’s talk about girls.
As little children, we give Valentine cards to our mothers or fathers. The bolder among us give Valentines to our favourite babysitters. In school we give Valentines to every kid in the class, by mandate. As we get older, we find ways to favour our special Valentines. We give them fancier cards, or deliver them by hand, or give extra Valentines away from the leveling eye of the teacher. A few years more and the space in “girl friend” begins to shrink and the wonderful compound girlfriend arises. There is that special girl you snuggle with at parties, learn to dance with, and practice kissing with. For me it was the girl around the corner and through the properties between the two dead end streets. Michelle had been a neighbour since first grade. In my barely prepubescent mind, she was changing from best girl friend to either best girl or girlfriend. Aside from the snuggling and practice kissing, we went on dates, which at our age were limited to chaperoned community events at parks or rec centres. She had an annoying habit on these outings of making dates with boys from other neighbourhoods. I guess I wasn’t a very good kisser.
In junior high the stakes rack up a notch. Everyone still plays at relationships, but the boys are getting fuzzy and the girls are getting bumpy. Hormones add new dimensions to the play, and the merging of schools adds many more players. The default school for my neighbourhood had a reputation for being tough. Today I realize that just meant that there were some kids from other social classes mixed in. About half of my classmates from elementary school went instead to private schools or public schools in tonier neighbourhoods. I went to the diverse, “tough” school and met lots of new girls. Boys, too.
Elena was a cute girl of Portuguese descent, small and dark. She had olive skin, jet black hair, and deep brown eyes. She had a hooked nose which I thought was attractive. She was probably too young to be sultry, and I was too young to know what sultry meant, but I was interested. Elena had a cousin Joey. Joey was our age, but was one of those boys who start shaving in kindergarten. By lunch period he had a five o’clock shadow. He was also a bodybuilder and was ripped at thirteen. He could do the flexed arm hang until the gym teachers got fed up and told him to get down because we had to move on to other things. There were rumours he did ‘roids. I knew Joey to see him, but I didn’t have much to do with him. He hung out with the tough kids behind the gym. One day in metal shop he stalked over to me and asked if I thought Elena was pretty. I didn’t want to get beaten up, so I assured him that she was a pretty girl but I had no interest in her and wouldn’t make any trouble. I avoided her afterward. Twelve years later I was having a dream in which these events replayed and woke up with a start of revelation. Elena had asked Joey to find out if I liked her. Arrrgh.
While avoiding Elena so Joey wouldn’t beat me up (remember, I wouldn’t figure it out for another twelve years) I was playing at boyfriend/girlfriend with Margaret. A pretty girl at the coltish stage many girls have when they are thin and long limbed for their height, she was clever and sweet. Peer pressure at that age to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend is strong. So this girl I liked became my designated girlfriend. I did like her, but I thought much more about another of our classmates in her circle of girlfriends—more primal thoughts, the first stirrings of what was missing in all our play acting. Andrea was small and dark. (Is this a trend, dear reader?) Very quiet but fearsomely smart, she had a bit of snark in her. Our school had a special day one year—might have been Valentine’s Day, might not—on which the girls all wore paper hearts. If a girl spoke to a boy, she had to give him her heart. Some boys were running around the school collecting dozens of hearts. I wasn’t taking much of an interest in proceedings; thought it stupid then, think it stupid now. At lunchtime, Andrea came up to me in the hall and asked about a class assignment. I answered and she walked away. A classmate standing nearby, another of the circle of girlfriends that included Andrea and Margaret, starting freaking out at me. Andrea had talked to me. I was supposed to get her heart. I chased Andrea down and demanded her heart as she had spoken to me. She told me she had not spoken to me. I pointed out that she was talking to me know, so that counted. No, she told me, she wasn’t speaking to me now. I’m slow, but not stupid. Either she wanted to give her heart to me because she liked me, or she wanted to get rid of her heart so she could talk and chose me to give it to. Either way, she was hurt and angry I spurned her. I was in the cellar of the doghouse and had probably blown my chance at having a truly excellent girlfriend. Sorry, Andrea.
The whole Margaret/Andrea situation illustrates a problem I continue to have. Girls (or more properly at my stage of life, women) tend to come in pairs. You can only ask out one girl (or woman) of any pair. No matter how smooth you are, asking the second out after the first turns you down always has a whiff of “Your hotter friend said no, so how about it?” Not cool. But which one to ask out? I have such a horrible track record with this choice, not just getting shot down but getting accepted and later regretting it, I’m more or less paralyzed by indecision. I try dropping hints that if either of them were to ask me out, I’d be interested. I try the old junior high trick of getting a third party to sniff out if either of them are interested. (I am careful not to pick go betweens as intimidating as cousin Joey.) None of it works.
High school wasn’t really a big step forward for me in dating. I was the only person from my junior high to go to my high school (that year, a couple followed the next year) and started over with a brand new group of people. The school had its pod of glamour girls, but the prettiest girls were in the advanced program with me. This was the era of Cindy Lauper, Blondie, and Pat Benatar. The girls in my school wore terry cloth harem pants and sweatshirts. I admit feeling slightly cheated. I had many close girl friends, but I didn’t have a girlfriend. I don’t think. My best friend was a girl and we spent a lot of time together. After I got my license we would drive down to the Dallas Road cliffs and lie on a blanket looking at the moon. It was nice. I didn’t go to many school dances in high school because the school was way on the other side of town from my house, and, frankly, school dances are boring. At one event, the lovely and talented Sheila dedicated The Beatles’ Nowhere Man to me.
At sixteen I took a two week school trip to France. One night in Normandy, I was hurrying back to our hotel to make curfew when I ran into, almost literally, a local girl my age in the street by the hotel. She had seen our group around town and was curious who we were. My French was not very good, nor was her English. I spoke in French and she spoke in English. This kept conversation at a pace we could both understand. We talked and talked and talked. At one point our teacher chaperone stuck his head out the hotel door and looked around. He spotted me and this girl leaning against a nearby building. I guess he thought I was getting a cultural experience, because he vanished back into the hotel without saying anything. We kept talking. Eventually she had to leave and gave me a kiss goodnight. Tee hee hee. She smelled nice.
When I moved to Japan I had to not only learn a new language but a whole new set of mores. What phrases are acceptable in different relationships? How does the meaning of common expressions change based on relationships? What physical contact is acceptable when, and what do different types of contact mean? It is very easy to get into trouble by saying the wrong thing, engaging in inappropriate touching, or misinterpreting the other person’s intentions. Apparently it is also possible to inadvertently profess your undying love to a stranger met on a dark park path when what you are trying to do is extricate yourself gracefully. That might have been a one-off.
In Japan I was exotic. Women in bars would want to sleep with me simply because I was tall, blonde, and blue-eyed. This was actually a turn off. No thanks. I did have a romantic social life in Japan. I also ran once again into the problem of paired women. For a while I was dating Noriko, a receptionist at the company where I was working. We spent a lot of our time off together. I met her family and her old professors and she played tour guide. She was cute, cuddly and very sweet. I was certainly attracted to her, but again I had more primal feelings for another of our co-workers. Sumiko was taller, sleeker, and had a long mane of wavy hair. There was a touch of the dragon lady about her. She looked very much like early ’90s idol Natsuki Okamoto. She also had more of a cynical streak to her than Noriko which matched my personality better. One evening after work, Sumiko and I went for drinks with our office manager. We were sitting side by side with our legs touching. After a couple of drinks I let my hand fall on her thigh. She placed her hand on mine and squeezed. Then she moved her hand to my thigh, pulled our legs tighter together and wrapped her calf around mine so her toes ended up back on her side of my leg. I was dating the wrong girl again. At the end of the evening, as I stood with our office manager watching Sumiko’s hips sway as she walked to her train, I asked the office manager why I always dated the wrong woman. Her opinion was I was stupid. Can’t argue.
I think my fiancée rates a post of her own.
I didn’t go to university straight from high school. Instead I started first year when I was twenty-four. A few other mature students and I were amused by all the eighteen and nineteen year olds playing house. The age gap between twenty-four and nineteen is amazing. I ended up studying geography and with field assignments, study sessions, and evenings out, a steady stream of lovely ladies came by my apartment just off campus: Nicci, Marge, Robin, Robyn, Barb, Jocelyn, a handful of Leahs, Corey. My roommate for one term, an engineering student, eventually cornered me and with a note of desperation in his voice asked how I knew so many beautiful women. Dude, you took the wrong major.
I was sitting on the couch in the geography students’ lounge one day, shooting the breeze with Marge who was washing her coffee cup at the sink, when Jocelyn, another of our classmates, stopped in the doorway, fixed me with a determined glare and informed me she wanted to make it absolutely clear that under no circumstances was she interested in any sort of relationship with me. Jocelyn left as abruptly as she had arrived. Marge stepped out from where she had been hidden by the sink and gave me a strange look. She asked if I had asked Jocelyn out. No, I hadn’t.
I don’t know if I would have gotten around to asking Jocelyn out. Yes, she was intelligent, quick witted, and jaw-droppingly beautiful, but she was also fearsomely organized all the time, a trait I find a bit grating in a romantic partner. Also, minor point, I was engaged at the time. Although we never dated we shared an interest in live theatre and once each term went out for dinner and a show. Usually a musical like The Mikado or Brigadoon. I think I bought the theatre tickets and she bought dinner. It might have been the other way around, but I sort of remember double-checking my choice of show and showtime worked for her. Why would I do that if she were buying the tickets? She dressed up nice, and will always have a special place in my heart. She holds the still unique honour of being the only woman to dump me before I asked her out.
Happy Valentine’s Day Jocelyn and Sumiko, Noriko, Sheila, Margaret, Andrea, Elena, and Michelle. Also Bonnie, Yumi, Fiona, Rissy, Chele, Kinga, Krystal, Stephanie, Anna, Jan, Jen, Vivan, Maria, Masami, Junko, Yuko, Bug, Marina, Darcy, Shelly, Sam, Nicci, Marge, Leslie, Corrina, Lisbeth, Sharon, Mary, Kim, Tracey, Nadja, Melissa, Lese, Lisa, Phaedra, Mindy, Cindy, Star, Moon and all the other lovely ladies.