Essay: Boyfriend #3

(the actual journal)
I recently had the exquisitely painful pleasure of reliving my relationship with boyfriend #3 in high school.  This is due to the fact that I kept a journal all though my adolescent years and into my twenties.  The journals had been stored off site, but I recently retrieved them and had been dipping in here and there.  Much like Anne Frank’s “diary” spanned several volumes and pages, so have my journals. In those years, I was partial to wireless “neatbooks” which were a new invention:  spiral-free notebook paper bound into journals with the paper scored so it was easy to remove and turn in assignments if you were using it for class.  I had no intention of losing any of my pages, so I reinforced the current notebook I was writing in with duct tape and took it with me everywhere, sometimes writing at school during boring parts of class, sometimes writing at home, tucked into my bed before sleep.  There are four or five for my three years of high school and more for my junior high years.
Dipping into the journals was interesting; here was the pages-long record of my first concert, there was an exhaustive account of a completely forgotten event: a friend’s birthday.  It was also fairly excruciating.  There’s something about visiting a younger version of one’s self that is embarrassing.  My language for one thing, was atrocious, and I say this as someone whose language is fairly salty still today.  Also, I was dumb.  And I had no idea.
The journal I chose to read all the way through was the time period from March of my junior year in high school to the very first days of my senior year.  Or, to properly code it in the epochs I was apparently using at the time, it covered the period from the tail end of boyfriend #2 and the genesis, climax (though not that kind) and slow moving implosion of boyfriend #3.
Because those journals are all about boys.  Thinking back on my life, especially my adolescent years, I’ve known that I was very interested in the male species, but these journals more than confirmed that.  If I told you the short story of my high school experience I would say that I had a core of very good friends that were girls, some periphery friends that were boys, a lot of time spent in band–an activity which I loved–and also three boyfriends.  However, if you were to read my journals from high school you would think I was completely and totally focused on boys.  Will this one be my boyfriend? Will this one stay my boyfriend? Will this one still be in my life if he’s not my boyfriend? Will that one be my boyfriend? Repeat endlessly.
The era of boyfriend #3 was particularly painful to read because despite myself being an out-and-proud feminist, I was so swept away by the glamour of this boy that I let him treat me like a doormat for an extended period of time.  Because the only subject I talked about was boys, it’s all there in black ink on white page.
Boyfriend #3 was an experiment in dating outside my zone and I gathered a lot of useful data.  Though the Venn diagram of our lives overlapped with band, his circle encompassed the type of adolescence most often depicted in the movies: focused on parties and getting drunk.  Whereas mine focused on slumber parties with my girlfriends where we ate a delightful candy bar that is no longer available to purchase (P.B.Max) and we talked late into the night.  I was not a drinker and parties made me uncomfortable. This guy lived for parties, so we were doomed from the start.
I knew this, even as the relationship got started—it’s clearly written there in the journal—but I persisted.  Though it’s hard to quantify the look of yesterday to today, (I’m not posting a picture because you will not see past the mullet) he was pretty hot.  He had long eyelashes, the kind of cut body teenage boys are able to achieve with only moderate activity, and he was darn good looking. He was also a drummer, a subspecies of teenage boy which I was partial to.
I was pretty excited when I figured out that he was interested in me.  This took quite awhile as I was fairly obtuse in such matters.  The adult me can see the interest growing—more long talks as friends, him manipulating our schedules so we spend more time together, and then the sudden frisson of “Holy crap, I think he likes me.”
We had an amazing first month—the last few weeks of my junior year and his senior year—and after that everything fell apart.  I was incredibly needy in a way that was off putting even to my most sympathetic grown-up self and he was pretty good at setting boundaries.  Neither one of us comes off looking very good.  Whereas I, at the time, would have appreciated him acknowledging that the girls (there were two over the course of the summer) he was spending time with were not completely platonic, I think he would have been happy if I—as someone so unhappy with him—had broken up with him and gone away.  The relationship was a train wreck and I lost an entire summer pining for him.
What’s amazing about this journey back in time is how incredibly unformed I was.  In my remembrance of my teenage self, I was a staunch feminist.  And I did have parts of the feminist thing down.  I talked the talk, which was not always easy to do in my conservative, male-dominated small city.  I also didn’t shave my legs, which was a bigger deal, as aesthetics are more important than orthodoxy in the adolescent mind.  So I had a verbal and aesthetic commitment, but I clearly hadn’t internalized some important messages of feminism:  that you didn’t need a man to define yourself; that when I was being treated badly I needed to stand up for myself; and that though males are amazing and exotic creatures, it is perhaps not a good idea to orient your life around them.
At the time I was living all of the above, I had no idea I was so naive.  While the adult me clucked and sighed at nearly every page’s description of my thoughts and actions, my teenage self thought I was making very good decisions.  Or at least rational and well thought-out decisions.  And I was not.
So that’s the pain of recording my adolescence for later consumption.  The pleasure is that I can see that with every relationship I learned a little more about relationships.  From the first one I learned what to do with the anger that is left when a relationship is done before you are ready for it to end, from the second one I learned that sometimes it’s easier to go back to being friends and from boyfriend #3 I learned to be careful who I give my heart to, and to listen to that small voice that is chiming in with important information. 
Boyfriend #3 was the last of my high school experience.  I wisely chose not to attach myself to anyone my senior year.  Or perhaps that’s my enhanced memory of what happened. It may also be that there really wasn’t anyone left to whom I could attach myself.  At any rate, I learned enough in high school about relationships that my two college boyfriends were a step up from the high school ones.  And I’d like think that my many choices along the way taught me enough to help me find my way into my current relationship, which is quite good and has the bonus of not needing daily sessions with the pen and paper to parse and understand.  Instead, the two of us just talk to each other and find solutions, something I was entirely incapable of doing in my younger years. 
So here’s to the unformed me, for making so many good and bad decisions. And here’s to the current me, who is hopefully making more good decisions than bad.  And here’s to the future me, who will probably look back on the current me and cluck her tongue and sigh.  But perhaps not as much.

2 thoughts on “Essay: Boyfriend #3”

  1. This is a great essay. I really appreciate your reflection of past self and current self. I remember how, of your three boyfriends, he was not one of my favorites, but I wonder if that is because my third-wheeling with you had diminished. And I don't think I really understood, in a real and concrete way just how badly he was treating you, but I knew it wasn't great, at some point. I, also, was so completely (and annoyingly) entrenched in my little pity party of a world that I could hardly be a good friend some of the time.

    Inspired by your reading endeavors, I tried to read some of my HS journals while at my mom's. They were so cringe-worthy that I could not get very far into them. I mean, they are really horrible. Pathetic was the word that came to me, so many times. My own teenage self needs a real talking to! And the horrible spelling. Ooof! That must have driven my teachers nuts!

    And where you could at least talk the talk of feminism, and truly believe in it. It was a new concept to me, that I was just learning to accept or even consider as a title for myself. You taught me well and I read that amazing Sassy article, so that I could go from saying I was NOT to thinking I might actually be one. In fact, I remember when I could actually say, yes, I am a feminist. But my (as you say – black and white) words, constant put-downs about both my body and my personality as well as constant pining for boys truly reveal that the concept of feminism was just an idea and I had not internalized it at all.

    I don't think I'm ready to fully interact with that version of myself. I was not in a good place with my emotional health and self-concept. As you well know. I'm just glad that many of those feelings have dissipated and I can see how I have developed into a person that I respect and actually like.

    Thanks for the courageous essay.

  2. And thank you for the very thoughtful comment.

    I think you weren't third-wheeling a lot because you were gone for the summer, plus that was one of those relationships that we hung out together or we hung out with his friends, but we didn't really hang out with my friends. (Ahem. That's another good marker of disaster, past self.)

    I'm glad you tried to read your journals and maybe you will get to a place where they are easier to take in. Maybe dip back in for the 30 year and see how you feel. And at least your feminism was emerging. That's more than I can say for a lot of women we know from high school.

    Also, I'm totally with you on spelling. And, I'm finding out that in my junior high school years I had a propensity for describing guys as "good lookin'" Did I not understand that that word has a "g" on the end of it? I sound like a complete hick.

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