In sixth grade (also known as the Year Which Must Not Be Remembered), it seemed like everyone was dating... except for me.
I was eleven or twelve, awkward and tall, with long, spindly legs. My hair was a blonde bob which I had no intension of brushing, and I had never touched makeup in my life. My biggest interests were my friends, Pokemon, reading, and a slightly unhealthy obsession with dog breeds.
I got put into a class with 90% of the kids who would end up dubbed, the “popular kids,” in high school. The girls looked nothing like me. I might have had budding breasts, but these girls prided themselves on being skinny, flat-chested, boy-crazy, into cheerleading and hating to read. I still don’t understand anyone who is “proud” of hating to read.
Needless to say, I was the odd sheep out in that Johnston Middle School classroom. My interest in boys was… zilch. Nada. Zero. And on top of that, I didn’t know how to date.
Regardless of the obvious issues associated with it (i.e., none of us can drive), everyone else seemed to be dating. The girls in my class proudly asked boys out and were asked out on dates themselves. I didn’t understand. I even asked the class once why anyone would date right now. “I don’t get it,” I said, “What’s so exciting about it?”
The class laughed at me.
“So when are you going to date?” asked a boy.
“I don’t know,” I said, blushing, “When I feel like it? Maybe when I’m 21 or something?”
The class laughed at me again.
I soon changed my animosity towards dating, but it was probably due more peer-pressure than a real desire to date. Even in ninth grade, when I went on my first date, it was one of the most awkward experiences of my life.
I was asked out via note in class, passed from my friends to his friends and back. The date itself consisted of playing Dance Dance Revolution at the local movie theater and being dropped off and picked up by our parents. I had heard rumors about him that both horrified and fascinated me.
Once he tried to touch my boobs. I laughed and pushed him away.
The odd thing was, at Johnston, when you and a boy went on a date, you were considered “going out.” So because this boy and I had gone on a date, we were now “going out,” whatever that meant. I was his girlfriend, he was my boyfriend. If we had known about Facebook at the time, we would have changed our relationship status immediately, even if the “date” had gone horribly. I had my first kiss that year while watching “The Fellowship of the Ring.” Despite that, it's still my favorite Lord of the Rings movie. I thought that when you had your first kiss, it was supposed to be sparks flying and rainbows and maybe some music would play… But it was just a kiss, and we really never kissed again after that.
I was more interested in having a boyfriend than my actual “boyfriend.” I was intrigued by this dating thing everyone was talking about, but my boyfriend himself? I found myself getting sick at the thought of seeing him. I didn’t want to ever be around him. All I wanted at age 14 was pretty much the same things I wanted when I was 12; I wanted to watch Lord of the Rings with my friends, not him. I still wanted to play dress up (we called them fashion shows instead) and talk about the possibilities of boys, but not actually “be” with any boys. I wanted a dog. I wanted to play Petz and The Sims on my computer. I proceeded to ignore my “boyfriend” until he broke up with me over AIM.
In high school, I went on a date with one of my good guy friends. This was intended to actually be a date, but I hadn’t decided yet if I wanted to be with him. After the date, he called me his girlfriend, and I freaked out. I wasn’t ready to commit to anything, but I felt guilty for what he saw as me stringing him along.
It wasn’t until I got to college when I had an epiphany; I could go on dates without "going out" with the person. These strange rules- which had previously separated the “good girls” from the “sluts” in Middle School and High School- no longer existed. I realized that when my mom had laughed at me when I tried to explain that going on a date meant that you were now an item, she had been completely right. It was freeing to be able to hang out with a guy and not have to worry if this meant I had to change my Facebook status. It meant that I could go on dates whenever I wanted, and if I didn’t end up liking the guy, I could just tell him and that would be the end of it. This meant I could be “dating” a guy for months, and it didn’t mean we were in a committed relationship.
How weird, right? My middle school self would have been horrified. She would have called me a slut (behind my back, of course) and insisted that dating and going out were the same thing.
I’ve only technically gone out with two guys, including my current boyfriend. I’ve dated a lot more, but still a lot less than most people. You know as well as I do that people change, and our views on more than just this elusive concept of “dating” will change with us.
Does “dating” mean that you and the other person are exclusive? Does it mean that you’re getting to know each other? That you intend to marry? That you went on one date? Are "dating" and "going out" the same thing? Maybe you’re just feeling each other out (or up). Maybe it means whatever you and the other person decide it means.
Maybe “dating” doesn’t need a definition.
My middle school self is banging her head against a wall.