Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pretty Girls

Reposted from an earlier entry in another journal.

"All little girls should be told they're pretty." Audrey Hepburn

High School is tough for the best of us. I was never the best of us. I was awkward and shy; I had friends, but I wasn't popular. I didn't have enemies; I basically went unnoticed.

In my junior year of high school, I met "him" - we'll call him "Joe." He was cute, smart, and funny, and he was super nice to me. We became friends, and I really liked him, but I figured he'd never like a girl like me. [I proved this theory senior year when I asked him to homecoming; he turned me down, with some lame excuse about family visiting from out of town.] I resigned myself to the fact that we would just be friends; and we were. We talked in school all the time, we ate lunch together, we talked on the phone at night and on the weekends - we had a great friendship going.

Then, senior prom came. He didn't have a date, and was talking to a good friend of mine in the library one day about who he might ask. She suggested he ask me. His response? "I'd ask Sue, but I want to have fun." Neither of them ever told me about the conversation. What they didn't realize was another friend of mine overheard them talking. It got back to me, and although I never said anything about how hurt I was, Joe eventually found out. He took the coward's way out (in fairness, we were 17) and just stopped talking to me. That hurt so much more than what he had said; that he thought so little of our friendship that he didn't even care enough to try and fix it.

School ended before we ever spoke about what had happened. I went to college; he joined the army. I found out later he'd done so because his life had really veered off track as school wound down. He was drinking and getting in trouble; his grades had slipped, and he didn't graduate on time or get accepted to any colleges. His life plan fell apart; the military helped put it back together.

He came home on leave while I was a freshman in college; he called me and apologized for everything that had happened, and for what he said. He wanted to be friends again; and he'd met someone, and wanted me to meet her because "if he was going to be with someone, it was important that I meet her."

It took a long time, but I finally figured out that Joe was never a coward, and he didn't stop talking to me because our friendship didn't matter. He was ashamed. I was the one friend he had who was actually helping to keep his life on a good track; losing our friendship really hurt him. I had been so focused on how important Joe was to me, because I had a crush, that I never realized how important my friendship was to him.

In the meantime, though, my self-confidence had been shaken. I didn't need that blow at the time; between you and me, I think it probably contributed to some pretty poor choices in terms of men as I got older. As much as I wanted to think I was past the idea of 'needing a guy,' I think the Joe situation actually made me more dependent on that approval.

I developed this tendency to find (and latch onto) guys who were bad news. They all either had problems, or "colorful" pasts; bad boys. Convinced that I could "fix" them and that they would feel lucky to have me, I sought these guys out. They had no idea how to treat a woman, but I was so afraid that no one would pay me attention or want me around. I was happy to put up with awful, abusive treatment in the name of having someone to call "boyfriend."

It took a long time to recognize what I was doing and make changes, to break that pattern. We like to think that high school doesn't matter, that we're able to just leave it behind; but the truth is, those experiences linger; they shape how we look at and do things forever.

We've all been through these awful times; we were all made fun of, beaten up, picked on, called names, etc. If we're lucky, we eventually learn to take those experiences and turn them around; learn and grow from them; use them to figure out who were really are. It took me a long time, and a lot of dysfunctional relationships, to figure out where I went wrong. But I finally realized that as long as I can remind myself how good I am, and how lucky someone is to have me, I don't need anyone else to do that for me. Joe taught me that; and whenever I forget, I remind myself of everything that happened.

So, thanks Joe - you did more for me than you'll probably ever know.

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