I mentioned in passing in a previous post that as a teenager, I was a ‘boyfriend girl’. I tended to mold my personality to best please whichever boy I was dating at the time, meaning I got exposed to some pretty weird stuff. Since that post, I’ve wanted to elaborate on what exactly that means – being a ‘Boyfriend Girl’ – and why it’s so dangerous. I just always hesitate to write about actual real people in my life, but here’s the thing. With one mild exception, I actually really like all of my exes. I lucked out; even the ‘Bad Boy’ I dated had a great heart, and for some reason that only made his motorcycle and prickly exterior all the more endearing.
So I figured it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to write about real people as long as I kept it positive. This post is about my shortcomings, after all; for the most part, my exes were innocent bystanders in the whirlwind of nonsense that was my adolescence.
I can remember being this way as far back as eleven years old. Like a true preteen Catholic girl, I was in love with an altar boy. Not just any altar boy, either – the redheaded, freckled, sweet-eyed altar boy who was in my brother’s Boy Scout troop, the one who flashed me private smiles whenever we made eye contact and who once held my hand as I walked across the playground balance beam. For the entirety of that year, I was all about some church and Boy Scouts. I was the first one the car on Sundays, dressed to the nines, impatient to get there early so I could snag the best seats in the house (of God), the upstairs seats with an unobstructed view of the altar boys. Pinewood Derby? Hell yes. Spaghetti dinner? All over it. Volunteering for the church canned goods drive? Sign. Me. Up.
“And God sayeth, swiggity swooty, go snag that altar boy booty.”
Tragically, things never did work out with my altar boy. In a cruel twist of fate, he left to go to military school before I could properly hit puberty. I did kiss him on the cheek before he left, the kiss that I still count as my first. Currently, he is a gorgeous fireman (RIGHT?!) with an equally as gorgeous girlfriend. I know this because of some gentle and nostalgic stalking on Facebook.
After Altar Boy, there was a flurry of changing faces, nothing noteworthy happening until I was thirteen and decided to settle down. That’s right, I said settle down. I was thirteen, after all, and it was time to get serious. So I paired off with a guy in my eighth grade class, one of the ones who was close friends with my next door neighbor and platonic soulmate, John. Suddenly, I was all about basketball. Basketball, paintball, discussing the cinematic masterpiece Old School starring Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughan. I can quote that movie now, today, without ever having seen it, thanks to Eighth Grade Boyfriend. I spent time with him all day at school, only to run home and play basketball with him in John’s driveway. When that was over, he’d sometimes call me on the house phone, and there went another hour of my formative years. No matter! I was young! There was time!
Time for more self-destruction, at any rate.
Eighth Grade Boyfriend and I didn’t make it past eighth grade, since his Cool High School Brother told him that no one smart started high school with a girlfriend. Eighth Grade Boyfriend took it to heart and dumped me, which I responded to by dating one of his best friends. In my defense, there was a long stretch of time between the two ‘relationships’, and I’m pretty sure Eighth Grade Boyfriend didn’t actually care at all. But Musician Boyfriend was a real catch; he was Black Irish, with a gorgeous head of curls, full lips, and an olive complexion. Not to mention that he was sensitive, and he burned me entire CDs of Toto and Richard Marx songs. That’s right, friends. I’d hit the jackpot. I was fourteen and dating a real musician, which meant that I liked real music, too. In fact, I liked it (and him) so much that I joined the school band. Yeah! Band! I played the flute! Instead of the newspaper or the yearbook, two things directly related to my interests, I joined band, the one subject in which I have zero natural talent or ambition, all to hang out with Musician Boyfriend.
It wasn’t a total loss; we kissed sometimes in the dark back of the band bus, and I know all the words to ‘Africa’ now. But it came to a sudden end when I found out that the girlfriend he’d had before me – a really cute oboe player who looked sort of like a sleepy Jenna Coleman – had done ‘real stuff’ with him, like, real sex stuff. I was appalled and offended and terrified of having to follow suit, so we had a fight (I think?) and broke up.
No one was more devastated than them. God bless the rains. © Toto
That was it. I was directionless. Without a boy to tell me what to like, I was lost. Thank goodness for Myspace, which brought me my next two victims boyfriends.
Quarterback was a real feather in my cap, especially at fifteen. He went to a different school, the public school in my town, which was thrilling to my Catholic school girl psyche. He was a senior, I was a sophomore. He was a total babe, and I felt like the ugly duckling. I couldn’t believe he liked me, but he did, and soon we were going on dates, proper dates, because he had a car. He liked late 90’s/early 2000’s grunge rock, and that was a period in my life marked by a lot of Bush, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam. He played acoustic guitar, so I took an interest in acoustic guitar. He was on the football team, which meant I cared about football. In one particularly glorious moment, I stripped out of my band uniform, black bibber and all, to reveal a fully coordinated outfit underneath before rushing onto the field and flinging my arms around him. Rival schools, flutist and football player – a romance for the ages.
We ended sort of badly, since I was a total jerk and skipped out on him for another guy. He hardly wept over me, though; years later, Quarterback and I went to the same university, and time has been good to him. He plays local gigs in a popular band, and is still a complete babe.
As for the other guy, he was the first Big One. My high school sweetheart. The great Love of my Adolescent Life, back when I thought love just meant passion, excitement, intense feelings, and semi-violent groping. He was utterly gorgeous: lips shaped so perfectly they’d break your heart, sinful eyelashes, and a beatific smile that excused all manner of sins. He was a game changer, and the true period where I fell deepest into my pit of self-neglect. I was consumed by him; I used to spend entire afternoons with my feet in his lap, watching him play Call of Duty and not even faking it when I expressed interest. I was interested in it because he was interested in it, and for the first few months of our tumultuous relationship, that was enough.
Unfortunately, we really put ourselves through the ringer. All told, we were on-again-off-again from tenth grade to our freshman years of college, and in that time I managed to adopt an interest in classic rock, the mechanics of cars and motorcycles, firearms, blowing stuff up, Mondos, Pomeranians, any and all violent video games, and drinking. When we ended, it was explosively; we’d both done some effed up shit to the other, and he wisely blocked me on Facebook. I’m pretty sure he’s doing great now though, because with a face and a wit like he had, it seems impossible for things to turn out any other way.
But more importantly when we ended, I had literally no idea what my hobbies were. I had no hobbies; they’d always simply been ‘Boyfriend’. Even my senior year when I dated a really mild guy with the patience of a saint, I decided I liked what he liked. That was especially weird, since he liked screamo/metal music, spearfishing, and smoking a lot of pot. Granted, I didn’t actually smoke pot in high school and eventually I broke up with him for smoking pot, the ultimate hypocrite move since mere months later I was trying it out for myself.
It wasn’t until I was twenty years old that I finally snapped out of it. I remember the moment exactly: I had been with Orie at this point for over a year, and I was standing in our kitchen, staring at the clock. Orie was at work, and it was four p.m.. I was done with class for the day, I didn’t have a shift at work, and the entire afternoon was my oyster. I could do anything I wanted! I could dedicate time to a hobby! I could explore my talents and interests and make something of my time!
… But what the hell were my interests?
When I was thirteen, it’d been basketball. When I was fifteen, it’d been Pearl Jam. When I was seventeen it’d been riding four-wheelers and shooting stuff. Now I was twenty, and there was no one to tell me what I liked. Orie certainly wasn’t the dictating type (I love him so much). He and I usually went to movies or just ‘out’, but those weren’t proper hobbies. I liked to read, but I hadn’t fully committed to a book in years. I liked to write, too, but it was difficult to know what to write when I didn’t have a professor giving me a rubric and a deadline.
It was a jarring realization. I was twenty, on the cusp of actual adulthood and long-awaited independence, and I had no idea who I was. Luckily, I had time and a blissful ignorance of how utterly pregnant I was, so I decided to figure it out. I started to read again, tearing through old favorites as well as new finds. I took up baking for awhile, churning out elaborate Pinterest cupcakes and cookies just because. I started slowly learning makeup, spending hours poring over Temptalia and MakeupAlley and Reddit’s MakeupAddiction to familiarize myself with the art of it.
Eventually, I figured it out. It’s been four years since then and I have a pretty solid idea of what I like and what I dislike. For example, I really fucking hate Call of Duty. Any game you simulate graphically murdering another human being is not for me. But I do actually love classic rock! Similarly I loathe Pearl Jam, but I look back fondly on my time in band. I like watching old movies, I like reading new books, I like doing other people’s makeup, and I like writing fiction. The best part is, I like to do most of this stuff with Orie close by, my back turned to the screen while he guns people down on the pixelated battlefield.
No one is having fun here. Look at that guy; he’s not just napping. © CoD
The moral of this long-winded story, though, is not to put the blame on my exes. I definitely don’t blame them for my own inability to know myself. Like I said, they were all good guys (mostly) and it would be stupid to fault them for including me in their interests. Instead, I want to caution the younger girls who might stumble upon this article. I totally ignored taking care of myself from ages twelve to twenty, and that’s dangerous stuff. I made mistake after mistake, all at my own expense. I lost good friends because I prioritized boys over them, I missed out on great opportunities (camps, jobs, travel) because I didn’t want to be away from whichever boyfriend. I once skipped out on a free John Mayer concert because my boyfriend was angry with me over something, so I spent the night with him as atonement for my perceived sins. I routinely cut off conversation with all male friends at the whims of jealous boyfriends, I went to a college near-ish to my hometown to stay close to a boyfriend, and I even took a physics class (PHYSICS!!! A FUCKING PHYSICS CLASS!!!) to spend more time with a boyfriend.
Yes, it is right that you’re shaking your head in mild disgust. All of that is gross. I was a total idiot, but I’m not now! There is a way out of that people-pleasing pit of mild self-loathing, and even if it comes later, it’s better than it never coming at all. If you’re someone who prioritizes others’ needs before your own, hey! Listen! I get it! It’s easy! It’s way easier to delude yourself into thinking you’re being ‘selfless’ when really you’re just being self-destructive.
So firstly, good for you for taking a chunk of time to yourself to read this insipid article. Secondly, that wasn’t enough time for yourself. Go take a bath. Go have a picnic. Go get a manicure or a massage or a really massive milkshake. And then, when your boyfriend (or girlfriend, or best friend, or weird overly friendly neighbor) asks if you want to ‘hang out’ which is code for ‘watch me pretend-shoot people in the head’, say no, and go do the thing that you want to do.
Unless what you want is to watch people get shot in the head. In that case, I know someone you might really like.