It seems like when it comes to one’s high school experience, the less-fortunate majority of us have a list of regrets. There are things we wish had gone differently, things that should or shouldn’t have happened, and things that we don’t even want to think about. I had my share of disappointments, mainly regarding the opposite sex. I didn’t understand girls and they certainly didn’t understand me. True, I was socially awkward, but I was a nice, caring person. Why was I so different from the inconsiderate jerks the girls swooned over? I made it my mission to try to understand girls, knowing full well that most men go through their entire lives without a clue. Nevertheless, I had to try.
It was my junior year and homecoming was just around the corner. Up until then, I hadn’t attended school dances. I practiced my speech and built up courage weeks in advance of the day I would ask a girl to homecoming. My heart was beating out of my chest and my hands wouldn’t stop shaking. With a trembling voice, I asked the question I had rehearsed in the mirror over and over the night before. There was a brief pause … I held my breath.
“I wasn’t really planning on going to homecoming. Sorry.”
For the first time I had reached inside myself for the courage to ask someone; I wouldn’t give up now. Instead of falling into despair, I decided to ask someone else – someone I hoped might give me a chance. After a day or two, I gathered my nerves and repeated the process with an air of optimism. But I was promptly rejected … twice more.
What was I doing wrong? Was the problem with me or them? I went to the dance anyway with a group of friends. Two of the girls I had asked were there without a date. I avoided them. I had struck out this time, but I wasn’t calling it quits. I decided I needed to focus on being more social and learning to talk to girls.
Later that year I was preparing to ask another girl to prom. I had a crush on her and had become comfortable talking with her – a milestone I was proud of. In a similar ritual to homecoming, I spent days building up confidence and practicing in front of my mirror. Head held high with attempted courage, I approached her locker nervously.
“So, uh … I was sort of wondering, would you like to go to prom with me?”
An eternity passed before her response. My heart stopped. I think I forgot to breathe.
“Um, okay. Sure.”
At last I had succeeded! She said yes! Wait. She didn’t say yes per se. What did she mean by “Okay, sure”? Did she really want to go with me? Did it matter? She said yes, after all. I spent the next few days in the clouds; for the first time a girl was giving me a chance. But the way she accepted made me a bit uneasy, as if I had to walk through a completely dark room. Perhaps nothing was lurking in the shadows and the fear was all in my head. But on the other hand, maybe a pitiless monster waited there to strike me down when I was most vulnerable.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be the latter. I arrived home one night to a message telling me she had called. I dialed her number, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. I braced myself. In the nicest way possible, she told me she couldn’t go to prom with me and apologized for disappointing me.
I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears. I didn’t bounce back quite as I had after homecoming. How could she raise my hopes and then drop me like a stone? I hadn’t actually changed at all; I was still scared to talk to girls and understood nothing about how they thought. Was it too much to ask for someone to give me chance?
Fast forward to the summer before I started college. I had just gotten ice cream and was outside the movie theater in the cold, dark night. Next to me stood a girl whose cute smile made me forget the chilly evening. Her name was Cait, and we were nearing the end of our first date. After a concert, we decided to take a walk to pass the time until her curfew. We held hands – something I hadn’t done since fine arts camp. A tingling feeling ran from my fingers all the way up to the back of my head. The experience felt very surreal; it almost didn’t register that I had a girlfriend who liked me. We had talked all during the concert, just like we had during the youth group trip when we had gotten to know each other. My mind was calm. For the first time in my life, I felt like someone actually wanted to spend time with me.
Did I ever figure out how girls think? No. I learned something much better instead. Through all of these trials of high school love, I’d come to believe that men and women are more alike than either is willing to admit. I’ve decided that although I’ve faced rejection, I won’t let it bother me. (I was turned down by four girls for senior prom, but that’s another story.)
I am much more confident now, and I’ve learned to appreciate the strengths that others see in me: kindness, honesty, and my skill as a good listener. I learned not to give up or give in to despair, and to always be myself. I could stand to gain some more confidence, but I’m working on it. All things considered, there isn’t much about my life I would change, even those parts about high school that I try not to remember. I wouldn’t be who I am today without those experiences.
It is the summer before my freshman year of college and Cait and I have been going out for two weeks. I’m driving her home after a day of fun. Using her cute voice, typically reserved for “Good night” or “I miss you,” Cait says, “Mike, I thought you were going to try to be less shy today.”
“What more could I have done?” I ask.
“Well …” she says, her cheeks slowly turning red, “you could have kissed me.”
We pull into the driveway and I walk her to the porch, my breath slow but silent. I try to hide my pounding heart and nervous sweating. Cait is still blushing, afraid she ruined the moment by speaking too soon. I fold my arms around her in a good-bye hug that seems endless.
She locks eyes with me and smiles. Her lids slowly fall like a curtain after the final encore. My pulse quickens as I tilt my head to the side. There, under the pale yellow lamplight, our lips touch and I experience my first kiss.