I desperately wanted a boyfriend.

Starting in about fifth grade and then picking up momentum in sixth, seventh, eighth grades, it was all the rage to “go steady” with someone. No one ever asked me to go steady, save one brave boy (a foot shorter than I) who whispered his request across the aisle during math in 6th grade. Inexplicably, I became paralyzed and stared straight ahead at the blackboard instead of acknowledging his words. Although I didn’t understand my own behavior at the time–and doesn’t that sum up adolescence, really?–my adult self guesses that his general air of geekery didn’t fit into the inflated vision I had of what my life would look like if I had a boyfriend. His elfin presence at my towering side wouldn’t boost my social status. Plus, I’d probably drop my instrument case on him during band and crush him into nothing more than a small spot of grease next to a music stand. The whole thing didn’t bode well. So I ignored the one and only request to “go steady” that came my way.

My closest friends went steady with boys named Eric, Jay, Michael. They flipped their hair, walked the halls of the school with their boyfriends, passed notes in class, stood next to each other outside on the black asphalt after lunch, shared a seat on the bus for field trips. They got kissed. They made out. They had a sense that they were worthy commodities. They were able to believe in their value on the open market.

Unfortunately, that’s what going steady did for pre-teen girls in the 1970s and early ’80s. Maybe it still does.

Because it was tacitly accepted in my group of friends that I wasn’t a viable commodity, I became everyone’s wingwoman.

Need a friend to stuff a note into Jason’s locker? “Could you, Joce?”

Need someone to keep an eye out for teachers while you wander around the corner of the school to do some clutching at each other? “Could you, Joce?”

Need someone to call Tom’s best friend and find out if Tom likes Lori? “Could you, Joce?”

Want to make cookies to give to your steady on the day of his big 8th grade football game? “Could you come help, Joce?”

There’s a particular kind of melancholy that lives inside the wingwoman. To be cast as a supporting player when my most fervent hope was to be the star of someone else’s show, well, that was a grinding kind of diminishment.

It would take some years and 104 nights of tears before I realized the key to everything was to become the star and author of my own show.

Here’s the thing: even though I was full of wish and want and sad and happy and bravada and fear, even though I had all the emotional chaos of adolescence swirling around inside me, beneath all that noise,

I actually though I was pretty great. I was smart. I understood sentence boundaries. I had good hair. I could shoot a basketball and play H-O-R-S-E. I liked heavy metal and The Village People and The Knack, all in equal measure. I could replay the highlights of each week’s Love Boat episode and really probe┬áthe subtext. I was easy-going, full of bon homie.

Thus, I lived in a state of cognitive dissonance. My most basic self believed I was lovely. Yet the world seemed at odds with this perception–seemed, on some days, to delight in hacking away at any small confidence I might have. The end result of this dissonance wasn’t anything profound. Mostly, the end result lacked subtlety. The end result was me, always wondering,

WHY NO ONE WANT TO DATE ME?

If we examine photographic evidence from the period, the fact that no one wanted to date me becomes even more puzzling.

Family024

The curlers indicate that this young woman cared about her appearance.

The presence of a cat at her feet indicates that even prickly creatures were comfortable in her presence.

The large-framed glasses indicate a young woman who wanted to see the world.

The random bits of crap everywhere indicate that she was engaged in higher-order thinking.

The Stars-‘N-Stripes sleeping bag draped casual indicates a love of country and warmth.

The plaid footie pajamas indicate a well-developed sense of personal style. This was someone who took joy in texture and softness. She was a bit of a charming Peter Pan in her refusal to grow up entirely.

The television tray to her right indicates an openness to cocoa.

The black cable cord running across the orange carpet indicates she was hip; this minx was with the times. This girl watched MTV and had something to say about both Martha Quinn and Nina Blackwood.

This young woman had foresight and a sense of “everything in its place.” She always kept a waste basket close at hand.

SO WHY NO ONE WANT TO DATE ME?

Like you, I, too, am flummoxed.

You will continue to be confounded, as you examine this next bit:

Family025I was a young woman who was watched over by angels, Jesus, and a little lamb who looked like a white poodle.

There is evidence here, as well, that it was not only the cats of the world who sensed my inner kindness. Doggies also knew I was good for a cuddle.

The stacks of clothing on the back of the couch indicate I already had a sense of housewifery. While sipping at my cocoa, I folded the laundry.

The rough brown Army blanket covering the back of the couch hints at frugality and a kind of toughness. This young woman was no pansy.

Most importantly, this young woman had a mitten. And a mournfully poetic gaze.

WHY NO ONE WANT TO DATE A POETIC GIRL WITH A MITTEN, PLAID PAJAMAS, CURLERS, A DOGGIE, AND ANGELS WATCHING OVER HER?

Ultimately, the lessons of adolescence were that the world is a confusing place, and there’s no explaining taste. I find myself grateful for photos from that time so that I can reassure myself of what, deep down, I knew to be true:

I was a prize.

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Published by Jocelyn

There's this game put out by the American Girl company called "300 Wishes"--I really like playing it because then I get to marvel, "Wow, it's like I'm a real live American girl who has 300 wishes, and that doesn't suck, especially compared to being a dead one with none."

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17 Comments

  1. I’d venture that the same holds true today. If you’re dating you exist. More’s the pity.

    For the record, even the short geeky ones didn’t want to date me.

  2. Don’t know Allegra’s age; is that the source of the reminiscence? It makes me compare your little soliloquy with what I see to be my 15 year old granddaughter’s angst. She did land the boyfriend, after three horrible tries over the last three years. I’m glad I’m not back there.

    1. Allegra’s 14, but she’s not the source of the reminiscence. I found those pictures in a box a couple weeks ago, and they struck me as such hilarious gems that I had to build a post around them. I mean, who would EVER want to date the creature in those photos? It cracks me up.

    2. You ARE a prize. A delightful, cocoa-adoring, footie pajama-wearing, curler-sporting, pet-loving prize. The Erics, Jays and Michaels of the world should be kicking themselves. I wonder who makes them cookies now?

  3. Holy Hannah, Joce. You and me both!!!

    I wore those curlers — and STILL wear those curlers. I had footie jammies until I was 18 (parents would not push furnace past 65 degrees).

    I love this post.

    Pearl

  4. I had those curlers! Foam with pink plastic clips. God they were lumpy. I was completely boy-crazy from about 3rd grade on. Much like you, I think I was just too awesome for the likes of the 13 boys in my class at St. Joe in Ironton, Ohio. Yep; that had to be it.

  5. Yeah, those boys in my high school class were just about as blind as the boys at your school. How could they be so stoopid? Why wouldn’t they fall over panting at our [footie pajama-ed] feet?

  6. I am so glad you shared this post on FB. I love it. SO SO FUNNY. I remember someone shared the last post you wrote on FB, and that’s how I found you.

  7. I wore those same curlers every stinkin Saturday night from the time I was five until I graduated from high school! My MOTHER used to insist that I do this to attend church on Sunday morning with curled hair. My hair was meant to be very, very straight. Halfway through mass, it would start to wilt. Sometimes just on one side, so I had this freaky look as if I were half one person and half another.

    Even home perms wouldn’t work on me. Finally, I had my hair permed on my own when I was in college at a salon and my hair actually stayed curly for two months! Made my Mama so proud…

  8. I LOVE YOU. And every girl at the cusp of adolescent angst needs to read this post. What the hell, boys, too.

  9. No one was more boy crazy than me. Most of my dates were much shorter than me, and the only person to make a big deal of it was my own mother.

    Sigh……

  10. I’m going out on a limb here because the last time I allowed myself to get remotely close to a fellow blogger, she stalked me….so, gun shy to a huge degree…

    But, the next time you are in Omaha, we need to meet. I don’t know that our daughters would hit it off (mine seems to be going in some sort of socialite direction that puzzles me) but I do believe that we would. You could come over and meet our house ghost. She loves guests.

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