Looking back on my dating past, I must admit, some of my fondest and most exciting romantic moments occurred before I even knew what true romance was. The time from 11 to 14 holds many treasured memories of discovering the allure of boys. Sure, the title of my essay is partly in jest, but there's also an earnestness behind my sentiment that's worth examining. Recently, I wrote about "Lady Child Syndrome," a purposeful unwillingness to "act my age." This is not what I'm talking about. I'm going even further back, to preadolescence and the budding years of puberty when romance was still an idealized notion. A simpler time. Yes, everything was new: holding hands sent tingles down your spine, slow dancing with someone you liked would leave you in a state of euphoria, first kisses -- as awkward as they might have been -- were the fodder of daydreams while you were pretending to pay attention in Algebra. But, let's say you were crushing on someone back then, you'd do one of two things:
1) You'd either confess your affection (either in person or on one of those notes: "I like you. Do you like me too? Yes, No, Maybe. Please check a box."
2) You'd entrust a third party to do your bidding for you.
While at first this behavior might appear immature -- remember, in junior high we had limited freedoms over our own lives -- there's an honesty to this style of dating that as a 30-something single gal, I totally miss. I would never dream of telling someone flat out that I "like" him these days. Why not? Although I'm confident, self-possessed and secure enough in myself to celebrate my successes, I'm completely afraid of romantic rejection. And that's irrational. What's the worst that can happen? Your crush tells you he's not that into you; he doesn't find you attractive; he's interested in someone else? As women in our 30's, we've been through heartbreak and rejection -- survived both, and, in my case, built a career around writing about these debacles with insight and wit. So what's the big deal? Even as I write this, the fear of romantic rejection turns my stomach, muting the authenticity of my feelings.
As women, we internalize the notion perpetuated by dating professionals like Patti Stanger that women should not make the first move, because if they do, they will be chasing their boyfriends, rather than building a solid partnership. We're also women who've grown up in an era where politically, socially, at home and in the work place, women must speak their minds. It's no wonder with these conflicting prototypes that we struggle about whether or not to confess our crushes.
Don't get me wrong, regardless of my heartaches, hours on my shrink's couch analyzing why I'm single and the men and women who I allow to make me feel insecure, I'm not a dating cynic. I wear my romantic missteps proudly, publicly even, and without shame. I call myself "experienced." And there's certainly power in that position. I mean, you can only really know that "players only love you when they're playing" (thank you, goddess, Stevie Nicks) after you've been played. We need rejection to learn how to date. But why does it still frighten us so much?
Maybe more is at stake now that we're women and not junior high schoolers. Maybe we're more sensitive to how people see us, because we know how judgmental the world can be. Maybe we see honesty as a weakness because of the armor we wear just to make it in today's cutthroat world. But maybe, just maybe, it's all a crock. Maybe, we had it right in junior high. So the next time you feel those butterflies for someone, or want to call, or post a comment on his Facebook page, just do it. I double dare you.