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So I have a weird situation. I had, shall we say, an acquaintance in middle school. We had all of our classes together and he enjoyed teasing me, which I always laughed about. I wouldn't have called us friends because I didn't really have male friends in middle school. Plus, he wasn't nice to me.
However, on the last day of eighth grade, he walked home with me. Our conversation eventually came to:
Him: Do you have a boyfriend?
Him: Do you want a boyfriend?
Me: I mean, not particularly.
Him: Oh, are you a lesbian?
Me: No, I'm just not ready for a relationship.
This was followed by many minutes of silence as he walked me home.
In ninth grade, he began to attend a different school, so I didn't see him at all. The year after that, I started to attend the same school. I'm now in my senior year. We say hello to each other occasionally and once he approached me and said, “I'm sorry about middle school.” But we've never discussed the last time we saw each other! I want to sit down and have a discussion with him, but I'm nervous to ask and I'm nervous to have that discussion. Do you think it is reasonable to want to talk?
What is the best way to approach this?
A Concerned and Confused High Schooler
I don’t think you should be confused when it comes to this guy’s motivations. He had a crush on you. That’s why he teased you all year, and why he walked you home, and why he summoned the nerve to ask if you had a boyfriend. He was trying, in his own disfigured-young-teenage-boy way, to tell you that he liked you. When you didn’t express sufficient reciprocal interest, his feelings were hurt and he reacted by going cold on you. This is what people (and men in particular) do when they feel rejected, even if they have partly engineered this rejection. They convert their shame into hostility.
The fact that this guy approached you, after four years, to apologize for his conduct during your short-lived and disastrous “courtship” indicates that he still feels bad about how he behaved. He probably wishes that he had been more direct in expressing his interest in you, and that he had been more graceful in reacting to your lack of interest in him. And frankly, he probably wishes that you had been interested in him. Maybe some part of him still wonders if that’s possible.
But what might be more confusing is how you feel about all this. There’s something in the persistence of your feelings about this guy, and this interaction, that makes it pretty clear the matter is still unresolved in your mind and heart. Because otherwise, you’d just accept his apology and move on, right?
So the question is really this: Why do you feel the desire to talk to this guy?
So the question is really this: Why do you feel the desire to talk to this guy? Why are you nervous about it? Are you still angry about how he behaved? Do you feel the need to express some of that anger, or frustration? What do you want to say to him? And what do you want to hear from him? An explanation for his behavior? A more detailed apology? A rekindling of the closer relationship you once had? Or better yet, an improved version of that bond, one that’s more honest, where the affection doesn’t hide behind mockery?
My general philosophy is that people do best when they summon the courage to talk about their feelings rather than bottling them up.
But I’m asking all these questions because it’s not clear to me that you have enough of a relationship with this guy — a foundation of trust, I mean — to insure that a conversation will bring you some sense of closure. That’s why you need to be clear about what you want from him, and clear about the possibility that he may not be willing or able to supply that.
Again, I see it as hopeful that he reached out to you and apologized. That took a lot of courage. But that may be as far as he can go. What’s more, there’s always a chance that dredging all this up may cause him to revert to his old habit of punishing you for his own feelings.
So the short version is: Yes, it’s completely reasonable to want to talk to this guy. But it’s also important that you first figure out why all this is important to you, why it still matters. I’ll keep my fingers crossed — for you both.
Author's note: This letter made me remember, all over again, how tough it is to be a teenager. So many feelings! So much fear of exposure! It’s like walking around with your guts on the outside. Okay. Your turn. Any current or former teenagers, please post your feedback, and/or counsel, in the comments section below. Send along a letter to Heavy Meddle: here or via email. — S.A.
Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.
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