Love and I have always had a somewhat tortured relationship. And not that lame water-boarding torture either. I am talking about the Abu Ghraib, stripped-naked-with-a-black-mask-over-the-face, U.S. soldier-pointing-and-laughing-at-the-genitals, deep psychological torture.
This is the mindset with which I approach Valentine’s Day.
But just like “aggressive interrogation tactics” and dehumanization, that which does not kill us only makes us stronger. And I, the emotional equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger, would like to share a few stories of the ones who got away; I find it impossible to enjoy romantic relationships without remembering my romantic non-relationships of yore.
My first love is, to me, the quintessential American love story. I was the young, slightly awkward bookworm. She was the all-American girl-next-door: Blonde, leggy and constantly fighting off the romantic advances of wrestlers and baseball players.
I remember watching her at lunch, flirting with the other boys, while I sat along the fence with my brown-bag lunch. As we walked home after school, I was certain I could be just as masculine as any other fifth-grade boy. I took a sip of water, swished it in my mouth a little, and spit as far as I could.
That was the last time she and I were on friendly terms. That was the first time I learned the importance of being myself.
Later that year, someone in my homeroom had a brilliant idea: I should ask the prettiest girl in the class out to the movies. She, too, was blonde, but one-upped the first with her basketball-star status.
The confrontation between her and I occurred one February day at lunchtime: She curtly answered, “No,” and returned to playing basketball. We briefly stayed on friendly terms, but were shortly thereafter not talking, and we have not spoken much since then.
It always strikes me as strange, coming from a town of 8,000 to CSU’s roughly 26,000, and running into someone you lived with 200 miles away. But every so often, I see her on campus.
We usually exchange glances; she has probably forgotten who I am, and assumes I am just another guy giving her the twice-over. But that day still carries great significance in my romantic life, even though I was so young and it was so long ago.
Shortly before asking her to the movies, I told a family friend about the situation. He told me, “The worst she can say is ‘no.'” I could not understand how he said it with such optimism. It was as if he knew the worst any person could do is unsuspectingly disembowel you out of romantic indifference, and telling me “the worst is no” was a polite summation.
However, when the basketball girl said no, I may as well have chosen disembowelment.
But I have learned a few things, most helpfully: Don’t be a spineless twit. It seems obvious, but it did not occur to me until years later when I heard an Ice Cube song encouraging me to “put (my) back into it.” I had no idea rap music could offer such candid dating advice for awkward young males.
As in years past, I will spend Valentine’s Day reflecting on those who got away, including those from my college experience. There are unnumbered young women I never got to know better, beyond casual conversations in class; I like to think the selected ladies and myself both lost out on something by failing to take even exploratory action.
This February 14th, I am leaving candle-lit dinners and creme-filled chocolates to the birds; much as Voltaire’s Candide, I too have known love, and it’s yet to bring me anything except one kiss and twenty kicks in the rump. I’m going to savor the kiss.
Ryan Speaker is a senior history major. His column appears every Wednesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.