When I was a teenager, I didn’t date. Not because I didn’t have options, but because I honestly didn’t want to. The idea of dating, quite frankly, made me uncomfortable. I was more likely to engage in fantasies of being whisked away to New York City by Orlando Bloom, wearing one of his weird tablecloth shirts (it was a thing when the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, trust me).
I was not introverted by any means, I had a number of friends through school, work, and my childhood, but I was focused more on the people already in my life, and my education. I figured that I would date after high school, and I did. I had seen what relationships did to my friends at that age, and sometimes it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t want the same fates to befall me at such a fragile age. I want to tell you that I didn’t date when I was a teenager because I was waiting to “grow up” a bit, but really it’s just because I didn’t want to.
Any time I gave into the peer pressure of trying to date someone when I was in my teens was a horribly failed effort that yielded disastrous results. There was one boy who asked me via a note through a mutual friend if I wanted to go out with him. I had a bit of a crush on him, so I said yes. Our “date” involved going to see Monsters Inc. with his younger brother, who I spent the majority of the night talking to. I then had to deal with the awkwardness of seeing him around school, all the while trying to think of ways to tell him that I really wasn’t all that interested. I am ashamed to say that I basically “ghosted” him until he got the hint.
Awkward turtle, thy name is high school aged Megan.
But this isn’t a story about boys I dated despite not wanting to in high school. This is a story about boys that I didn’t want to date in high school.
A friend of mine, who we’ll call Shelley, was a bit more of a social butterfly than I was, and as a result, met people from different schools and different places in our town. There was one boy she met, who we’ll call Hank, who she thought I might really like. She asked if it was okay for her to give him my phone number. I said yes, because deep down I wanted boys to like me, even if I didn’t necessarily want to date them.
Hank and I began talking on the phone periodically, and we got along really well! It was nice to have someone new to talk to, because I did enjoy meeting new people. I got the sense from our conversations that he wanted to date me, which struck me as strange considering that he hadn’t ever met me, but I didn’t nip it in the bud, as I probably should have. I didn’t even know what he looked like! I didn’t rule out the notion of going out on a date with Hank, but it really wasn’t something that I wanted to pursue. Any time we tried to meet up, something usually happened and got in the way, which I took as a sign that maybe we weren’t meant to hang out.
One day, while Shelley was babysitting, she asked me if I wanted to come over and help her out. I frequently did this when Shelley babysat, and it was okay with the parents, so naturally I agreed. When I arrived at the house, she told me that Hank might come over, so we would finally get a chance to meet. I was looking forward to it, but also had this strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. If I was going to meet Hank, I wanted to meet him on my own terms, and didn’t appreciate the “being set up” sort of feeling.
After a few hours, just as I was getting ready to leave, Hank and some of his friends showed up. I recognized his voice immediately. He was not what I expected, but what teenage boy ever is to a teenage girl? Despite having talked on the phone for a couple of weeks, he was still a stranger to me, yet acted with a degree of familiarity that increased that strange feeling in the pit of my stomach.
He immediately squeezed his way into the one person chair beside me, and while I laughed because I thought it was the right thing to do, the entire situation felt strange. I don’t recall much more of the time I spent there, but I do remember leaving.
When I did get up to leave, Hank saw me to the door, and in front of everyone present, grabbed my hand, got down on one knee, and asked, “Will you be my girlfriend?”
I was shocked. He wasn’t asking me out, he was asking me to be his girlfriend. We didn’t know each other. Yes, we’d talked on the phone, but I was expecting that if we were going to date at all, that we would actually, y’know, date. I looked up to see everyone in the room looking at me, before finally sputtering out, “No,” and running out of the house as fast as my legs could take me.
Later, when I got home, the house phone rang (because this was back in the day when people called one another on house phones). It was Shelley, telling me that Hank hadn’t taken my rejection very well. He was yelling, throwing things around, and threatening to hurt himself. I was shocked – all of this because of me? Shelley asked if I wanted to talk to Hank, to which I replied no, and hung up the phone. I wasn’t sure what the plan was – maybe if I talked to him he would calm down? Either way, I wasn’t comfortable in talking to someone who’d just asked me to be his girlfriend despite not knowing me, and as a result was having a temper tantrum.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized I dodged a bullet with Hank. I mean, I knew it then, but I couldn’t even fathom being in a relationship with someone who throws a tantrum and gets aggressive when they don’t get their way. What struck me the most then, as it does now though, was that because we had talked on the phone for a few weeks, Hank thought that I owed him the honour of being his girlfriend. Even Shelley, who clearly wanted me to go out with this new friend of hers, made me feel bad for declining his “proposal” – why couldn’t I just go out with him? He was a nice enough guy (which seemed to be a direct contradiction to his reaction after I had declined).
That instance in particular instilled in me something that I have carried with me for a long time now – “I don’t owe you anything.” Just because we reciprocate something, doesn’t mean we owe that individual something in return. My enjoyment in having conversations with Hank didn’t mean that I owed him a relationship. He had every right to ask it of me, just as I had every right to refuse. He should have respected that instead of becoming threatening toward others.
Just because I talked to Hank on the phone, just because he wanted me to be his girlfriend, didn’t mean that I owed it to him. I didn’t owe him anything. Eventually, he did call me, and when he asked why I didn’t want to be his girlfriend, I told him. If I was going to be his girlfriend, I wanted to come to that naturally, by dating, which I didn’t want to do now that he had revealed a side of him that I found frightening. When he pushed the matter, saying things like, “But we’ve been talking on the phone for weeks now!” I replied, “I don’t owe you anything.”
Mine and Shelley’s relationship began to deteriorate after that – I was really hurt by how she had put me in a situation like that without giving me a heads up. Quite frankly, she wasn’t a good person. We don’t talk anymore. Hank and I did become friendly, as we ran in similar circles later in life, but it was still sometimes strange to interact with him knowing what had happened a couple of years before.
When I still lived in my hometown, I would see him once in a while. The last time I saw him was a number of years ago – I was leaving my favourite bar/pool hall/karaoke joint, when I heard someone yell my name. I didn’t even have time to react before someone was picking me up in a big bear hug, and twirling me around. It was Hank and a friend of his, having a cigarette. We did a little bit of catching up – he asked what I was doing, and I told him that I was doing admin work for the local regulatory body for physicians. When I asked him what he was doing, he replied, “I’m a carnie!”
Depending on your feelings on cotton candy and spinning rides, I may have made a huge mistake.