How Passivity Cost Me, Part 1

1994 Daddy's clothes essay
Learn how sunflowers are part of my story on my About page.

One day in January of my junior year I was startled to hear a boy calling out my name in the hallway between classes.  I literally jumped when he spoke to me.  I knew him slightly; we had shared a few classes.  There he was, asking me ON A DATE.  I couldn’t believe it, but I was more shocked to hear my own voice saying, “Yes, that sounds good.”  He smiled, triumphant; I turned to my locker, flustered.

As I processed my feelings after school, one thread ran through my thoughts:  Maybe this is the kind of change I need.  Maybe a new boyfriend is the solution.  The truth was I wasn’t ready for a romantic relationship, not so soon after the darkness of the previous semester.

This boy persisted with me for so little reward.  On our dates I avoided physical contact by sitting as far away from him as I could.  At the movie theater I kept my hands stuffed deep into my coat pockets so he wouldn’t have a chance at holding them.  I observed him with fear and suspicion and talked only about surface issues.  Looking back I think he was a decent guy, a sensible choice for a boyfriend.  I just wasn’t ready to trust my heart with anyone, and I strung him along.

The more I learned about him, the more I decided a relationship with him wouldn’t work.  My overriding feeling was that we would never really understand each other because he came from a stable home and mine was messy and complicated.  In The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, the authors write:

[Children of divorce] desperately need to tell their story, but agemates who have not lived through divorce are not all that sympathetic.  So they look for and find someone who can listen and understand.

I don’t know why I didn’t break it off with him, other than I was afraid to cause conflict.  I knew he wanted me to be his date for prom and I felt I owed it to him for putting up with me.  I worried about being in front of peers with him.  I wouldn’t be able to hide my standoffish tendencies in public.

When he offered me his class ring, I panicked.  I knew he felt more strongly for me than I felt for him.  I refused his ring that night but I agreed to be his prom date.  I felt obligated to accompany him after four months of dating, even though we had barely become friends.

The irony is that I longed for male attention but pushed away what was offered to me.  I worried about repeating the mistakes in my previous relationship, but I didn’t see a way out without hurting or embarrassing this boy who had been so patient with me.  I feared his physical expectations of prom night.  But I was resigned to the fact that I had to comply if I wanted to avoid conflict.

That resignation cost me dearly on prom night.  I will write about it in my next post.

Reflection

Has fear of relationships ever been a problem for you?   What kept you from reaching out for relationships?

 

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  • Chris Warren

    Sarah, You are so brave to share your teenage angst. I wish I would have talked to my high school students more instead of consistently pushing through with my classroom agenda. Life is so tough for all of us. I try to engage with my college students before starting class. I like that sunflower pic. I didn’t know you had a pic of the Tilsit mural creation.

    • Sarah Geringer

      My bravery has been supported by my two “Chris” high school English teachers who encourage me to keep writing in the 20+ years since those school days. I plan to list you both in my Acknowledgements page of my memoir once it is published! Love that you chose a sunflower theme for the mural, and it fits perfectly with my connection to sunflowers on my About page, decades later.