Poor Misguided Youth
Love: The Metamorphosis Part I
Theme to thirtysomething (mp3)
If, as the sagely characters on G.I. Joe proclaimed, Knowing is Half the Battle, then surely confidence is the other half. As a socially-awkward teenager whose own body was an alien lifeform, my knowledge was theoretical at best, and my confidence was... well, I didn't really have any. With good reason.
What I did have was a scholarly appetite for lust and love and an overdose of pop cultural education on the topic. Although perhaps Joanie and Chachie were an early misguided introduction to the concept of love, by high school I had begun to educate myself by watching the oft-mocked but critically-acclaimed thirtysomething.
Hope... she was the word personified. Everything I thought I wanted in a spouse flowed naturally through that character. She was a nurturing mom, a caring and dependable friend, and a companion both independent and supportive. She was beautiful, but not to the degree that I couldn't imagine her falling in love with me, with a nose that begged charicatures and an almost-masculine voice. She loved being a mother, and she loved being a wife. Watching thirtysomething made me Ralphie, looking into the store window at that coveted Red Rider BB gun. She was what I wanted for Christmas Future. I wanted to put her on layaway until I was old enough to handle her with the care and delicacy she deserved.
It's risky to claim ridiculous things about the influence pop culture has on us, but Hope was the walking embodiment of a notion I probably already carried within me. My notion of the ideal wife might have been forging and shaping inside me long before that show, but her character affirmed my belief that such a woman and such a relationship existed.
Before that show, my notion of romantic love was in the abstract. After that show, it had a form, a figure, a personality. It was suddenly alive, and it looked a helluva lot like Mel Harris. Hope became the lighthouse by which I guided my wayward ship through the turbulent waters of awkward and uncertain relationships.
Love Untold - Paul Westerburg (mp3)
What's My Scene - Hoodoo Gurus (mp3)
Confident as I might have been about what I thought made a good relationship -- how a couple should think of one another, treat one another -- I was utterly uncertain about my own place in the world, who I was, and what in me was worthy of the affection or attention from the fairer sex.
Exceptions exist to most of life's rules, but one rule is pretty damned ironclad: timidity is rarely sexy in a man. This is doubly true in high school and college.
In high school, I was surrounded by cool guys who were dating and doing God knows with these girls, and I didn't even know how to have a conversation that could somehow, someway, naturally lead to me asking a girl out. How do you start talking about German class and somehow make the leap to asking for a date? How do you back away from rejection with any small molecule of confidence when you hardly have two molecules' worth to begin with?
And if it's hell on wheels to even get to the point where I felt at ease enough to ask someone out, how the f*#k am I supposed to get to the part where it's me and Hope Steadman standing at the altar??
This confusion left me pining away, usually to myself, over girls I found completely fascinating but never got to know well enough to be sure of who they were or whether I could really like them. And while I was privately weighing their wife-worthiness, they hardly knew my name and would have soiled their acid-washed blue jeans if they'd known I was already trying to imagine us at an altar, raising children, growing old together.
Instead, I found myself playing Solitaire, as the Hoodoo Gurus song so amusingly puts it.
Strange how I could be so fascinated by girls and so in love with games, yet the adolescent game of relationships never made sense to me.
The line from "Love Untold" sums up a healthy portion of teenage angst:
Does anyone recall the saddest love of all?
The one that lets you fall with nothin' to hold.
It's the love... untold.