The Fatal Flaw of High School Romance

My memory of dating in high school is as fuzzy as my memory of BASIC code, the computing language they taught back then. So as a way to reconnect with lost neural pathways, I combined them: my memory of high school dating, expressed in BASIC.

    • 10 INPUT “Is someone showing interest in me? “; A$
    • 20 IF A$ = “Y” OR A$ = “y” THEN GOTO 40
    • 30 IF A$ =  “N” OR A$ =  “n” THEN GOTO 120
    • 40 PRINT  “Commence awkward flirting and date at Bruce Willis / Tom Hanks movie and/or mini golf.  “; U$
    • 50 INPUT “She’s amazing. She reminds me of [insert movie star] and I am smitten. Does she still like me? “; A$
    • 60 IF A$ = “Y” OR A$ = “y” THEN GOTO 80
    • 70 IF A$ =  “N” OR A$ =  “n” THEN GOTO 140
    • 80 INPUT  “Has two months time passed yet [emotional ceiling reached and/or unnecessary drama unfolding]? “; U$
    • 90 IF A$ = “Y” OR A$ = “y” THEN GOTO 110
    • 100 IF A$ =  “N” OR A$ =  “n” THEN GOTO 40
    • 110 PRINT  “It’s me. Not you. Good bye.’ “; U$
    • 120 END

According to the folks who study brains, the prefrontal cortex, which controls our executive function and rational brain, isn’t fully developed until age 25. Teenagers are still working primarily through their amygdala, which is an almond-shaped, primitive fear-alarm buried in your brain – your emotional lizard-wiring.

It’s science. Teenagers are nuts.

In my case, high school love consisted of a week of blind infatuation followed by a month of confusing interactions, followed by a desire to move on but not knowing how. I never understood my mates and they didn’t understand why I chose to live in a turtle shell of emotional avoidance.

And it wasn’t just me. Everyone in high school had their own soap operas: from “I can’t let my partner out of my sight” to “my identity is wrapped up in my mate” to “I’m too good for any one person.”

It doesn’t help that kids in this country are raised on a “happily ever after” Disney diet of perfect relationships: find “the one” or suffer a life of misery. In my experience, the only Disney connection to actual life is that evil mustaches are awesome.

We learn the hard way that happiness with, and knowledge of, ourselves precedes happiness with another. But we also learn that self-love is an elusive beast.

Do you remember The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein? And its sequel, The Missing Piece Meets the Big O?  I used to read them to you on my lap when you were five.

“Oh I’m lookin’ for my missin’ piece
I’m lookin’ for my missin’ piece
Hi-dee-ho, here I go,
Lookin’ for my missin’ piece.”

A key idea was that we are never “completed” by another, and that attempts at that goal are misguided. We shouldn’t try to check the box on “happily ever after,” but instead accept that humans will always want more – that it’s the journey that makes us feel alive, not the condition of being whole.

What we need are partners in growth.

But in high school, our needs for acceptance are so strong, we tend to see our mate only in relation to ourselves, and we can construct an image instead of seeing the the raw material. That, coupled with the emotional, amygdala stew surrounding the relationships make them wildly challenging. 

I say chill and enjoy the ride….to the extent possible, of course. 

Appreciate people for who they are inside and demand the same in return. Have long conversations in diners about life, hypocrisy, big ideas and the tortures and wonders of love. Instead of trying to find “the one,” let high school serve as the rich backdrop for your mind, body and soul congealing into its early adult substance.

That said, it’s okay to ride the wave of teenage love: the big feelings and drama and dopamine hits that cause judgment to fly out the window. That’s also part of the growth. And frankly, feelings of love will happen to you whether you want it or not.

Just recognize love’s messiness and have friends to catch your fall when relationships end. And do the same for them. The demise of relationships are not a reflection of you, but the necessary sandpaper of life. It’s the growth happening.

And as you get older?

Your prefrontal cortex will strengthen. I met your Mom at 25. (Or, to be clear, I was 24 and rounded up to 25 when I first met her because it sounded older.)

At that point, you know yourself better. And you can make smarter decisions on mates. And maybe, just maybe, you find someone whose strengths, flaws and quirks you find fascinating; someone who makes grocery shopping awesome.  

I believe that great relationships are driven by the “big conversation” – a long, interesting dialogue woven through life, where mutual growth explodes like a new planet being terraformed. Where mutual individuation is the core, not completing something missing in us. Where we roll together into the future…

“I think you are the one I have been waiting for,” said the missing piece. “Maybe I am your missing piece.”

“But I am not missing a piece,” said the Big O. “There is no place you would fit.”

“That is too bad,” said the missing piece. “I was hoping that perhaps I could roll with you…”

“You cannot roll with me,” said the Big O, “but perhaps you can roll by yourself.”

So enjoy, explore, ride the wave, and learn to roll by yourself alongside others. High school romances are ephemeral, but the love for yourself will never go away if you tend to it.

120 END

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2 thoughts on “The Fatal Flaw of High School Romance

  1. I was super interested in your title here. I am sure you and I remember it differently, but I think we dated for a ripe month or two. The best part of that time….besides the story of my Mom showing up at your Junior Prom and almost killing me from embarrassment…is that we remain friends almost 30 years later. Maybe it is one in a million, but that teenage romance – though brief – has yielded a life time friend. Hope you and the family are well and I see you all soon.

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