At that age, crushes consumed me. I had about ten crushes at once, some on men, but most of the most intense ones on other girls around my age. I was also fifteen and, despite being grades-smart and reading-level-smart, I wasn’t smart enough to, you know, start an actual conversation with her about what she was into and did she like Star Wars or play an instrument or did we even have anything in common at all. That’s how you start a relationship, and I knew that. I totally knew that! I’d even written it into the stories I wrote at that age!
But did I do any of that? No. What I did do, was call the store and invite her to my Sweet Sixteen. A total stranger. On the basis of being attractive.
Naturally, she said no. So why am I talking about this?
Because I realized while facepalming about this earlier today that a major motivation for writing about my character Shulamit’s awkwardness, her crushes on most of the women she encounters in The Second Mango, and her lack of finesse in finding a girlfriend –- a major motivation for me was to show someone feminine fretting that way over other girls. To show that someone like me could fret like that and HAD fretted like that.
You see, in literature and movies, the awkward teenage boy crushing on beautiful female peers is a beloved trope of the coming of age genre—whether it’s set in modern times, historical times, fantasy, or sci-fi. Everywhere from Archie Comics to the demonstration on how all the parts of your body work together at Disney/EPCOT’s short-lived Health pavillion talk about young men struck into silliness by a combination of hormones and lack of experience when they see pretty girls.
And literature also talks about how young women are struck into equal stupefaction by their male peers, or male celebrities. We all grow up knowing what it looks like to be a young woman mooning over a boy, or a young man mooning over a girl.
I didn’t see any girls mooning over other girls. And even if I did, they were very masculine-presenting girls, so it didn’t even feel like representation to me—it felt like the same as Archie crushing on Veronica, only it was an Archielike girl, instead of someone like me.
What would that even look like?
It would look like a little teenaged violinist with braces and big hair, calling up a stranger who worked at a salad shop because she was so goshdarned pretty.
Shulamit totally would have done that. That’s the part of me I put into her.
I remember how alone I felt, and I think a big part of that loneliness was the lack of seeing that happening to anyone else in fiction. If you crushed on a girl, if you weren’t a boy you were at least masculine.
Anyway, it feels good to have my little fictionalized representation of what I was like at that age. And, Salad Lady, wherever you are, I’m sorry I was such a dope – if you were queer, I should have asked you out the right way or at least made friends, and if you were straight, well, you once got asked out extremely badly by a bisexual girl and you are welcome to laugh at me.
Those of you who are in that place right now — make friends. And good luck. My heart goes out to you :)
Shira Glassman blogs and posts character art here.