9 times out of 10, middle school “romantic” relationships are pointless. You don’t even know who you are in 8th grade, how are you going to pick a meaningful partner? And if you are like me, you believed whatever your teachers told you. After all, they are adults. They must have something figured out.
I had a unique teacher in middle school. In 8th grade he was my homeroom teacher, Bible teacher and History teacher. As a History teacher, he was one of the best I ever had. He was also the basketball coach and would spend large portions of class yelling at his team members. If someone asked why we weren’t moving onto Bible studies he would often reply, “I’m talking to the basketball team. If your phone isn’t ringing, don’t answer it.”
He had a myriad of such quips, one-liners that we heard several times a day. Everytime someone forgot to close the door it would be, “Were you born in a barn?” If you looked at the clock, “Do you have a date?” He named each table in the classroom and gave most students nicknames. (Which occasionally backfired when he nicknamed a girl who had a temper, Kong, and her parents become involved, at the time I thought they overreacted but perhaps more parents should have intervened). I was nicknamed Buffy. I still have no idea why and sat in the backrow which were “The Backrow Baptists” and you supposedly were only allowed to sit back there if you were smart and well-behaved bc it was easy to get away with things back there.
He was a practical joker, once pretending to throw a cup of coffee at a student only to have it rain down paper confetti. As you might guess, our classes were dictated by his whims. And one strange one he once conjured up was to play “The Dating Game”.
Everyone’s name, out of a class of twenty-five, went into two cups. One male, one female. Three girls were going to be picked and then paired up by responses to questions. They would then “date” for a week. Were qualifications put on this “dating”? I don’t recall. There was no opting-out, a teacher is lord, even more so in a private school. But there was general excitement among the girls for the most part, this might give them a chance to sit next to their crush for a week’s worth of lunches.
The girls were picked first so they could be sent out to the hallway so they wouldn’t know which boys were chosen. First Julieann, then Rachel, then me…
One stereotype of private schools that I found to be true in my childhood is that they are very cliquish. There wasn’t a lot of us and most of us had been going to the same school together for nine years. You pair off into groups, there is very little added variety, you become set in your ways. Of the three girls, none of us were “popular”. Maybe I imagined it, but I recall feeling an aura of disappointment. No one cared much about our love lives.
I didn’t want to do this. I immediately panicked. There seemed to be some kind of stipulation that you had to eat lunch with your “date”. And I never went to lunch. My lunch period was the same time as Flan’s (the teacher I was obsessed with) free period and I always spent it in her room. But I was never one to question authority and didn’t have a voice to speak up for myself in those days, so I followed the other two girls out of the classroom.
We huddled at the door trying to hear what was going on inside. Trying to figure out what questions the guys were being asked to answer. I can’t recall a single one of them. But my choices led me to be paired with a guy named Jake. Jake wasn’t all that bad. In fact during seventh grade, I sat between him and another guy during science class and got in trouble for talking and laughing, which is something that I rarely did.
I never “dated” or as we said, “went out” with anyone in middle school. I thought myself above that. Or at least that’s what I told myself, truth is, I was probably too much of a teacher’s pet for anyone to want to date at the point. When I look back now I think I was gorgeous since I was uber skinny but I had short hair and braces…
In a cultural atmosphere trying to be so devoid of anything “sexual”, boy-girl relationships weren’t really discussed. Except for the eternal reminder not to have sex before marriage, no one knew what a relationship entailed. I knew not to have sex but didn’t really know what sex was. What did one do “dating” for a week? Especially when we had assigned seats and classes all day.
So I sacrificed my two periods with Flan for a week. I sat on the edge of the stage and watched Jake play basketball at recess. I sat next to him at lunch period and he bought me Reese’s from the vending machine. I can only imagine our teacher must have been looking at these little matchmaking efforts with some enthusiasm but neither of us wanted much to do with it.
After we graduated from 8th grade, most of my classmates went to the Christian high school as well. Both Jake and I however, went to public school. We lived in the same town but the town was big enough to have two high schools. I was at East, he was at West. I can only guess he experienced a lot of the same shell shock that I did, going from a class of 50 to a class of 500. We had grown up being told that public school was where people got shot. Where people did drugs and where kids got pregnant and/or committed suicide. Of course that does happen, but we were made to think that it was inevitable. In a way, there was really no hope for us. Our parents had moved us to a place where we were sure to be tempted and fail.
I worked so hard not “fall”. Most of my friends were conservative Jews who held much of the same moral outlook as I did. Even in a large, multi-cultural, multi-racial community, I managed to carve out an isolated bubble. I didn’t try to fit-in, to run the risk of being turned to “evil”. But then, I had experience not really fitting in.
At some point during freshman or sophomore year, Jake popped up on my AIM. I probably talked to him a few times but I can’t recall any conversations but the last. I don’t even think he said anything horribly inappropriate besides saying he was horny. And did I remember that week in 8th grade when we had “dated”. Here he was, finally able to talk about things that had been hidden from us to the point of absurdity, he probably figured he would approach the one other person he had some kind of attachment to who understood his upbringing and his current position.
But I was having none of it. I don’t know what I told him but I remembered my find reeling. Here it was, proof of how public schools can contaminate a man! What had I done to make him think that I was that “kind of girl”? Yes, I remembered that week. I hadn’t wanted to date him. What had we done? What had we talked about? I remembered letting him buy me candy…Was that it? Did that signal that I was “easy”? That I would take whatever he offered me? What had I done?
I was so concerned that I had somehow caused a man to fail. Because this is what happens, it’s always the women’s fault. Years of dress-code policing had taught me that if nothing else. I blocked him and figuratively ran away.
I’m not sure what he’s up to now. I do know that he did end up with a drug problem at one point. And in a way I do feel like I failed him, but in the exact opposite way than I thought at the time. I “churched” him. I shunned him for having emotions, feelings, a physical body. Life is funny.