Tag Archives: awkward teenagers

Lessons From My First (Failed) Crush

teen-crush-love

Being a teenager sucks. Unless you’re a star athlete, an attractive cheerleader, or the child of a filthy rich celebrity, there’s a high probability that you’ll be overwhelmed by the experience. Some people handle it better than others. I can say without question that I was not one of those people. If I were to get a grade on how I handled being a teenager, I probably would’ve gotten a C-minus at best.

As rough as it can be, you can learn a thing or two during your teenage years and I’m not just referring to the awkward changes that come with puberty. We don’t have much choice in how our bodies mature with age, but we do have a choice in how we handle the harsh lessons that come our way. In the interest of sharing some personal insights, which I’ve done before, I’d to revisit a lesson I learned about love.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I think it’s fitting. Those lucky enough to have a special someone to spend the day with probably had to endure plenty of hardship to achieve what they had. I’m not afraid to admit that I envy those people. However, seeing as how I am such a romance fan, I’m not bitter. Why else would I spend so much time writing sexy novels and sexy short stories?

That said, there’s a difference between being a fan of romance and actually pursuing it. That was part of the lesson I learned with this particular incident. It occurred right around the time I started high school, which was already plenty miserable for me. I’ve already gone on record as saying how much I hated high school and those first few years were some of the worst.

There were, however, a select few reasons that made high school worth going to back then. One of those reasons was the first girl I ever had a serious crush on. It’s almost as corny as it sounds, but I won’t apologize for it. I was a lonely, miserable teenager who was just starting to develop a terrible acne problem that would plague me for the next five years. I wanted to connect with someone.

On top of that, I was a closeted romance fan. I genuinely wanted to seek the kind of love that I saw in comics, TV shows, and movies. I wanted to be part of my own love story and when I saw this girl, I felt like she could be part of that. I know that sounds like the musings of a love-sick teenage boy who listened to one too many boy bands, but that’s how I felt.

I still remember the first, last, and middle name of my first crush. Out of respect, I won’t share it. For the sake of keeping this story coherent, I’ll call her Angela. Without getting too descriptive, I’ll just say she was cute in a way that would always brighten your day. It doesn’t matter if you lost a fight, failed a mid-term, and got detention. One smile from Angela was enough to make everything in your world feel right.

I know that’s melodramatic. Again, I was a goddamn teenager who had read too many comics and watched too many movies with romantic sub-plots. That’s just how my brain was wired and the added effects of male hormones didn’t help. All I knew was that I had a crush on this girl. What I didn’t know was how to act on it.

This is where I learned a couple critical lessons. The first, and most obvious, realization I had was that my social skills sucked. It’s not just that I was socially awkward. My conversation skills for people outside my immediate family were awful. I struggled to get a conversation going. I struggled even more to keep it going. If I talked long enough, I would often say something stupid.

One time, I was sitting next to this girl in a science class and I just blurted out that I tried cat food once. I don’t know how or why I admitted that. It wasn’t even true. All I know was the girl just looked at me weird for the rest of the day and I honestly don’t blame her.

I already knew this about myself before I met Angela. As a result, I avoided talking to her at first. We initially met when we got paired up for an English assignment. I thought we got along well. I managed to work with her and not say anything too stupid. While I did learn she had a boyfriend at the time, she actually told me that it was not going well and they were definitely breaking up.

At the time, I thought that was a sign that maybe we had something. Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure she was just venting about her own personal issues. I just happened to be there to listen at the time. In my warped teenage brain, though, that was proof that I wanted to pursue this girl. I just didn’t know how and that’s when I learned a few more harsh lessons.

Chief among them was that if you’re really interested in someone, you have to be mindful of how you show that interest. If you’re not careful, it can come off as creepy and pathetic. For me, I don’t think I was creepy, but I was definitely pathetic and no woman finds that attractive.

I know because it took me almost a year after meeting her to make a move. I’d shared a few classes with her. She knew my name and I knew hers. I’d been friendly with her and she’d even been friendly with me a few times, but I was so shy and awkward that I really didn’t give her a reason to see me as more than just a casual acquaintance.

To make matters worse, my way of telling her I had a crush on her didn’t involve a difficult, face-to-face conversation. It involved me leaving a folded-up note in her locker with my email address written on it. Yes, I knew exactly where her locker was. I also took the time to slip it in when nobody else was there to see me. I admit that’s both creepy and a little pathetic.

For that reason, and probably others I’ll never know, she didn’t respond. I didn’t hear back from her and, at the time, that was genuinely heartbreaking. It ended making me more reserved and more socially awkward. High school was bad enough with hormones, homework, and acne. My first crush wanting nothing to do with me only made it worse.

That’s not to say I never heard from Angela again. About two years later, shortly after she moved away, I actually got an email from her. However, it did not lead to the epic love story I had hoped. It was a very short, very messy email. She just said that she got the note and thanked me for it. I told her who I was and she said she remembered me, but not much else came from it.

While not romantic, it still taught me one final lesson that ended up being the most important. When it comes to looking for love, you can’t go about it as though it’s story in a novel or movie. Love in the real world doesn’t work like that, especially with awkward teenagers. You actually have to work on talking to people, building connections with them, and giving them reasons to love you.

I never gave Angela enough reasons. I never even showed her that I was someone worth loving. I’d worked under the assumption that if I were just a nice, caring guy that the girl of my dreams would fall for me. That may work in cheesy sitcoms, but not in real life high school.

Some of these lessons took a long time to appreciate. It wasn’t until after college that I could look back on my experience with Angela with a more balanced perspective. I honestly wish it hadn’t taken so long. My social skills are still behind the curve. I feel like I held myself back for years, in terms of being a romantically desirable man, and I’m still trying to catch up.

While I’m in a much better place now than I was back in high school, I’m glad I went through that difficult experience of my first failed crush. Even though it took me way too long to learn from that failure, it offered insights that are more useful today than it ever was during my awkward teen years.

In terms of a first crush, I like to think I got lucky with Angela. She was sweet, caring, and understanding. She didn’t judge me for my social ineptitude or my terrible acne. I don’t blame her for not feeling the same way about me as I did about her. I just wish I’d handled it better.

One day, I believe I’ll find someone who will be as attracted to me as I am to her. When that day comes, I’ll be ready and that’s thanks in part to the lessons I learned by having a crush on Angela. While I doubt I’ll ever see her again, I’ll always be grateful to what she taught me about what it means to craft romance in the real world.

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What I Wish I Learned In Sex Ed

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I like to think I had a good education in sex growing up. I grew up in an area that heavily promoted comprehensive sex education and did not solely rely on telling horny teenagers to abstain. On top of that, my parents were very upfront and transparent on sexual issues. They did not lie to me and they did not avoid the issue whenever I asked them questions.

In that sense, I consider myself luckier than most. I’ve heard way too many horror stories about kids getting a form of sex education that’s downright damaging. At the same time, there are some things I wish my teachers and parents had taught me. I feel like it would’ve saved me a lot of stress, confusion, and uncertainty later on in life.

While some things can only be learned through experience, I think in matters of sexuality, insight goes a long way. It’s one of the few acts we’re biologically wired to seek. Even if we find something out on our own, we’re not always going to understand it and that often means making flawed assumptions. That can make things awkward, to say the least.

What follows is a list of minor, but relevant aspects about sex that I wish I’d learned more about growing up. Some of these issues are things my teachers probably couldn’t have mentioned in a health class without getting into trouble with parents, but that’s exactly why they’re worth putting out there. I think these are conversations worth having with young people, especially as we enter a new sexual landscape.


Number 1: What Orgasms Are And How They Differ With Gender

Looking back on my experience with sex education, this feels like the biggest oversight. I learned about male and female anatomy. I learned about pregnancy, contraception, and diseases. I even learned a little about healthy relationship skills. At no point in any of these discussions did orgasms come up.

While I knew what they were, no teacher ever said that word or even hinted that they were a normal part of sex. They either avoided the issue or pretended it didn’t exist. They described sexual function the same way my biology teacher described how animals digest food. This led me to wonder that adults were hiding something from me and my peers.

Later on, as I learned more about sex outside of school, it gave the impression that adults just didn’t want to tell young people about things that felt good. Never mind that orgasms have a lot of health benefits and are a great way for a couple to bond. Not even mentioning them just sent too many mixed messages that only get more mixed over time.


Number 2: Feeling Horny Is Natural (And Not An Affliction)

This was especially common in middle school. Granted, most teachers said that thinking about sex is natural. However, actually wanting it might as well have been the same as wanting to steal a car. In any case where someone might have wanted sex outside of marriage, it was framed as something deviant and wrong.

Again, this was not a religious school. This was a secular public school in a community that was not overly-religious. Even so, every health teacher gave the impression that being horny was no different than having a violent impulse to choke kittens. I’m thankful my parents did plenty to counter that, but it did leave me feeling more stressed than I already was as a teenager.


Number 3: The Sex You See In Porn Isn’t “Real” Sex

Most reasonable adults understand that the sex they see in porn isn’t supposed to mirror actual sex. That kind of sex is designed to be shot, edited, and exaggerated for erotic effects. The problem is that too many reasonable adults, some of which teach health classes to teenagers, assume that only adults are watching porn.

I knew what porn was when I was a teenager. I knew how to access it. Everyone in my class knew as well and anyone who claimed they didn’t were liars. While there were discussions about sex in the media, it never got beyond things like body image and peer pressure. They never actually explained to uninformed teenagers that porn is not a good representation of what sex is.

For men who think they’re supposed to hump for 40 minutes straight and women who think they have to hiss every half-second, it’s an important tidbit that’s worth sharing. It also doesn’t help that porn does a terrible job of depicting romance. Just a simple explanation at how exaggerated it was would’ve gone a long way towards developing a healthy understanding of what non-pornographic sex was.


Number 4: Not Having Sex Isn’t The End Of The World

This issue is similar to the issues associated with the DARE program that tried to convince teenagers to not do drugs. That program not only doesn’t work. It gave me and my peers a very flawed image of drugs for years to come. The way my health teachers talked about sex wasn’t much different.

Beyond skipping the joys of orgasms, they often described sex as this scourge that was spreading disease and misery to countless teenagers. If you weren’t doing it, then something must be wrong with you. At the time, I already had severe self-esteem issues that were compounded by a terrible acne problem that made me feel ugly and unloved.

While no teacher ever said that people who don’t have sex are somehow flawed. They only ever framed people who didn’t have sex as safer and less likely to get diseases. That’s not the same as saying it’s okay, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s actually pretty common. That revelation may not seem like much now, but at the time, it would’ve made a world of difference.


Number 5: Sex Can Be Emotional, Intimate, And Fun

This is a bit more personal for me because I was a closeted romance fan. I’d been a romance fan before I was a teenager and once sex entered the picture, I knew there was a link. My health teachers just did a terrible job of explaining it. They talked about sex as though it was just a formality, like a wedding or a tax refund. Romance and intimacy never entered the picture.

Sex was either just a small part of human reproduction or this dangerous thrill sport on par with juggling chainsaws while wrestling a hungry grizzly. There was no emphasis on intimacy, romance, or just the fun of it all. Couples do have sex for fun. There’s nothing wrong with that. My own parents even told me that. My health teachers, on the other hand, gave the impression they were completely unrelated.


Number 6: Some People Are Just Wired Differently For Sex

This may have been a product of my own teenage angst more than anything else. The way my teachers talked about sex made it seem as though everyone had this scary creature lurking inside them and a good chunk of our lives are spent keeping it at bay. Everyone had to do their part to tame their sexual demons. There was no way around it.

However, that’s not how peoples’ sex drives work. Some people just aren’t that sexual. They don’t get as horny as the average people. When they do, the things that satisfy them are wildly different than the things that satisfy others. Some people have elaborate kinks. Some are happy with a quickie in the shower twice a year.

This idea that everyone has their own sexual makeup wasn’t even hinted at. It made it seem as though everyone in the world, myself included, had the same sexual proclivities. Even though we can’t agree on gods, the afterlife, or pizza toppings, we’re all somehow in agreement on this. I know it sounds like common sense to an adult. To a teenager, it framed the world in a strange, overwhelming way that I could’ve done without.


Number 7: Not Every Woman Goes Crazy On Their Period

I know people don’t like talking about women’s bodies, especially when it comes to that time of month. They’ve been taboo for centuries and for a long list of frustrating reasons. When young men learn about what women go through during pregnancy and menstruation, though, they get the impression that their hormones turn them into meth addicts in withdraw.

Having grown up in a house with multiple women, sharing a bathroom, and just being around a lot of women in general, I know that most women don’t radically change when they’re on their period. Some do have issues. Most are understandable, treatable, and not a reason to fear an entire gender.

In the sex ed I got, I had multiple male teachers joke about how glad they were to not have to deal with periods. These teachers were married, by the way. It made me wonder whether they knew when to leave town or sleep in the basement during certain times of month. It also made me wonder if the women in my family were different because they didn’t seem to go crazy every month.

There’s certainly room to talk about women’s issues during sex ed, even among teenage boys. However, a little perspective would’ve gone a long way. It made being around girls more awkward than it already was. I was a teenager. There’s only so much awkwardness I could handle and I handled it poorly. I’m not saying better sex ed would’ve fixed everything, but it sure would’ve helped.

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Filed under gender issues, Jack Fisher's Insights, men's issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, women's issues

What “Big Mouth” Gets Right (And Wrong) About Puberty

When you’re a platform that has created shows like “House of Cards” and “BoJack Horseman,” the bar for quality is higher than most. That’s the benefit/burden of being successful. Say what you will about how Netflix has evolved over the years, it has produced some amazing content in an age that some call the third golden age of TV.

Then, there are shows like “Big Mouth.” I’m not saying that Netflix is lowering the bar for the sake of balance, but I’m still struggling to make sense of this show. When I heard about it, especially with comedian Nick Kroll attached to it, I hoped I had found another show to pass the time in between seasons of “BoJack Horseman.” I’m won’t say I was disappointed, but I do feel like I took the quality of Netflix content for granted.

I’m not going to say that “Big Mouth” is a bad show, but I won’t make excuses for it. It’s the kind of show that goes out of its way to be crude for all the wrong reasons and not in the traditions of “South Park” either. It doesn’t go for the cheap laugh or even the mid-priced laugh. It’s a show that just goes out of its way to sensationalize teenagers going through puberty.

On paper, it sounds like a great concept. Going through puberty is wrought with all sorts of craziness, some funny and some embarrassing as hell. I’ve shared some on this blog, including a story about the most awkward boner I’ve ever gotten.

Big Mouth” tries to extract humor from similarly awkward situations. It takes a lot of swings and it misses a lot of pitches, but it does manage to hit a few balls here and there. Yes, I also mean that in a literal sense. This show does resort to that kind of humor.

It may not be the kind of high-concept insight you get from an episode of “Rick and Morty,” but it does at least try to send a message about the horrors of puberty. Even if the product is crude and exceedingly exaggerated, that message is relevant, so much so that it’s worth talking about.

I honestly didn’t expect to write about “Big Mouth” in any capacity, especially when writing about sexy memories from my college years is so much more interesting. However, after gritting my teeth and watching the show, I feel the horrors of puberty are worth talking about, especially with ideas about toxic masculinity being so prevalent lately.

Big Mouth” doesn’t attempt to wade too deeply into those kinds of issues. It’s too crude and too crass a show to even attempt that kind of commentary. However, it does do a good job at showing just how powerful and, at times, overwhelming that flood of hormones can be to a young person. For some, it’s downright traumatic.

Throughout the show, the main characters, Nick Birch, Andrew, Glouberman, and Jessi Glaser, are often hounded by literal manifestations of a monster that personifies their hormones. It’s never clear whether the monster is invisible or not, but this creature basically says everything the FCC won’t allow teenagers to say out loud.

For the boys, the monster is named Maurice and his advice usually amounts to things like, “Go ahead and jerk off!” or “Look at her tits!” or “Too bad, buddy! You’re getting a boner!” I’m not going to lie. That monster kind of triggered some awkward moments from my teenage years where I found myself thinking thoughts too crude, even for my novels.

The girls aren’t spared from that awkwardness either. There’s another hormone monster every bit as crude, but reserved for female characters. Her name is Connie and she embodies all the alpha bitch, hyper-feminine extremes that Sam Kinison ever joked about. She’s emotional, dramatic, and demands that every female character be confused or overwhelmed by her body. That’s basically puberty in a nutshell.

In a sense, “Big Mouth” is unique in its balanced approach to showing how boys and girls both struggle to endure puberty. That’s rare in most coming of age stories that either focus on horny guys trying to get laid or bitchy girls trying to get popular. This show doesn’t give a pass to either gender.

This is what “Big Mouth” actually gets right about puberty, to some extent. It’s not just overwhelming and frustrating for one gender. The male experience is unique. They have to deal with constant erections and that annoying voice in their head urging them to think dirty thoughts about anything that even looks like a beautiful women.

Since I’m a man who has more than his share of bad memories from my awkward teen years, that’s a sentiment I can appreciate. However, it’s the female perspective in “Big Mouth” that I found most intriguing. The idea that girls are just as freaked out about the changes in their bodies, minds, and everything in between shouldn’t be such a novel concept, but this show goes out of its way to belabor it.

Now, I don’t know for sure that the girls I went to high school with had an actual hormone monster on their shoulder, telling them to cry irrationally at a moment’s notice or lash out at anyone who dared to look at them the wrong way. It’s just somewhat refreshing to think that teen awkwardness knows no gender.

If gender balance is a strength in “Big Mouth,” though, it’s biggest weakness is portraying how the characters deal with it. The show is so over-the-top with the extremes of puberty that it’s hard to glean a meaningful story from it all.

It’s not just that puberty takes the form of actual hormone monsters that sound like uncensored commentary from a bad porno. It’s not that the show makes puberty sound overly traumatic either. There’s never a sense that the characters, even Jessi and Nick, actually grow through the experience. That’s kind of a big oversight with puberty.

From a purely biological standpoint, puberty is the maturation of a child into adulthood. That maturation part is never even hinted at in the show. After watching the first season of “Big Mouth,” it’s hard to imagine any of the characters involved growing into functioning adults.

In the real world, puberty tends to bring out the best or worst in a person. If someone starts becoming an asshole in puberty, they usually stay that way into adulthood. If someone shows an ability to deal with it and grow, as a person, then they’re usually in good shape. It can even get pretty hilarious when both kinds of people have to deal with one another. Unfortunately, we don’t get that with “Big Mouth.”

I won’t go so far as to say the show is terrible. It does have its moments and some of those moments are genuinely funny or insightful. It is, as the end of the day, an overly comedic take on the rigors of puberty. It doesn’t try to be coy or deceptive. It doesn’t try to use colorful metaphors involving flowers or cucumbers. It gets right down the dirty, gritty details.

I can see the show appealing to those who suffered more during puberty than most. I can even see the show appealing to “South Park” and “Family Guy” fans. It’s hardly a guide or a warning with respect to the rigors of puberty, but it reflects a common truth. Being a teenager sucks and puberty is a big reason why.

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