If things had gone differently, I have full faith that I would still be with a girl named Lauren N. Lauren was the cutest girl in my second grade class. Our relationship developed, as most second grade relationships do, on the playground. The playground is essentially the bar of elementary school. You go there to do other things (drink, talk, dance in the bar; chase, swing, slide in the playground), but everyone knows if you are spending time on the playground, you are single. All the boys with girlfriends play kickball.
I was a committed bachelor. Whereas other boys were self-conscious on the playground, chasing girls so that they could ultimately land spots on the kickball court, I reveled in the chase. I had no interest in kickball. I had chase strategies: Foster a friendship with the girl. Converse with her on the swings. Jump up suddenly. Chase her. Direct the chase to the Hill. Outlast the girl on the Hill.
If I managed to outlast the girl on the Hill before the end of recess, in my head, I had two options. I could choose to be the girls’ boyfriends or start again next recess. Before Lauren, I always chose to start over. But Lauren was special.
Chasing Lauren started off like chasing any other girl. I got her to the Hill by the end of recess without any problem. Then something interesting happened – Lauren began to talk.
“Oh, I am just so glad you are my boyfriend.”
Emergency lights began flashing in my head. I hadn’t committed to anything, had I? This wasn’t part of the plan. Identify, chase, reset. That’s what I was used to.
- Chelsea B., if I hadn’t been too afraid to talk to an older girl.
- Libby H., if I hadn’t written that short story where the love interest was named “Libby” and then published it in the school newspaper that her mom was the faculty adviser for.
- Ruth Z., if I hadn’t believed that her parents didn’t want her dating.
- Elizabeth G., if I hadn’t told her that when I hugged her it felt like I was hugging my sister. I don’t have a sister.
- Mary T., if I would have let her drunkenly make out with me.
- Lindsey J., if she knew that one of our professional dinners was actually a date.
- Jess R., if I had never asked her on a date.
I gulped as Lauren took my hand and led me back down the Hill to stand in line for the end of recess. My days of recess bachelorhood were over. I didn’t even know how to play kickball.
I didn’t take well to a relationship. I disliked being around Lauren, but she insisted that we spend all of our free time with each other. It became quite clear that puberty had not yet hit me. I knew girls were different, but I was not yet attracted to them for that difference. I was more attracted to the fact that they would run when I chased them. If a boy had done that, I would have chased boys. (And would have probably faced ridicule from the kickball courts.)
Imagine my surprise, then, when Lauren began whispering about a secret plan. A secret sleepover plan. Lauren, being the worldly woman she was, knew that couples sometimes spent the night together and so she began talking of me coming over to her house when her parents were asleep. I was petrified. Never mind that we were eight years old, had no sense of direction, no transportation, and no way of getting past locked doors. I thought this plan was a very real possibility. It literally kept me up at night.
I spent hours wide awake, trying to devise an excuse. But I knew I couldn’t come up with an excuse for every night. I was only a second grader, after all. My schedule wasn’t exactly brimming with other engagements.
One night, as I was lying awake in my bed, quivering fearfully from the thought of spending an entire night with Lauren N., my father came in my room to check on me. He noticed I was awake.
“Is there something the matter, son?” he asked.
“Lauren N. wants me to have a sleepover with her!” I said tearfully.
My father waited patiently as I explained the situation to him, and then he introduced the greatest childhood excuse ever devised. “Just tell her that your mother and I aren’t comfortable with it.”
- Staci B., if she hadn’t gone to an all-girls school after kindergarten probably because her father was frightened by the fact that I was her only friend.
- Liz A., if her parents hadn’t forbidden her reading Harry Potter.
After my parent-developed excuse, the issue, for me, was resolved. I told Lauren the next day that my parents would never go for it, and in a weird not-yet-rebellious second grade world, that seemed to work. I was free to chase again! Life regained its sweetness.
But I soon realized my mistake. Lauren, after all, was the cutest girl in my second grade class. I had ruined my chance with her. The first reason, then, that Lauren and I are not still together is because I, in my second-grade ignorance fearfully told my parents about what would have been the first of what I can only guess would have been hundreds of romantic trysts.
The second reason that Lauren and I are not still together happened a week later. Right before lunch, we were pulled down to the guidance office. The guidance counselor, a small, kind, middle-aged woman named Mrs. R, ushered us into her office.
“I hear that you two have been thinking about… dating,” she started. I rolled my eyes. Back at this. I had been chasing new girls on the playground for a whole week. Lauren had tears in her eyes.
“I think we can all agree that the two of you are a little young to date.”
I was nodding profusely.
“So I thought we would come up with some appropriate ages for dating.”
Mrs. R pulled out some hokey picture book that she had bought with school funds for occasions like this one, and read us a story about Jack and Jill who dated in high school and then got married and lived happily ever after.
“See,” said Mrs. R. “Dating in high school doesn’t put you behind. So, what do you think would be an appropriate time to start dating?”
Lauren answered first, sniffling as she did. “High school?”
“That’s great, Lauren. That’s really great! Now what about you, Spencer? When do you think is a good time to start dating?”
We had just read a story about people dating in high school and getting married. Lauren had just answered high school. The answer should have been obvious. But I crossed my arms and answered: “College.”
- Bethany M., if I hadn’t smeared dandelion on her Abercrombie cardigan at recess.
- Lauren P., if I hadn’t gone to the Spring Fling with Amy V.
- Amy V., if I hadn’t almost elementary-school cheated on her with Lauren P.