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As a sophomore my workload consists mainly of three very different classes. But within the first week I had something to tie them together; love, to be more specific, first love. In my bible study class, the professor wanted to illustrate the human ability to recall detailed information regarding personally important events. He posed the question “How many of you remember your first love?” and went on to say how we should approach bible study with a degree of passion. The question was posed again in my science history class, illustrating the love the people we were going to study (Aristotle, Galileo, and Newton) had for their professions. A few days later in creative writing, we described an author’s passion for basketball as his first love. Our professor pauses to place a question before the group. “How many of you can remember your first love?” A triple coincidence in my classes? Or maybe a theme for the year two thousand. Perhaps the weather was making my professors nostalgic. Who knows? It would be prudent to note that I’m not a particularly attractive individual. I am a short, overweight man with no lack of body hair. Suffice to say I have not been in an intimate situation since playing house at the age of six. None the less each time the question was posed before the class, I raised my hand. After all, it seemed like almost everyone was responding and it wasn’t as if I were weird or anything.
I may not have had a first love to remember, but I still remember vividly my first crush. Her name was Kelly and I had the hots for her through junior high and early high school. We met in junior high band. We both played French Horn and sat next to each other every day. I was first attracted to her by the things we had in common. We both had the tendency to follow the school rules. Like me, she liked writing and we later developed an interest in Biology. We were simply like-minded. She would finish my thoughts when speaking and tended to focus on the things I found important. Then, I started to have totally irrational feelings for her. The hairs on the back of my neck would stand with excitement any time she was near me. Her presence was always on my mind whenever she was in the same room.
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I was the boy most girls would go out of there way to avoid contact with. Kelly, on the other hand, was beautiful and, for a lack of a more tasteful description, only improved in her sexual maturity. She was in another league than I was and for me to attempt a relationship with her, no matter how meaningful was imply unrealistic fantasy. Even though my spirit soared to the greatest heights with her warm gaze, it was still plain to see that the way she looked at me was not close to the way she looked at more attractive men. I never got the courage to try to develop a relationship with her; to release my feelings and take the rejection like a man. Slowly, and with great effort, I forced myself to forget about Kelly.
This is not really a story of haves and have-nots; rather, this story reflects people’s personal visions of what their lives will be like. No one envisions herself with a short, hairy man with a large amount of body fat. Everyone has the “ideal” husband or wife in mind. And everyone must make compromises with this vision, settling for less than the “ideal” mate. But the “have-nots” in the looks department must make more compromises than the “haves”. The uglier people hit a glass ceiling in the dating world. They can see the attractive and even wave hello, but there is an impassable barrier between the two. This sets up a social system in which the better looking have more of a choice in obtaining a partner than the uglier people. They mate and have beautiful children perpetuating this social gap. This is by no means guarantees that a good looking person will get whomever he/she wants; personality and character as well as intelligence and morality still hold merit in a relationship. But I have yet to see a good-looking person go out with an ugly one. If I do see such a thing, I will treat them as the exception.
With someone like Kelly, I had a near total rapport, but since my image didn’t fit with her image of the “ideal” partner, the best I could hope for was to become her best friend: “Just one of the girls.” The great emasculator. Funny how it’s always the ungraceful and unstylish nerds who fill this role. This little move safely removes the undesirable prospect from becoming any kind of lover... wouldn’t want to ruin the special friendship.
Later on in high school, just over my crush on Kelly, I met a girl named Jenny. She was a short girl with long brown hair which was always pulled back in a braid. She had down to earth good looks, Jenny Plain not Tall, and she was constantly plagued by allergies. She always had a tissue in hand and used them regularly. We soon found a common interest in science and shared a passion for an animated series from Japan called Ronin Warriors. We soon became good friends. When prom rolled around and both she and I were dateless, we decided to go together as friends. When I picked her up she looked stunning. We were having a great time, dancing to all the songs we liked and pretended to like, paying no attention to the fact that neither one of us was any good. I did my best to act charming through out the evening, swept up in the moment. When the night was dying down, the dance floor thinning, people slinked off to the different corners of the civic center to socialize, and we were alone. We talked for a while and then she approached me about becoming more than friends. At this point in my life, I had college looming ahead, which, naively, I saw as the great ender of my life as I knew it. I was going to leave and my life would change so drastically that I would hardly have any ties to my current life. This set of emotions coupled with the fact that I was totally unprepared for her advance produced what turned out to be a hasty no. We remained friends for the rest of the year and lost touch after graduation.
I had used the “Let’s stay friends” on Jenny, even though she had a higher rank in the appearance league than I did. I thought college would eliminate the possibility of a relationship, but I also had never thought about a relationship between us before. Jenny wasn’t part of my “ideal” partner image. I was guilty, the tables had been turned, and I was the one rejecting, but was it wrong?
I had never seen Jenny as anything more than a friend. We shared a couple of interests but I never felt the magic spark, the complete compatibility, that I could sense in my crush with Kelly. Jenny was a kind and good-looking person but there was no attraction to her. Should one settle for what they can get in a relationship? Divorce in this country is all too common. This may be due to settling. People now tend to rush into and through relationships, straight to the alter, without learning the actual needs and desires of their partners. The prospect of having a companion with whom to combat loneliness is a great one. People need others to share their life with and the threat of not finding that “significant other” is frightening. So all too often we find people who jump at the first chance to fill the void, people settling for the first possible prospect available. This works for awhile, the couple is content with not being alone, filling the relationship with passion and romance. But if they are not compatible, if they share little beyond the surface elements of a relationship, then they can only live with each other so long before their environment becomes unhealthy. While some may find that greater realm of connection and others learn to live with their incompatibility, many must go through the excruciating process of separation. Settling is like gambling and the stakes are high.
Not too long ago, I was hanging around with my friends in the dorm when a girl named Kate stopped by. Kate has been very depressed lately and everyone knew it. For days now she had been visiting us telling us that we were her only friends at this school and giving us hints that she needed to talk. My life sucks was a common phrase she would use without warning to express her emotional state. There are times when I fancy myself some kind of psychologist or therapist, which I am definitely not, and take to listening to others problems and keep them talking. I decided to let her tell me about it by asking her why her life sucked. She then proceeded to spew out her emotional angsts and parade them around the room. She went on about her parents divorce and her school problems and then she said something interesting, her love life sucks. I asked her why and she said because it’s nonexistent. My friends and I reminded her that she was attractive enough to find a man easily (she’s in a pretty high league). She just replied by saying there were no good available men who were her type at Wartburg College. Wanting to know what she was looking for I asked her what her ideal man was. “Someone who is not abusive, doesn’t cheat, and doesn’t lie.” Was her response. My friends and I gave each other that glittering glance of intrigue. All she required was basic decency, not hot looks or the right fashion sense, just goodness, a role we could all fill. The idea of a beautiful young woman willing to accept a plain man was a rare opportunity. We had found the dream beyond a dream-come-true, yet I was still skeptical. I asked her to elaborate the inevitable qualities of studdlyness that none of us possessed. But she stuck with what she had. We all leaned forward, balancing on the edge of our seats attentively, my hairy little hands rubbing together. We were carnivores looking upon an unwitting victim. Now was the time we would vie for her attention. I had to be the one to convince her, through subtle gestures that I was the one who could be her companion. “Are you sure there’s not some other requirement you must have in a boyfriend?” I asked, pathetically, hoping to make sure that this attractive woman could actually consider a person like me for a lover. She said there was nothing else she looked for in a man.
Upon reflection, I found myself somewhat disturbed by her answer. Has settling become that bad? Can someone merely require basic decency from a partner and still find something meaningful to share? Is it simple enough to look for a safe relationship and let chemistry do the rest- human + human = love. Maybe compatibility and like minds don’t matter much in the reality of love. Or it is possible that some are content with simply avoiding loneliness. But at the time of the discussion, I was focused on Kate, waiting, like the others, to make my move.
But in the end, Kate, probably sensing the tension in the room, carefully included the fact that she couldn’t have a relationship with us because we were “her friends... wouldn’t want to ruin our special friendship.”
This summer, I felt loneliness more acutely than usual. I toyed with the idea of visiting Jenny to explore the possibility of a relationship. I hadn’t seen her in over a year. I played with the thought a little more. I would go over, claiming to be bored, catching up with an old friend. Just seeing how she was doing, perhaps take her out to lunch. I could find out if she was still single by asking her about college. Then I could tell her how much I’ve been thinking about her and my desire to explore a relationship with her. If I were lucky enough to get this far. She would at least consider. The most surprising thing is that I followed through. I got myself to the point where I looked as handsome as I could possibly be and hopped in my car. I was actually going to a person's house who I had not seen in over a year with the specific purpose of developing a relationship. Was this merely desperation? An attempt to finally share love with another? An attempt to escape the emptiness that is with me daily?
Yes, I was willing to settle, wanting to settle, needing to settle. For everyone settles to some extent in a relationship. At some time or another, be it in the beginning while choosing a partner or later on when the passion dies down, people adjust their view of a partner. It may be that relationships don’t fail because people settle, it could be because people find better prospects or neither is willing to compromise his/her needs when he/she realizes that the relationship wasn’t the mach made in heaven. People aren’t willing to work in a relationship and it fails as a result.
While there are those who are not the image of compatibility but work hard for a successful relationship and stave off loneliness together, the fact is compromises and settling go hand in hand. The opportunity to find someone to have a relationship with doesn’t come around too often, for some more than others. When the opportunity presents itself, some times you just have to go for it.
I parked on the road in front of her house. Images of my new life with her had been racing through my head the whole way. The moment I would kiss her, the places we’d go, the things we’d do, the time we would become intimate, had all occurred in my anticipation. I made my way to the door, excitement pulsing through my body. The chance I would utterly embarrass myself was high. She would probably have a boyfriend by now or think I was weird for seeking her out. She may consider me a jerk by rejecting her as a lover wit the “let’s stay friends” bit. Or she may not see whatever she saw in me to being with and find me, as I was, in a league lower than hers. But I was through with being alone without risking rejection. I knocked on the door. A little blond boy who I’ve never seen before answered. I leaned down slightly and asked him if Jenny lived there. Shaking his head, the boy told me no, not any more. Opportunity missed. I dragged myself back to the car and headed home.