I’ve been alive for 32 years, and I’ve spent way too many of them thinking about boys.
I’m not speaking for all women, or justifying this behavior, or saying that I’ve been any kind of successful whatever-the-opposite-of-a-ladies-man-is. But since I was about 7 and developed my first crush (strangely enough, on one of my Dad’s softball buddies), boys have taken up anywhere from 60 to 90% of my brainspace.
My Dad’s softball friend, who was a grown man named John, was the coolest man who had ever lived, with an easy laugh and a thick 80s mustache. I would do cartwheels in front of him until I was dizzy, my exhaustion an adorable forebear to the years ahead. What did John do to deserve this? Most likely, he was just nicer to me than he was to my older sister, and in return he got to feel really awkward/charmed when a pudgy, pig-tailed little girl threw tantrums when she couldn’t sit next to him after a game.
This continued in elementary school, when I found myself inexplicably wanting to run my hands through the floppy “skater cut” hair of my classmate Vince, and through middle school, where my hobby was to pick, out of any group of human beings I happened to be surrounded by, the one boy I would “crush on.”
I have distinct memories of thinking “Well, he’s not that cute, but I have to crush on somebody,” before directing all my attention to a pimply, gangly kid who happened to be wearing a Megadeth T-shirt.
And I wasn’t alone. My friends and I developed a secret language, full of shorthand and various inflections (similar to Mandarin Chinese), that we used to describe our attempts to get boys to notice us. We were obsessive, spending day and night talking about whether or not Chris happened to look at you, or if Matt seemed to be having a bad day because he didn’t join his usual crew outside of the cafeteria. Had we focused our energies on something like solving world hunger, we would have knocked it out in a week.
We took these boys and non-sexually fetishized them to the point of being objects for us to catalogue. My first experiences in using critical thinking skills, in fact, were most likely used to figure out if Travis and Brandy were still dating, or if he was back on the market.
I started dating in high school, if the non-touchy, non-talky boyfriends of middle school don’t count (and they don’t), and even that didn’t seem to improve my boy OCD much. Moments not spent with the boy I was dating were spent wondering what he was doing, or wondering if it was time to trade him in for a new model. Best friends would be around, because I had to have someone to discuss my relationships with, but they took backseats to the dickheads I happened to think were cute for that particular week. They were fine with that, as they were wearing the same blinders as me.
How did this happen? I didn’t have an absentee father to blame it on -- my Dad was/is ever-present and awesome. I could blame it on pop culture’s obsession with “the love story,” which I’d been seeing in books, movies, and TV since birth, but that feels like a cop out. I could blame it on my Southern upbringing, where the idea that you need a man to make you complete was a constant, gentle song in the air, but I don’t think that’s just a Southern thing, and that too feels like a cop out.
Instead, I choose to believe that I’m just an obsessive person by nature, and this was the first thing my brain landed on. It felt good to have someone who wasn’t required by moral codes being nice to me, and all I wanted was more more more.
I’m a nerd in the classic sense that if I enjoy something, it means I NEED TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT THAT THING RIGHT NOW AND I WILL NOT STOP UNTIL I DO. My whole life I’ve been obsessed with movies, video games, birds, highly dramatic book series, and apparently, boys, but only one of those obsessions brings clucking, girl power judgment upon my head. (Or maybe two.)
If a movie had been as nice to me as to me as mustachioed John, perhaps I’d be a world-renowned movie critic now, instead of a girl who can still recall all the songs that a boy named Shannon dedicated to me on the radio in 6th grade.
I’m married now, and very happily, and it recently occurred to me that perhaps one of the reasons some women are constantly focused on “snagging a man” is that it frees up some of our brain space.
It’s not that we need a man to be complete, it’s just that for some of us, we’ve been obsessive social ethnographers for so long, that falling in love feels like not only a wonderful gushy gorgeous thing, but also the completion of many years of research. Falling in love is the equivalent to discovering the Holy Grail for Indy Jones... not that it’s the centerpiece of your entire being, but damnit, the obsessive itch you’ve had for years is now scratched.
It’s not that I don’t think about how to make my husband happy, because I do, frequently, but I devote perhaps 30 percent of my brain to such obsessions, while the other 70 percent is focused on my work and my life. My nerdy obsessive powers have been freed to focus their laser-like accuracy onto other things, like politics, working out, writing, more pop culture and new book series.
Had I thought about this years ago, when I was still single, perhaps I would have had the wherewithal to realize that it’s not about the boys themselves, but rather the neurotic, fixated bits of my brain chemistry and personality. Perhaps I would have pushed myself into karate, or a cooking class, or some other hobby I could bury myself in.
Or perhaps I would have ignored myself and continued to wonder if Sam was going to call.