It's enough to make you want to stop teaching kids poetry.
January 21, 2015 2:29 PM   Subscribe

 
If it makes these guys feel better, being on the receiving end of these "romantic gestures" sucked at least as much. And perhaps it's cute in 2nd grade, but by the time you get to college if you can't take "I no longer want to date you" for an answer without turning into a pseudo-stalker, you should probably stop dating until you become emotionally mature.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:47 PM on January 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


Men have often been accused of being unromantic, and the reason most of us are this way is because, 90 percent of the time, any kind of grand romantic gesture on our part ends with the woman being utterly terrified.

Confusing surprise grand gestures with romance is maybe part of their problem.
posted by wrabbit at 2:49 PM on January 21, 2015 [41 favorites]


In 4th grade I got my parents to buy me some fancy-pants special candy bar and then on Valentine's Day when we went around and put cards in little hanging folders on everyone's desks, I buttoned up my courage and put the candy bar in Mara DeWitt's folder with a little note, because I wanted her to love me forever.

I don't think she ever talked to me, either before or after, but, hey. Wings of wax, the sun, yadda yadda.
posted by kbanas at 2:54 PM on January 21, 2015


Tom, you douche. She was your actual friend who enjoyed spending time with you and all you can say is "ugh"? May your bottom be forever appealing to furious bees.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:55 PM on January 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


Ugh, so many of these stories gave me chills. That woman who changed her whole schedule to avoid the guy who gave her roses? Damn.

There's a sort of "aw shucks, look how cute and pathetic I was" tone to a lot of these stories that minimizes how truly, deeply creepy they may have come off to some of the women on the receiving end.
posted by ActionPopulated at 3:01 PM on January 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


I found most of these pretty mundane until I got to this one

I was seeing a girl at another college. When spring semester started, she abruptly stopped talking to me and didn't answer my phone calls or texts. I decided that in order to compel her to call me, the situation called for a romantic gesture.

So I sawed a tennis ball in half with a bread knife and put a small passport-sized picture of myself in the center of the tennis ball. I put it in a box with packing peanuts and NO NOTE and mailed this menacing little love trinket to her. It was not intended as a threat. Everyone I tell this story to says it is weird and creepy and stalkerish. Never occurred to me. I really had a gut feeling that this would get our relationship back on track.

A few weeks later I got her to talk to me on the phone. I was disappointed to find that her response to the sawed-in-half tennis ball was mostly confusion. So that was that. Never heard from her again.

posted by mannequito at 3:04 PM on January 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Ok but the one where the little kid sends the shitty love poem through the mail anonymously but puts his return address on it just in case, that was actually cute and hilarious, esp with the broken clay heart accident. The rest of them are skincrawly though, especially one guy who talks about a fellow 4th grader as "the hottest girl in school".
posted by poffin boffin at 3:05 PM on January 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


I didn't read a whole lot of these, but the ones I did read make the response in this thread seem a little overheated. Some highschool kid sends another highschool kid a mixtape or a poem and that's "stalkerish" behavior which proves the kid doesn't genuinely understand romance? I mean, if you persevere with such gestures when it's been made clear that they're unwanted then, sure, that's "stalkerish"--but writing someone a poem or sending them a mixtape is not, in itself, an aggressive or unreasonable action.

Any time you declare you feelings to another person you're putting them in an awkward position, of course, because they have to either say "yes" or make you unhappy, so there's an unavoidable element of coercive pressure simply in the declaration. But if simply revealing to someone that you're smitten and that you hope that they are too becomes verboten on those grounds how will any two people ever become an item?
posted by yoink at 3:24 PM on January 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


you should probably stop dating until you become emotionally mature.

While true, that's not how it seems from inside the box of desperately wanting to participate in dating for no particular reason.

These stories were exceedingly painful to read in part because they remind me too much of things I did and/or very nearly did. Ugh.

Tom, you douche. She was your actual friend who enjoyed spending time with you and all you can say is "ugh"?

It is possible that it was written from the POV of then-Tom when now-Tom realizes very well that he was being an idiot. Maybe Tom remains an idiot. It could be either.
posted by GuyZero at 3:26 PM on January 21, 2015 [5 favorites]




It's ridiculous to say that I don't want anyone to ever say that they're in love! Love is great. Crushes are great. Awkwardly having crushes and expressing love is great! But these sorts of "Aw shucks, I was so out of it I accidentally stalked someone! Oh whoops, once I realized she didn't love me, I decided we could never be friends!" stories aren't particularly endearing.

I'm just thinking of my childhood, often being (what I thought was) best friends with boys only to have them suddenly spring 3rd grade love or 6th grade love or 11th grade love on me and get really angry and never speak to me again after I said that I wasn't in love with them, I just genuinely enjoyed playing Star Wars pretend/playing Animorphs pretend/being lab partners and having nerf gun battles with them. And my college boyfriend who would not accept that we were broken up and kept trying to do romantic things like stand outside my window and sing Beatles songs every morning for a week, or call me 5 or 6 times a day and leave poetry on my voicemail, or wait for me outside classes with flowers to try to convince me that it wasn't really over. There's got to be a better way to do Romantic Things than that sort of foolishness.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:36 PM on January 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


It is possible that it was written from the POV of then-Tom when now-Tom realizes very well that he was being an idiot.

I realize that Tom uses the "friendzone" word, which is mostly used by douches who are describing this as some kind of deliberate ploy by women (they "place" men in the "friendzone" so as to extract lap-dog like devotion from them without giving them the romantic connection their friendship "deserves" etc.). But while the term is certainly suspect, the situation Tom describes is perfectly reasonable. That is, it's a genuinely painful thing to be in a relationship where one of you is romantically smitten and the other person wants to be "just friends." You might know that being that person's friend is a great thing in itself (and we don't know that Tom ceased being friends with this girl after his futile romantic gesture), but that doesn't make the situation in itself any easier or inherently happier. Viola in Twelfth Night is not being a douchebag because she loves the Duke and he doesn't (yet) love her. Kristin Scott-Thomas's character in Four Weddings and Funeral is not being a douchebag because she loves the Hugh Grant character even though he can only give her friendship etc. etc. What Tom describes and the response he has to his declaration of love are perfectly reasonable. What would be unreasonable and douchey would be if he turned that around into an attack on the girl. But he doesn't in the piece given in the article.
posted by yoink at 3:37 PM on January 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


expressing love is great! But these sorts of "Aw shucks, I was so out of it I accidentally stalked someone!

I'm just trying to figure out where you're drawing that line in the incredibly narrow place between "expressing love is great!" and "sending someone a mixtape is stalking!"

No one is disagreeing with you that continuing such gestures after you've broken up with someone or after they've made it clear they're uninterested veers pretty quickly into stalker behavior. But that's not what most of these stories seem to be about.
posted by yoink at 3:40 PM on January 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't think I ever said that sending someone a mixtape is stalking?

The point of my initial comment was meant to be "It was just as awkward for the girls you were being awkwardly romantic at in 4th grade!" with a side of "Really, college kid? You couldn't figure out that sending your ex a tennis ball sawed in half with your face in the middle was going to come off as weird?"
posted by ChuraChura at 3:44 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's not really classes for boys or girls about how to properly express their love or interest. When we were teenagers, most of us get by on trial and error, images we've gleaned from media or the bad advice of well-meaning friends.

I read these stories with this in mind and felt that most of them are failed romantic gestures coupled with the first discovery that certain kinds of romantic gestures are (in fact) stalking. There's a certain writing method used in trying to create the mental context of their earlier selves in the stories that can sometimes be misread as "And I still think this way," but I think the main point of these stories is "Whoa, I fucked up, this is why I fucked up, I recognize I fucked up, and I don't intend to ever repeat that fuck up."

I mean, when you're 16, completely inexperienced and desperately in love and your only point of reference for how to behave is "Say Anything," you're going to behave like an idiot. Its like people who watch "24" and leave thinking "say, torture is a pretty good idea."
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:44 PM on January 21, 2015 [18 favorites]


But, yeah, sawed in half tennis ball?

I was an insane 16 year old and even I know that package would have been blown up by the FBI to protect the post office.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:45 PM on January 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


I don't think I ever said that sending someone a mixtape is stalking?

I think we're talking past each other a bit. You were focusing on one particular narrative which you found troubling. I was talking about the responses in the thread which suggest that collectively these are creepy, stalkerish stories. There are certainly some creepy stories in this collection, but my point was that most of them are stories about someone sending someone a poem (or poems) or making them a mixtape. And that those stories (i.e., what seem to be the general run of the stories in the piece) aren't particularly creepy or stalkerish--they're just typical awkward teenager stuff.
posted by yoink at 3:51 PM on January 21, 2015


Someone link the banjo thread in the comments over there.


(Because, also, at the end of the day the guy was a good sport and came around to, "wow, yeah, you're right, that's weird.")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:55 PM on January 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


And that's when these guys, being humiliated after having been too transparent and tender, swing to the other side of the pendulum and start getting into pickup artist stuff instead.
posted by shivohum at 3:57 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, those poor men, forced by an uncaring and cold world to treat women like objects instead of human beings! If only those girls been nicer to the guys who were scaring them as teenagers, I guess we know exactly where the blame really lies.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:01 PM on January 21, 2015 [28 favorites]


I find most of the stories harmlessly embarrassing or boundary-crossing in a clueless if well-intentioned way. But the tennis ball one...what in the world is going on there? Did the guy omit some key piece of information like how one of them is a tennis player or tennis fan? I'm concerned about that guy's mental health.
posted by yasaman at 4:06 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Emotional transparency: "Hi Amy, I like you. Would you like to go on a date with me?"

Emotional opacity: "Hi Amy, here is a mixtape that secretly encodes all of my feelings for you."
posted by muddgirl at 4:06 PM on January 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


How do you trick someone into accidentally boarding a Caribbean-bound jet? Multiple times, even.
posted by lollusc at 4:08 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


That was an Onion article.
posted by JHarris at 4:09 PM on January 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


And that's when these guys, being humiliated after having been too transparent and tender, swing to the other side of the pendulum and start getting into pickup artist stuff.

Guys, did we all read the same stuff? Because the sense I got from the stories was that these guys were coming more from a tongue-in-cheek place, and the tone I was getting from them wasn't "damn her for not liking me SCREW ALL WOMEN", but rather "oh my god I was such an enormous doof what was I thinking".

Also, the average age for the guys at the time the stories actually happened was when they were TWELVE. Tweens are not known for either their restraint or their sense, and these are probably more like the moments where they learned "whoa, girls actually don't like this shit after all, got it."

Yes, it can be creepy for the girls sometimes. But sometimes it isn't, and sometimes even if it is, it isn't always emotionally scarring for life. And yeah, the tennis-ball thing is just weird. But very few of these read like "the birth of a young stalker" or anything, more like "let us all point and laugh at how much of a stupid doof I was".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:10 PM on January 21, 2015 [41 favorites]


The romantic impulse is some sort of sanity eraser. Oh, and a major mind candy, often having nothing to do with another individual. Then the daydreamer with the poor boundary awareness is surprised and hurt when the object is not involved, just a bystander to mild psychosis, and states so plainly.
posted by Oyéah at 4:11 PM on January 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well, all I have to say is that I (female) have also made my share of failed romantic gestures as well as having been on the receiving end of them (mocking the anonymous really bad love poetry I received in the presence of friends, one of whom I subsequently discovered was the sender - I still feel bad about that one). Most of these seemed like one-off gestures to try to work out whether there was the basis for anything else. Some are definitely creepy and weird.

But honestly, being a teenager was full of all sorts of obsessive thoughts and mooning after people from afar. The desired sex is usually a complete mystery and you're forced to rely on popular culture and/or well-meaning advice from your friends as to how to deal with it. Is it any wonder things backfire?

I really feel for the guy with the oboe. His dad just let him go ahead with it. How excruciating!
posted by Athanassiel at 4:12 PM on January 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Ok, I'll admit it: if a guy hacked a tennis ball in half with a bread knife, put his photo in it, and wordlessly sent it to me in a mess of packing peanuts, I would totally go out on one more date with him, if only so he could explain to me what the fuck sort of metaphor he fancied he was going for.
posted by holborne at 4:13 PM on January 21, 2015 [32 favorites]


Yes, those poor men, forced by an uncaring and cold world to treat women like objects instead of human beings!

Who sends poems or mixtapes or other declarations of love to objects? Again, this just seems like a desperate attempt to apply a script that really doesn't seem to be in play here. I don't see any "blaming" of the girl in these stories. None of them, that I've seen, seem to end with "and you know what, even after I did ALL THAT the bitch STILL wouldn't date me!"

Emotional transparency: "Hi Amy, I like you. Would you like to go on a date with me?"

Emotional opacity: "Hi Amy, here is a mixtape that secretly encodes all of my feelings for you."


Well sure, but that, again, doesn't make the mixtape coercive or objectifying or "stalkerish" (the last thing stalkers are is "opaque"). And, really, if you receive a mixtape full of love songs from someone at highschool, just how "opaque" a gesture is that? The sender might be trying to cling desperately to the tiniest shred of plausible deniability, but as these stories show, they can't even fool themselves that that works.
posted by yoink at 4:14 PM on January 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


I really feel for the guy with the oboe. His dad just let him go ahead with it. How excruciating!

Yeah, reading that one made me feel like I'd swallowed a bucket of live eels. I think I'll wake up at 2AM some mornings in a cold sweat just thinking of that story. How he ever manages to get through a whole night is beyond me.
posted by yoink at 4:17 PM on January 21, 2015


Woody Guthrie tells about a hard-workin' romance in Workin' Hard Blues.
posted by stinkfoot at 4:19 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought these were funny, mostly. The "thumbnail-face-picture shoe-drop" was hilarious. They all realise how ridiculous they were and I'm not seeing "stalker" as much as "influenced by romantic comedies to a surprising degree". They were buying roses and writing notes and making mix tapes, they weren't actually stalking anyone, and of course the girls had a right to say "nope no way" but I don't see many (any?) that refused to take no for an answer.

I say all this as having been on the receiving end, kinda. When I was 15 there was a guy at my school a couple of years older and every time he passed me he just did this intense stare thing but never talked to me. I got an anonymous valentine card but I didn't know if it was him or not. Then at the end of school year art exhibition I was walking round it with my friend when I saw one of his paintings and I was like "is that...me?" It looked really like me but I thought no, that would just be too weird, to paint someone you've never spoken to and put it in public. He graduated and I never saw him again, til about ten years later at a party. We were just having a "oh hi we went to the same school so how's life" kind of chat but I'd had a few drinks so I just said "look, this is weird, but I've always wondered - by any chance did you do a picture of me for your art exam?" I fully expected him to say don't be ridiculous. Instead - and bear in mind we had never spoken before, and he had total plausible deniability - he said "Yeah. But then I also used to go down to your house some nights and sit outside your bedroom window and write poetry". Even though we were now adults he thought I might find that charming rather than somewhat terrifying. At least these guys seem to have wised up.
posted by billiebee at 4:20 PM on January 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


I can't get over the tennis ball one. I don't even know how I would have reacted if it had been me.

But the clarinet guy. Oh man. His parents should have stopped him.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:21 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Our culture exalts and romanticizes the grand gesture, the one-in-a-hundred shot. It's shown us time and again movies in which the risky total baring of the soul is rewarded -- that's because they're romantic comedies, not tragedies.

The news shows us stories about the guy who proposed to his fiance on the Jumbotron and was accepted. That's selection bias: they're looking for uplifting end segments, not pieces that will send the viewer away sad.

They're both examples of an underlying problem with our mass media; even at those times when history isn't written by the victors, the successful is a hell of a lot more notable than the ordinary failure that permeates our world, so we hear about it a lot more than people messing up.
posted by JHarris at 4:22 PM on January 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


Seriously, you guys. This is going to drive me crazy. What was the reasoning behind the tennis ball thing?
posted by yasaman at 4:24 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a girl who was on the receiving end of these kinds of things and who had girl friends, I don't think stalking was even a concern. It was the horrible, awful stain of being liked by a guy who wasn't cool (by which I mean: younger, shorter, not as smart, into sports, not into sports, drummer, younger sibling of a more desirable older brother, or any one of 1,000 stupid reasons that changed daily) If we could've vaporized them with lasers to save face I'm sure we would have.

In summary, I laughed my way through this article. And now I wonder how many mix tapes I received were not just because "i heard you liked band x and thought you might like these too".
posted by fshgrl at 4:26 PM on January 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


What was the reasoning behind the tennis ball thing?

You're making a category error. "Reasoning" is not involved in this behavior.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:27 PM on January 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I didn't read a whole lot of these, but the ones I did read make the response in this thread seem a little overheated

Do you think the latter part might be related to the former part, maybe?
posted by dialetheia at 4:27 PM on January 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Who sends poems or mixtapes or other declarations of love to objects?

Everyone in the 90s, who wasn't old enough to buy alcohol?
posted by fshgrl at 4:33 PM on January 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


I was the victim of a pretty grand romantic gesture once!

When I was thirteen, my family moved halfway across the country, to a new and strange culture, shortly before I was to start high school. I was miserable and scared and totally out of my element, just trying to keep a low profile while I figured out my way around and stuff.

That didn't work. Shortly after school had started, I started getting anonymous, really over the top greeting cards in my locker, with money in them. Like $10 and $20. And this was like 1979, so it wasn't just a lot, but a lot lot.

And I was soooo scared. I put all the money aside in a safe place, so when a girl (who became my first local friend) approached me and told me she knew who was leaving them there, I asked her to thank him for the cards and give him the money back. Turned out he worked in the office and had pulled my files, so he knew all this stuff about me, and it kind of scared her, which is why she told me about it.

Anyways, the guy took offense to my returning the money, and HIS GIRLFRIEND took offense to the whole thing, and they were apparently very popular. He was some kind of football player--big huge guy--and his girlfriend was a cheerleader, so in the court of public opinion, I was pretty much the villain in this whole scenario. The whole cheerleading team and this one guy they hung out with would follow me around the halls calling me names, sometimes knocking me down, and one day, they grabbed me and pulled me into the girls' room and tried to stick my head in the toilet.

And when I did meet a boy I was actually sweet on, who was a kind of shy skinny nerd named Harold,* this guy started bullying him too, so we mutually agreed it just wasn't safe to talk to each other.

I stuck it out there for a while, until I was again bullied for rejecting a dude who tried to assault me on a school trip and everyone turned against me again and abandoned me in the middle of the night so I had to wake my parents up to have them come rescue me.

I am aware that there was something about me that attracted a disproportionate number of scary dudes, but I still think that it would serve adolescent boys well to understand that girls are leery of certain behaviors for good reasons. And it's usually not because you're not cool or cute enough.

* Harold later went to prison for armed bank robbery, which probably doesn't fit into the narrative, but I would feel remiss if I left that out.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:34 PM on January 21, 2015 [40 favorites]


Do you think the latter part might be related to the former part, maybe?

No, because I decided to read the rest of them to see if I was missing all the evil evil "stalking" and they continue in pretty much the same vein. Highschool kid makes sweeping romantic gesture and it fails, current self laughs at young man for being such a doofus. Stalking that aint.

What was the reasoning behind the tennis ball thing?


I think the idea was "create enigma and have ME as solution to enigma; she will then realize that I am the missing piece in the puzzle of her life!" You know: you open the box and there's packing peanuts. You think "hmmm, someone is sending me something fragile." You explore further and "what's this? It's a tennis ball! That's not fragile! Is there anything else in this box? No? How extraordinarily interesting and intriguing. I am very, very intrigued and interested and my respect for the sender's ability to intrigue and interest me is soaring! Hey, wait a moment. Hold the phone. The tennis ball is CUT IN HALF!!! My intrigue levels have soared to previously unexplored heights. Someone has sent me not just the Dadaesque puzzle of a tennis ball wrapped in packing peanuts, but a tennis ball that has been CUT IN HALF and thus rendered useless as a tennis ball, wrapped in packing peanuts. This is a riddle wrapped in...well...packing peanuts! Let me see if there is anything further in this ball. OH MY GOD IT IS A PHOTO OF WOSSNAME!! Oh, what interesting, thought-provoking fun this adventure has been! Oh, Wossname. Clearly I cast you aside too thoughtlessly. Our love now can only grow and grow and grow until it becomes a thing of legend."

And scene.
posted by yoink at 4:39 PM on January 21, 2015 [26 favorites]


Oh wow, the tennis ball guy. Even his introduction to his story is mega-creepy: "I decided that in order to compel her to call me, the situation called for a romantic gesture." Compel her? This seems to be part of the logic of the grand romantic gesture, that doing such a big romantic public thing is such a big deal that it will override her normal brain functioning and force her into your arms somehow. I feel like if these guys understood that girls think just like they do, since they're normal functioning human beings, they wouldn't ever believe this sort of thing would work.

I tend to agree that most of these are coming from a place of having moved past such cluelessness, but there are definitely a few really creepy stories. The friendzone guy (you'll get no benefit of the doubt from me on that term, because it's a 100% perfect indicator for me so far), the tennis ball guy, the guy who made her transfer to a new class, and the guy who made her transfer to a new school... really anyone who did the creepy secret admirer thing all made me feel really bad for the girls involved. Finding out her schedule and going to all of her classes, leaving unsigned public indicators of your attraction to her.. that stuff is not acceptable. It would make lots of girls feel super threatened to know that somebody is attracted to them and knows where they are at all times, but they have no idea who it is.
posted by dialetheia at 4:43 PM on January 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Oh my god, thank you yoink. That makes...a certain amount of sense, I guess. Enough for me to get closure at any rate!
posted by yasaman at 4:46 PM on January 21, 2015


I spent grades 1-12 too shy to talk to girls I liked. But in preschool I distinctly remember telling a classmate matter-of-factly that I liked everything about her, even the way she went to the bathroom, and I remember that she was okay with that. So not a grand romantic gesture gone wrong, but an honest-creepy-healthy-weird attempt to build a relationship gone right. Thank goodness we ended up in different school systems in the end.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:49 PM on January 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah, the friendzone one has this air of straight up resentment to it that makes it really, really hard for me to read that dude as someone who started out as a Nice Guy and then grew up. Phrases like "and it HAUNTS ME to this DAY" and "'one of the girls.' Ugh." make me think that dude did not, in fact, realize that his teenage self was an enormous tool. I'm glad someone else said something; that one in particular made me sit up and go "oh wow not funny story of silly things I did as a kid, not funny at ALL." And then I got to the dude who apparently freaked out all of the teachers on behalf of this girl he was stalking.

Which is not to say they're all horrible, either. The poor fellow whose friend crashed his SUV with all his great picnic stuff inside and then wound up with a terrible 20 minute park date? He sounds like a decent dude with really amazingly appalling luck. And a lot of the other ones--the dork who left notes in what he thought was the girl he liked's cubby, the kid whose friends wrote a letter to Elizabeth for him, and the dude who gave his girlfriend a cut-up picture of JUST HIS FACE? Yeah, those are just teenagers being teenagers. It's the mix of bitter or terrifying stuff amid all this ha-ha what a dork I was banal stories that made me sit up and go "wow", actually, because I wasn't as primed to expect it.
posted by sciatrix at 4:54 PM on January 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Worth reading just to see the phrase: "menacing little love trinket."
posted by kisch mokusch at 4:56 PM on January 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah, the friendzone one has this air of straight up resentment to it that makes it really, really hard for me to read that dude as someone who started out as a Nice Guy and then grew up.

Actually, fair enough. I went back and re-read it and the phrase that really leaped out at me was the "as a horribly shy, chubby, no-confidence-whatsoever high school male, I had no idea how to even begin to fix this" one. That certainly suggests a "but now, of course, I know the ten essential steps you must take to make every woman a slave to your desires" outlook. The situation wasn't something that could be "fixed" by using the right "techniques." That one, I'll grant you, ends up living up to the "friendzone" suckiness.
posted by yoink at 5:03 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


But in preschool I distinctly remember telling a classmate matter-of-factly that I liked everything about her, even the way she went to the bathroom

I just watched the movie Wetlands (based on the novel which I haven't read). Without giving too much away, your preschool romantic approach resonates nicely with the film, even if it didn't resonate with the object of your affections.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:07 PM on January 21, 2015


> Emotional transparency: "Hi Amy, I like you. Would you like to go on a date with me?"

Emotional opacity: "Hi Amy, here is a mixtape that secretly encodes all of my feelings for you."
Honestly, I wish it were this simple. But humans want to save face, and teens doubly so.

I made out with a friend of mine one evening when I was 15, and proceeded to spend the next year of my life calling her at least twice a week. Usually we just talked, but occasionally I'd ask her out and get to hear some elaborate excuse as to why she couldn't.

And yet I kept trying. In part to try to solve the puzzle (“why would she have kissed me if she didn’t actually like me?”), but also in part because if I had just said, “Hey, what’s the deal? How do you feel about me?” I knew, subconsciously, I wouldn’t have gotten an answer that I liked. Fifteen-year-old me did not have the courage to ask that question. And fifteen-year-old her, bless her, likely didn’t have the heart to volunteer that information, and also figured that declining my ask-outs twenty times in a row would send the correct message.

It’s like the “Idiot Plot” trope on sitcoms where there’s some farcical misunderstanding, and none of the characters ever utter the one explanatory sentence that would make the whole plot topple. Except that in my case, and in some of these anecdotes, the emotional vagueness is strategic. Poor strategy, of course, because on one hand the crusher wants to be able to play off the attempt if the crushee is not receptive (ha ha, I was just putting my arm around you as a joke, wasn’t that funny), but on the other hand the Romantic Act is just so clumsily conceived and/or executed that the crusher’s “subtlety” comes off as mortifyingly blatant to everyone but the crusher.

Many of these anecdotes are creepy, and I’m not arguing otherwise. Grand gestures do not romance make. But some people intuit that fact, and some people learn it the hard way. I’m willing to bet that the people who have enough self-awareness to write these things and send them to Deadspin are the ones we don’t need to worry about. The ones I worry about are those who may still be making the grand gestures as adults without realizing that they should be embarrassed.
posted by savetheclocktower at 5:29 PM on January 21, 2015 [15 favorites]


The tennis ball story brought to mind The Velvet Underground's "The Gift" (link to Wikipedia page). So yeah. That's all I'm ever going to think about when I think about grand romantic gestures now. That should be the cautionary tale that is played for everyone ever considering such a thing.

I think some of these stories -- especially most of the elementary school ones -- were kind of adorably clueless. Others were just creepy (the guy with the roses who made the girl change classes! wow!). Ultimately, though, too many felt like these people were still trying to make themselves the heroes of their own stories. Too much lack of self-awareness.

I mean, come on, I've given people coded mixtapes/CDs or gifts that were meant to mean something really important. We were all stupid teenagers. I get it. But I can look back and I know I was being dumb and the other party was completely justified in rejecting me. I didn't get the impression that most of these people were doing the same from these stories.
posted by darksong at 5:44 PM on January 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Many of these anecdotes are creepy, and I’m not arguing otherwise.

Just to be clear, I agree with this. The ones who come across as currently creepy (especially the Friendzone bro, tennis ball dude and the guys who made girls move classes/schools) are in the minority of this set of anecdotes.

That said, to put a different spin on this, naive or well meaning creepiness that is later recognized as such by the (hopefully former) creeper can, of course, still be pretty creepy for the person on the receiving end. The fact that our culture encourages this sort of behavior (Liam Neeson in Love Actually encouraging his 8 year old stepson to break airport security rules to tell his 8 year old crush how he feels?) explains but doesn't excuse this behavior. It would be great if there was some sort of way for young people to learn how not to be creepers beyond trial and error.

Though I really do think the happy ending for the storytellers to most of these stories is "Oh shit, thank Cthulu I'm not like that anymore," many of these stories would have a very different tenor if told from the girls on the receiving end of the romantic gestures.

These are stories about mistakes and failures. Its good to see that many of the people who made these mistakes learned from them and, hopefully, didn't repeat them.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:46 PM on January 21, 2015


Oh my god, every single story resonates with me because I am stuck at the twelve year old stage of development that simply does not know how get the attention of a gal I might fancy. Probably going to an all boys catholic high school had to do something with it, but I spent my junior high years terrified by not understanding the rules of talking to girls. Fortunately I was far too chicken to act out on any of my stupid ideas for telling a girl that I um, like liked them.

Later in life, every single person I ever dated approached me. Fortunately I actually liked most of them back and ended up with someone who's actually a suitable life mate.

In summary, I avoided the whole thing, I'm pretty screwed up, but it all turned out ok.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:55 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


For something so important in life, I sometimes wonder why we don't just have basic courting classes sometime around middle school that say "Yeah, don't do this. Instead, try this thing."
posted by underflow at 6:25 PM on January 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


if simply revealing to someone that you're smitten and that you hope that they are too becomes verboten on those grounds how will any two people ever become an item?

Oh god, how fucking hard is it to just ask someone out without doing grand romantic gestures? How long does it fucking take to realize that romantic gestures are for when you are ALREADY IN A ROMANCE, not for when you're the creepy fucking stalker?
posted by corb at 6:38 PM on January 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Depends, corb - are you an adult who should know better, or are you a twelve or thirteen year old that no one's talked to about this kind of thing evr and so you don't know?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:07 PM on January 21, 2015 [16 favorites]


I guess the better question is, why has no one ever talked to you about this thing ever? Where are your parents? (And I'll note for a lot of these guys, they are in high school/college and have access to other material)
posted by corb at 7:13 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Where are your parents?

Very actively avoiding talking to their children about anything remotely related to s-e-x.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:17 PM on January 21, 2015 [16 favorites]


For something so important in life, I sometimes wonder why we don't just have basic courting classes sometime around middle school that say "Yeah, don't do this. Instead, try this thing."

We used to. If you liked someone you asked them to a dance or for a walk in the garden after dinner or to the prom or wrangled a formal introduction or gave them a calling card or whatever. Debutante balls, asking permission to court, sleigh rides, Valentine's cards, harvest dances etc. 7-12 year olds aren't exactly masters of the art though, which is what makes this article so funny.

I'm pretty sure at that age I was 75% sure if I had a boyfriend we'd have to get married evantually. I was very frustrated that my first choice in our tiny rural school wasn't interested, leaving me the clearly inferior 6 year old bachelor's 2, 3 & 4.
posted by fshgrl at 7:21 PM on January 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


if simply revealing to someone that you're smitten and that you hope that they are too becomes verboten on those grounds how will any two people ever become an item?

Could be that's a feature not a bug.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:28 PM on January 21, 2015


I actually think it's creepy that they published that girl Elizabeth's full name! Putting that story online is some kind of horrible revenge plot.
posted by leesh at 7:29 PM on January 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I want to hear some women's shitty romantic gesture stories. I know they're out there.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:32 PM on January 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


When I was 16 my birth mother gave me an assignment: I had to tell 5 girls that I liked them. It didn't even have to be true, but I had to present it sincerely.

This led to me being in a sexual relationship pretty quickly (probably earlier than I was really ready for), but it really cut through the bullshit and taught me how simple all this stuff could potentially be (despite the complicated intense and distracting hormones that were going on, which are of course another thing entirely and weren't really the fault, responsibility, or concern of the young ladies around me).
posted by idiopath at 7:51 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


"I know they're out there"

I don't know about shitty, but I've been on the receiving side of more than a few that at least count as awkward:

A woman passed a note under my door, but it was the wrong door. I finally found the note under a pile of clothes that were mildewing from a leak in the roof in a closet I rarely opened. We did actually end up dating - she thought I was just silently ignoring her note until I made a move.

Another woman asked coyly to borrow a disposable camera that I never got around to developing. Years later I found out that it had contained a bunch of nudes.

A girl at a party asked to borrow the notebook I had with me. A couple days later I discovered that she had inscribed what amounted to a proposition. I never saw her again.

I came home to discover that a woman who I had been flirting with pretty intensely had visited while I was out, and covered my toilet with big purple lipstick kisses (drugs were involved).
posted by idiopath at 8:01 PM on January 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Okay, is here where I admit my own romantic overture? Yes, yes it is, other Barry.

So, I asked someone out by fabricating one of the cards Matt Smith's Doctor sends his companions in one of the season openers. Keep in mind, this was in college. It was very politely turned down and we remain friends, so... yeah, no actual regrets, honestly.

I'm still not really embarrassed by the whole thing because 1) I fabricated it really well, down to the color and shape and 2) the recipient was even more of a Doctor Who obsessive than I am.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:02 PM on January 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


underflow: "For something so important in life, I sometimes wonder why we don't just have basic courting classes sometime around middle school that say "Yeah, don't do this. Instead, try this thing.""

It's called cotillion. You learn to foxtrot. It's not much help.

Potomac Avenue: "I want to hear some women's shitty romantic gesture stories."

I mostly wrote poetry at young men that I thought had "poetic souls" but now I realize probably just had anger problems.

But one of the reasons NOT to be straightforward in junior high and high school is a very good one and extremely strategically smart: You have to spend the next few-to-several years in a hothouse with this same group of people. You're going to lose an enormous amount of face and social status by saying, "Hey, I like you, do you like me?" if the answer is no (because primates like social hierarchies), so it makes a lot more sense to send people subtle messages like poems and mix tapes and secret admirer candygrams to test the waters and see if there's any interest. You can't escape a straightforward declaration gone awry because you can't leave the community, but you can maintain some plausible deniability if you approach it side-on and opaquely.

The worst problems arise when this teenaged impulse to protect oneself by approaching obliquely combines with the equally teenaged desire to BARE YOUR SOUL COMPLETELY OF ALL ITS HUMONGOUS EMOTIONS. Then we get clarinet boy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:08 PM on January 21, 2015 [34 favorites]


I want to hear some women's shitty romantic gesture stories. I know they're out there.

Okay, I'll bite. When I was in first grade, about 7, I developed a serious crush on an older boy. I can't remember, he may have been a third or fourth grader. Anyway, I developed a little package of tokens to show my admiration: a piece of rock candy and a red button shaped like a heart. I have no memory of how I gave it to him, but it can't have been in person because I know I was heartbroken later when I heard that he had cheerfully eaten the rock candy and then tried to eat the button, thinking it was candy too, then spat it out when he realised it wasn't.

Reader, he spat out my HEART and I never loved again.

No, not really.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:13 PM on January 21, 2015 [21 favorites]


I have a lot to say about this. I'll keep it to two things only because I stopped after the clarinet story - I couldn't go on. I was so shy I would have thought "I could learn a lot from that clarinet guy."

First: The stories that resonated most with me involved friends. All of my crushes/almost girlfriends/brief girlfriends from teen through college were "friends" AND within a very tight friend group. Like 5-12 people small friend group. School, class, and taste in pop culture-driven social stratification led to very small friend groups.

What was at stake then was not getting rejected by a romantic prospect and then moving on - it was social exclusion. The awkwardness and vulnerability of professing romantic love and getting denied was combined with a fear of breaking bonds of friendship. The pain starts with the rejection from the object of desire - then increases when faced with cold stares from all our friends the next day.

The first of two options is the overly casual, opaque, or secret gestures of affection. That goes only so far, and sometimes is reciprocated in equally casual or opaque ways, and then what? After being friends for all of high school Ally Sheldon and I (not her real name) mysteriously ended up holding hands during that movie junior year and what then? Nothing. The ante is upped but the game has no winner, we just got dealt another hand.

The other option: the gesture so grand and ridiculous it can be laughed off as a joke if it doesn't work. It's social brinkmanship - but it's just crazy enough that it might work but if it doesn't it there's plausible deniability. It's the prom date ask that's so over the top it can be a comment about how stupid prom date asks are. C'mon guys, we're all just going to prom as a group of friends, after all. Pink carnations are for wusses, I only buy red ones.

On to my second point. About the crazy gestures, tennis balls cut in half, etc. At some level we knew it would fail. We wanted it too. We knew there are people out there who can do these things - talk to girls, be vulnerable without looking like idiots, appeal to love without making ourselves objects of pity. We are not those people. The stupidity of the plan is both a handicap and a test. It's an admission that there's no hope here. It's also the hail-mary pass - if it does work, then the other is either supremely generous, or (gasp) one of us, found at last.
posted by sol at 8:50 PM on January 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


I want to hear some women's shitty romantic gesture stories. I know they're out there.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:32 PM on January 21 [1 favorite +] [!]


Well it's not exactly a romantic gesture, but I distinctly remember being at a house party of internet nerds round about 96 or 97 when I would have been 15-16. I remember it as while I was waiting out on the curb for my Mum to pick me up the very drunk girl who had been more or less throwing herself at me (she had jumped into my lap more than once) all night was literally hanging on me. Trying to convince me to stay longer at the party, who would know what might happen etc. As my mother pulled up in her car my erstwhile suitress doubled over and expressed her undying love in a stream of vomit.

Left quite the impression on me. When i got into the car mum asked if she was okay. I said that she was, but likely to be terribly embarrassed in the morning.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:58 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


And goodness, what sort of insane person talks to their parents about their highschool crushes. Such an idea is obscene.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:59 PM on January 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


I really enjoyed the adorably awkward stories from elementary school. I have many fond memories of my best friend at that age. His weren't grand public gestures, we were both too shy for that. I do still remember the roses are red style poem, and I still have the plush mouse. We were horribly teased in the playground just for being boy/girl best friends. And we were so terribly awkward!

Later, in middle school, I was guilty of horrible poems composed mainly of mashed together song lyrics, mailed "anonymously" to a guy who was my father's co-worker's kid. Of course all the parents and his sister knew it was me. And of course, they embarrassed us with it. His parents actually hung one on their fridge! Thankfully, I was just visiting for the summer, so my humiliation didn't last too long.
posted by MuChao at 10:19 PM on January 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Though as a very thin and relatively open with my emotions, and indeterminate sexuality guy I've spent more time dealing with unwanted attention from the same sex. The boy that followed me home one night, yes literally - he was asleep on the lounge when I was heading of to work, got a couple of follow up dates purely for his dedication. More problematic was the housemate who decided he was in love with me, who couldn't understand normal human speak like 'fuck off' and 'you're really starting to freak me out now' and 'I don't want to be your boyfriend, why can't you understand this?'

We're still good friends, but I can really do without the several years of being told that I don't understand my own desires, having to argue that I'm not actually gay. Hell even if I was gay I'd probably not be interested in him. So I moved. Unfortunately there is only so many places to move in Australia.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 1:31 AM on January 22, 2015


Talk about transparent vs opaque advances. I was about six when a boy in my class whom I hadn't really noticed before took my hand on the playground and lead me, literally, behind the bike shed to show me his dick. My response was something like "Uhhh, OK? Thanks, I guess, idk?" He may as well have given me a dead mouse as a token of his affection for all it endeared me to him. Admittedly, I was a total little lesbian, so that may have had something to do with it. But he took it in his stride that I happily skipped off to continue doing whatever the hell I was doing on that playground in the first place because that was the end of his overtures. No harm, no foul, sweet little guy!
posted by moody cow at 3:40 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


The (okay, a, like one of many)problem is, that my general overture would be "Hey, d'you wanna get a drink sometime?" or even Lunch/Dinner or whatever. As A kid you can't do that, because no drinks and also, if you did go out for dinner with said member of the attractive sexes then it would automatically be "A Thing"

So, it leads to a great deal of awkwardness, because even if romance can be successfully established, where do you go from there?
If you are 12 hopefully not bed.

For completeness I have many stories of being on either end of awkward romantic gestures.
In one case, there was a girl I really liked, she also really liked me. She wrote me nice letters and once sent me a birthday card which was all black with black writing, which I liked very much. We never became a thing, because she was too shy (or something?) to talk face to face. I made my own share of odd gestures in that difficult and ultimately sadly doomed non-relationship.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:08 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


No harm, no foul, sweet little guy!

this is what dating is like in a perfect socialist utopia. "Hey check out my genitals. U like?'
"No thanks!" "OK, back to our fulfilling creative careers."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:43 AM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


I was way too shy for romantic gestures in high school, but I did just one, once, in college, so I'll share that if you're looking for the women's stories. I'd spent three weeks sort of dancing around the question of whether this guy and I were dating. We'd met on whatever the hell online dating site people were using in early 2000, so we we were both looking to date, and we'd gone on several dinner-and-movie or lunch-and-museum outings and were having fun hanging out but no one had made any moves on anyone and it was getting sort of ridiculous.

Oh, and also, IT WAS VALENTINE'S DAY and we were planning to go get some dinner together but like super-casual dinner so it was completely opaque whether this thing was a date, and I was starting to lose my mind about the whole thing.

So I got a single red rose. But I didn't GIVE it to him because I might have died of shyness. Instead I went to the parking lot where he parked at work and spent half an hour roaming it, in the cold rain, with my one red rose, trying to find his car, where I finally left the one red rose tucked under his windshield wiper in the rain, anonymously, and then I ran away and super-casually waited for him to mention it over IM.

Several hours later there were some very confused and slightly befuddled IMs asking if I had by any chance left it for him, and it was all very awkward. But we went out for pizza and he gave me a Nerf crossbow as a Valentine's day gift, and we decided retroactively that we had in fact been dating, so next week is our 15-year anniversary.

So - these things do work out sometimes, at least as committed awkwardly but well-intentionedly by women. But if I had it to do over again I'd either give him the damn flower in person or, who are we kidding I'm still too shy for that, but for god's sake I'd have left a damn note or something so he'd have known it was from me. Also I'd have paid more attention to the car model so it wouldn't have taken me quite so long to find the right car in that cold rainy parking lot.
posted by Stacey at 5:43 AM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


I want to hear some women's shitty romantic gesture stories. I know they're out there.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:32 PM on January 21 [has favorites +] [!]


I had a crush on my Erasmus tutor, and wondered if all my attempts to flirt at him were landing on the wrong side of the language and culture barrier. So totally ignoring the advice on German flirting imparted by WSH's Aurelie, one day during a walk in the park I kind of impulsively picked a flower, gave it to him and said, "I like you." No eye contact. I blushed like a red balloon as he explained to me he liked me too, but was not yet over his ex and would rather be friends.
posted by ipsative at 6:20 AM on January 22, 2015


If the tennis ball guy would have made one little addition to his creation, one tiny little thing, this might have only be remembered as a goofy and maybe little cute thing, and not the baffling, creepy thing it was.

Googly eyes.

With them, you're the guy who sent a fun little pal that she can put on her desk or dresser and she can make it say a lot of the dumb things you've said to her by squeezing the sides and imitating your voice, and maybe that gets her to laugh, and if you're lucky, it might be one of those laughs that means you might still have a chance to redeem yourself.

Without them, you're just a guy who eviscerated something fun and crawled inside.
posted by chambers at 6:22 AM on January 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


I want to hear some women's shitty romantic gesture stories. I know they're out there.

I knew a woman in college whose gesture to a mutual friend that she would like to start dating was to break into his dorm room, clean it immaculately, did his laundry, and left a pie she baked sitting on his coffee table before he came back from class.

It was a sweet, but very baffling, gesture that was only a little creepy. Had we all not known each other for a year and this was done by just some random person it would have been far more creepy.
posted by chambers at 6:32 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Without them, you're just a guy who eviscerated something fun and crawled inside.

Well, it worked for Han Solo.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:33 AM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


I want to hear some women's shitty romantic gesture stories. I know they're out there

ME: Did you get the mix full of romantic songs that I sent you [that I spent basically a month putting together]?
HIM (who, to be fair, I was actually dating): Oh yeah, I listened to it with a bunch of my friends

Rise and repeat
posted by likeatoaster at 7:08 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would watch the tragic sitcom of Bill's life.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:14 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I want to hear some women's shitty romantic gesture stories. I know they're out there.

I have a ton of them, but ~95% of them can be summed up by the story linked in the OP where the guy gets what he thought was a special, singular mix gifted to him by his crush, only to find out that she'd copied it for their entire circle of friends and he was the only one who responded in kind. So much of my life has been spent painstakingly crafting mix tapes and CDs for dudes who did and do not give any kind of fuck whatsoever. Even when I put "Somethin' Hot" on there. The mind reels.

But this one time my then-boyfriend went on tour for like a month and a half, and while he was gone, I put together a little hand-copied booklet of other people's poems about loving someone long-distance, with an accompanying mix that contained only songs with a similar theme. When he got back into town, I presented both things to him with a grand flourish alongside a lovingly home-cooked dinner, but he didn't even open or look at either gift at all. Instead, he just tucked them into the pocket of his hoodie and shrugged: "Oh, thanks." A week later, I found the booklet and mix poking out, still untouched, from under a pile of old magazines and pizza boxes in a corner of his bedroom. And a week after that, his ex-girlfriend sent me an email to let me know they had gotten back together and to please leave him alone so they could have some privacy. OK, maybe that wasn't shitty or failed so much as depressing, but it was the first and only time I ever gave a dude a book of poetry.

Another time I sent a dude the Bachelor bouquet, at work. Because watching "The Bachelor" had always been 'our thing,' and I thought we could bond over dying of laughter after it was delivered to what I assumed would be his desk. The note inside even said, "Will you accept this rose?" because I am a comedic genius. So I sent it via overnight delivery, and I was on tenterhooks ALL NIGHT. OMG! He was going to love it so much. And then... the delivery got held up in the mailroom, because the box was absolutely giant, and apparently they don't deliver boxes that large directly to people's desks. So I wound up having to ruin the surprise in order to prevent the roses from, like, rotting in their shipping box over the weekend. I'm still a little heartbroken that the bouquet never actually made it onto his desk for all his co-workers to admire; he just took it home. He did respond with a similarly humorous offer of a key to the fantasy suite. But I have not seen him since.

Other than that, the overwhelming majority of my shitty romantic gestures just wound up getting me laid. I don't know if that means they weren't truly shitty or if the guys I made them to were just really hard up? Eh, six of one, half a dozen of the other.
posted by divined by radio at 7:20 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


A woman who worked in another department at my place of work (which had hundreds of employees) for six months sent a farewell email to all staff that included her telephone number and an invitation for someone from my department (comprised of four people) to phone her. She moved to another city at the other end of the country. I asked one of her confidantes if she was trying to headhunt someone from our department and discovered that the answer was more 'romantic' than that.
posted by asok at 7:53 AM on January 22, 2015


My life from age 13 to 28 just flashed before my eyes and now I'm dead from vicarious embarrassment.
posted by GrapeApiary at 7:57 AM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't understand, has no one considered just flirting..? I managed that at my high school even if it was ineffective initially.
posted by Braeburn at 8:04 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


My Dearest Andy, I got your letter. I would never go out with you because you are so gross. -Elizabeth.

With friends like these to write letters for you...
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:25 AM on January 22, 2015


And a week after that, his ex-girlfriend sent me an email to let me know they had gotten back together and to please leave him alone so they could have some privacy.

You are not alone! My most awkward romantic gesture was hilariously similar. I was deployed suddenly overseas while still in a relationship, and of course was really broken up about it, so I wrote a romantic poem, reworked it, and sent it via snail mail. Except, of course the military mail was all screwed up, so it didn't arrive until six weeks later - by which time he had ALSO gotten back together with his ex, who opened the poem, read it, and decided that it was "too intimate" and there was too much of a danger of us getting back together, so she got him to make an enormous Myspace post (I guess this dates this) talking about how shitty his ex-girlfriend (me) was and had them get tattoos of each others' names.

Of course they broke up six months later, but tattoos are forever, so I get to laugh eternally.
posted by corb at 9:30 AM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


I wonder if anyone has done any actual studies on how highschool couples become couples? There's a strong belief in this thread that romantic gestures are inherently ineffective, but I wonder if that's true? Is it really that rare for a highschool romance to blossom out of someone writing someone a poem or sending them a mixtape or flowers or dedicating a song to them at the school dance or whatever it might be?

In my experience (and, gosh, I'm having to dredge up some very dusty memories here, so who knows how things have changed) high school romances usually didn't have a clear "first" moment. That is, plausible deniability was crucial throughout most of what might be thought of as a the "courtship" phase. It might be clear to every single person in the couple's circle that they were sweet on each other, but they would both desperately avoid putting anything out there that might look like a "declaration of love" until they were both pretty sure that it would be well received. But the "romantic-gesture-with-fig-leaf-of-deniability" was often a pretty important part of this process. The mixtape, the "oh, I heard you mention to So-and-so that you liked [Very-Difficult-To-Find-Thing] so when I happened to stumble across one [Read: spent several consecutive weekends scouring the greater area for it] I picked it up for you. No, really, it's no big deal," I guess writing an actual love poem would amount to a "declaration" but there's the intermediate step of showing the person you're sweet on your poems (or paintings, or playing your songs or whatever--a gesture of intimacy which you can still plausibly frame as just friendship) and so forth. None of this done in a spirit of deliberate calculation, of course--both players are fooling themselves desperately about how "cool" they're playing it when, as I say, it's often entirely legible to their social circle.

Maybe all this has changed utterly and highschool kids these days just go straight up to each other and say, out of the blue, "So, I'm both sexually and romantically interested in you; do you reciprocate my feelings? NBD either way, of course; I'm so entirely well-adjusted emotionally that I would never be foolish enough to allow my sense of self-worth to ride on another person's love." If so, I find that a little terrifying, but perhaps it's progress.
posted by yoink at 9:42 AM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't understand, has no one considered just flirting..?

Repeating for the nth time - a lot of these stories were about when the main players were in junior high. It's hard to "just try flirting" when no one has ever defined for you what flirting actually even is yet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:03 AM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


It might be clear to every single person in the couple's circle that they were sweet on each other, but they would both desperately avoid putting anything out there that might look like a "declaration of love" until they were both pretty sure that it would be well received.

Yoink, I'm confused. You were the one that called these stories "declarations of feelings" right at the start of the thread:
Any time you declare you feelings to another person you're putting them in an awkward position
Of course most kids and teens (and adults...) don't have the knowledge, self-awareness, or courage. And certainly if two people have mutual feelings for each other then these sort of hints can lead to hook-ups because everyone is on the same page. But that's not what the link is describing, at all. It's examples of when these self-protective allusions are misinterpreted or outright unwanted. And to me that's when it starts to get into a weird territory to memorialize.
posted by muddgirl at 10:09 AM on January 22, 2015


So, it leads to a great deal of awkwardness, because even if romance can be successfully established, where do you go from there?

If you are 12 hopefully not bed.


I believe the regulations state that the proper order is love, marriage, and a baby carriage. In addition, in some jurisdictions, there must be a guy wetting his pants doing the hula-hula dance.
posted by jonp72 at 10:40 AM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yoink, I'm confused. You were the one that called these stories "declarations of feelings" right at the start of the thread:

No, as the line you quote shows I was not, then, offering a blanket description of all the stories in the FPP. I was saying that when you do, in fact, outright "declare your feelings" you put that person in an awkward position. In the FPP we have a mixture of cases that are outright "declarations of feeling" and others that retain that shred of "plausible deniability" I describe in the comment that appears to have "confused" you so terribly.

To clarify fully: there are "romantic gestures" which amount to a straightforward "declaration of feelings" (i.e., they contain the explicit message "I, so-and-so, am romantically interested in you, such-and-such"), but there are also "romantic gestures" which fall short of that. We have both kinds in the FPP: ones where people really put their heart out on their sleeves and others where they made gestures which they hoped the recipient would figure out came from them, or hoped they would figure out meant "I love you" rather than "I really think you'll enjoy this particular collection of songs."

But that's not what the link is describing, at all. It's examples of when these self-protective allusions are misinterpreted or outright unwanted. And to me that's when it starts to get into a weird territory to memorialize.


But that's only a "Bad Thing" if when you make the romantic gesture you already know that it's unwanted. That's the only time that these could be said to be in any way "stalkerish" and the vast majority of the stories in the FPP are NOT of that type.

Take, for example, the story of the guy who writes a sloppy love poem to the girl he wants to go out with and whose sister finds it and ridicules him mercilessly about it. What's the "creepy" part of that story? Why shouldn't he look back and laugh at how his big gesture blew up in his face? I mean, when you look back on moments of mortifying embarrassment from your teenage years, don't you hope you can laugh about it? The other options aren't all that great.
posted by yoink at 10:47 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder if anyone has done any actual studies on how highschool couples become couples? There's a strong belief in this thread that romantic gestures are inherently ineffective, but I wonder if that's true? Is it really that rare for a highschool romance to blossom out of someone writing someone a poem or sending them a mixtape or flowers or dedicating a song to them at the school dance or whatever it might be?

Maybe not the perfect analogy, but I think there might be something of a "She's just not that into you" inherently in effect if one has to resort to a huge, romantic gesture to indicate interest? Using myself as an example, most of the relationships I've had, even back in high school or college, that have gone anywhere, it was just sort of obvious that the attraction was mutual, so there was never a need for a "big moment" of declaring romantic interest; we just kind of ended up dating as the inevitable result of natural growing attraction that was extremely evident to both sides.

Anytime I've had to resort to making any sort of grand gesture, similar to ones indicated in this piece, it was because I was not at all confident that the attraction was reciprocated, so it was more of a Hail Mary pass of "You have given no indication that you have any sort of romantic feelings towards me, perhaps this grand gesture will passive aggressively force you into considering that possibility". Which is why I think so many of these type of actions end up failing spectacularly and causing subsequent embarrassment. If the person performing the gesture was more confident that the attraction was reciprocated, there would be no need for the gesture in the first place.
posted by The Gooch at 11:01 AM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


If the person performing the gesture was more confident that the attraction was reciprocated, there would be no need for the gesture in the first place.

You, perhaps, were an unusually self-confident teenager. My own experience (and my observation and recollection of teenagers around me) is that they often have no idea whether their feelings are reciprocated even when it is blazingly obvious to everyone else around them (whether that be "yes" or "no"). For many (most?) of us, those years are so full of crippling self-doubt that pretty much nothing short of "you, me--right now, in the sack, how about it?" would be read as a clear declaration of intent. I think all of us can summon up memories of high school years (heck, even college years) when in retrospect we realize that someone was really making a play for us romantically, and we just could not make ourselves understand what they were trying to tell us.

So, no. In my experience, at least, it's not true that only people who know that their attentions are unwelcome feel impelled to make grand gestures (and heck, we're not--for the most part--talking about gestures that are all that grand in these stories; it's not "I went and scaled Mt. Everest so I could pluck a special flower that only grows in the Death Zone for her"; it's "I made a mixtape and wrote out all the lyrics" or "I wrote her a series of poems and posted them in the wrong mailbox, d'oh!"). In my recollection the vast majority of us swam around in a sea of complete uncertainty (heck, three of my best friends at highschool were gay and only one of them figured it out before graduation; and ALL of them had girlfriends at various points), not being sure of what we felt, not being sure of what others felt, terrified of making fools of ourselves and all the more likely to do so because of that terror.
posted by yoink at 11:11 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I want to hear some women's shitty romantic gesture stories. I know they're out there.

It's kindergarten, and we're seated at giant rectangle tables with one kid on each side. I'm at one end, the hottest boy in the world is to my left (we'll call him Jack), a girl down my block is to my right, and some random guy who I never saw again after kindergarten is seated across from me. I develop a massive, insane, totally-inappropriate-for-a-5-year-old crush on Jack. I imagine him calling my house and "talk" to him into the lid of some crazy 70s jar my parents have sitting atop the chest of drawers in their bedroom. I watch Silver Spoons and pretend that both he and Ricky Schroeder will soon be fighting over me. I'm pretty sure I write my first name and his last name all over things.

The crush continues for the next couple of years. I'm gonna say that in 3rd grade, but it might have been 4th or 2nd, I get the wise idea to profess my love to Jack, but slyly, on Valentine's Day. I have those little paper valentines that all the kids gave out in the 80s, and mine have Snoopy on them. All the other kids just get a random one shoved in a little envelope and I write their name on the envelope. But Jack? Finally, after all these years, it's time to reveal myself. Surely he'll call me at home that night to profess his love for me? I decide to give him two, yes TWO, valentines in the same envelope with his name written on the outside. One of them is the kind of kids valentine that always seems really creepy, like maybe instead of Snoopy telling Woodstock, "Happy Valentine's Day," instead it's got the word LOVE in it or BE MY BOYFRIEND or something else inappropriate. So I stick one non-creepy valentine and one creepy valentine into an envelope, sign my name on the back, write JACK on the front, and drop it into the shoebox or coffee can or whatever the hell he has sitting on his desk to collect his valentines in.

We're all back at our desks, eating crappy cupcakes that some room mother brought and opening our valentines. As soon as he opens the one I gave him, he starts braying about how I gave him two valentines and "LOOK WHAT THIS ONE SAYS!" and comes over to my desk and of course I'm mortified and say that, um, it was a mistake! I totally only meant to give you one! And certainly not this gross creepy one, YUCK. Thankfully I didn't step in front of a car on my walk home, and I don't recall it ever being brought up again, and by the time we finished high school Jack was a proud gay man, so it wasn't the end of the world. But it was the last time I tried using grand romantic gestures.

(Also, all those stories reminded me that in high school, a 'platonic' guy friend made me a mix tape entitled "Pretty Stuff for Jabes." It lives under my bed at my parents' house, and I never listened to a single song on that tape. I'm sorry, Jamie, if it was your grand romantic gesture to me.)
posted by jabes at 1:55 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I want to hear some women's shitty romantic gesture stories. I know they're out there

Will you accept those of small children? When I was in third grade, I had a crush on my best guy friend. One day I got the nerve to write him a love poem, with those scented markers, and slip it unsigned into his desk. Naturally no one was fooled for an instant. I was surrounded by roaring laughter as he tore it to pieces and ate them in front of me. Normal enough behavior, of course. But this kid was nasty to me not only all year, but for the six following years, until I left the school for better pastures. When we were in middle school, he'd throw rocks at me (from a good distance), spread rumors that I was worshipping the devil, that kind of thing.

In junior high, I was totally baffled by his persistent dislike. I had (although I did not think so) grown up to be good-looking. Perhaps it was because I had. I sometimes think if I could understand his hate, I would understand so much more about what motivates boys and men.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:18 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, I have a creepier story. When I was in kindergarten, I found out that the boys I liked would go "Woo woo!" and whistle if I pulled my shirt off to the side and showed some bare shoulder. They'd do little things for me like draw funny pictures in exchange. The kindergarten teacher saw me doing this and demanded I never do it again.

I remember being completely puzzled as to why the shoulder-showing was of any interest to anybody whatsoever. I'd done it by accident at first, because I itched, and then found out it was a hit with the boys. None of the authority figures I spoke to would explain beyond the "we just don't do that" level.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:22 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder if anyone has done any actual studies on how highschool couples become couples?


I think in some cases it is more or less randomly. For instance, one afternoon I girl I knew from school called my house. She was actually hoping to speak to my (non-identical) twin brother, who was out. She was going to a party that night and wanted to take someone with her so that the boy hosting the party, who she had hooked up with recently, would get the message that she was no longer interested. Yeah sure I said.

Hours later we were snogging furiously, and ended up in a relationship for the next 18 or so months.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 3:39 PM on January 22, 2015


> this is what dating is like in a perfect socialist utopia. "Hey check out my genitals. U like?' "No thanks!" "OK, back to our fulfilling creative careers."

This made me laugh, but I don't know about a socialist Utopia, I mean it was early primary school; I'm sure my reaction would have been less forgiving if this had happened in high school. And now I'm long out of school (but still a lesbian) I know attraction doesn't necessarily have anything to do with specific genital configurations.

posted by moody cow at 10:00 PM on January 22, 2015


I want to hear some women's shitty romantic gesture stories. I know they're out there

In 6th grade, I knew a girl who sewed a flower to her hand to impress a boy. Not sure if it worked. The other girls were impressed though.

In 10th grade, I set a paper plate on fire at school to impress a boy. I wound up losing my virginity to him later, so I win?

Girls are creeps!
posted by millipede at 12:14 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


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