What is the difference between kindness and preference? Between playfulness and flirting? When put in a situation, how is a man or woman supposed to interpret whether or not a possible romantic relationship is just that person being kind or that person trying to grab ones attention? A couple days ago, I realized that I couldn't tell the difference. My deficit in perception is so great that I have found that I do not even assume kindness when receiving it from a male of my age range but almost always conclude right away that he likes me. This troubles me, for my logical self knows that not all men will like me in a romantic way, but somehow in my subconscious, the two have fused themselves together - kindness and preference.
To defend myself against a conclusion that some of you might make after this statement - that I fall at the feet of any guy that has ever been kind to me - let me sustain: as a young adult, I have yet to date and have even yet to kiss someone outside of family members and the dog. It's not that I'm against dates but more like the situation has yet to present itself. That clarified, I'll continue my assessment.
It does not seem that my mix up is an effect of lack of male companionship. I grew up with two older brothers and a father who had a strong role in the leadership of the family. I know how to rough house. I'm comfortable standing close to guys and interact with them. I went to co-ed school systems. It is not the fact that they are male which confuses me, but something else, something which I experienced as a child. (It's times like these when I start thinking Freud might have had something right. And then I realize, it's just common sense.) From first to third grade, I went to a small, private school. My class consisted of twelve students sitting in one classroom all day with one teacher. I knew all the students in that class very well by third grade, and they knew me very well. There were those among the group who were better friends, just like any larger group. There were also those who didn't get along so well. Of the boys in the class, my mind only remembers three strongly.
Harry - the fastest kid in the class
Zach - Harry's best friend
and Adam - the lover boy
Though I remember the other boys, the rest seem faded, like an old picture. I can recall their names and features just as well, but they didn't really impact me. Not like these three.
Track and Field day was a very stressful day for me. As a competitive child, I didn't like to lose, but I never won at track and field. One year, while running the mile, I began crying. I can't remember why, whether it was because my side hurt or I thought I was losing. For whatever reason, tears burst from my face, but the teacher said I had to keep going. I did. Though I didn't like it, and I knew I wasn't winning, I kept going. It felt like the hardest thing in my life. I finished 7th or so. Harry finished 1st with my best friend, Lauren, behind him with a a close 2nd. I was happy for her. I was just glad that I had finished. But something happened. When they dealt out our ribbons at the end of the day and Lauren had almost all blue and red ones and I had few ribbons at all, I started crying again. After all my hard work, it still didn't amount to much. After all the pain, what did I merit?
To hide my crying, I did the smartest thing I could think of: I hid under my desk. Like a peer sitting underneath her desk doesn't stand out at all. Zach, seeing me, decided to call me cry baby. And he continued calling me that until the end of the year.
My relationship with boys got further entrenched by Adam, the class romantic. He was the only boy in the class kind to me, but he was kind to all the girls. Every Valentine's day he would buy all of us roses. When I had my birthday party and he missed it, he still bought me a gift.
Was it during this time that my black and white view of boy relations developed? Middle school in a public high school further solidified this idea. I was either cussed at by the boy at my locker, pestered on my bus, or mock asked out in class. And then when I did get a guy who was kind to me, a rumor started that he liked me.
I didn't want to seem capricious and I guarded the place in my heart for romantic relationships even though I was easily confused by a boy's intentions. To admit I liked a guy felt like saying he was kind to me, admitting that he had talked to me. Which was admitting nothing at all. Guys could be kind to girls without having a romantic reason behind it. I knew this. But I didn't feel it. And it still confuses me now. All because of my childhood.
Maybe Freud was right.