Culture & Society / Short & Sweet

Thirteen and Thriving: A Tale of Two Tweens

By Elise Cording

The subtleties of human contact have never been better contemplated than they were in the tumultuous days of middle school. A potato chip shared during recess could be a token of utmost romantic attraction, a brief moment of eye contact from across the room a declaration of love, and physical contact the pinnacle of relationship success.

My first relationship, attempted with a fellow painfully shy sixth grader, progressed over the steamy networks of Gmail chat. We emailed and chatted every day after school, avoiding each other completely during the school day. After a few weeks of this, our respective groups of friends pushed us toward each other at lunch. In a grand romantic climax, he asked me if I liked sushi. I responded, “Yes,” which he definitely already knew from our extensive email conversations about food.

Both blushing, we walked away. It was thrilling.

Yet the most important part of any middle school relationship was undoubtedly the school dances. Gossip Girl-level drama was nearly constant in the month foreshadowing a dance, swirling from the nonstop “who’s asking who?” conversations that infiltrated daily life.

The week before each dance, I was on edge every moment, waiting to see if he would stumble over to me with the momentum of his friends’ shoves and pop the question. The first time those precious stammered words left his mouth, they were so quiet I wanted to make sure I wasn’t imagining them. I nervously asked, “What?” forcing him to repeat, “Will you go to the dance with me?”

The poor guy—it was hard enough for him to blurt it out the first time.

All the struggles of asking, preparing, and deciding what to wear were just the beginning. These rituals preceded the most exciting two hours there ever were: the glorious night of the dance, when everyone had a reasonable excuse to make physical contact with his or her partner. Even during the awkward day dances, in the bright hours of 4 to 6 p.m., the dimly lit cafeteria became a haven of opportunity for fervent pre-teens gathering up the nerve to speak to their online loves.

Everything came to a head that night. The anxiety of avoiding each other every day, the uncomfortable public encounters forced by all of our friends—it was all worth it when “Halo” by Beyoncé came on and we found each other in the dark, crowded room.

A mumbled proposal to dance had hardly left his mouth when we tentatively organized our bodies into position, my fingertips on his shoulders and his hands hovering around my waist. Three feet away without speaking or making eye contact, just swaying in the warmth between us, I couldn’t help but think, Man, thank God for middle school.

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