Yesterday, as my eighteen-year-old niece frolicked with
her boyfriend in the pool, her ten-year-old cousin looked on in dismay.
At first, I imagined her pre-pubescent concern was that
boy-girl touching was “yucky,” but perhaps I was projecting my own
self-conscious horror of public displays of affection—hell, any kind of
But that’s just me.
She was so upset that she complained to her mother, at length,
afterwards. It turns out that the source of her concern was something else altogether.
A lot of her friends, at school, were dating (which
was, in itself, quite a revelation—that ten-year-olds were dating).
When our son was only slightly older, there had been many short-lived romances among his friends—but they
occurred mostly in the minds of the girls. The boys were mostly unaware that
they were even in relationships or—if they even knew—had no clue what it meant, or what their roles and
responsibilities in the relationships might entail. But that was around age
twelve, and we only got to see the boys’ side of the drama. The girls’ side of the stories was, apparently, very different.
She went on to reveal—with increasing levels of emotion—that
her friends and their “boyfriends” were constantly breaking up. This comes as no
surprise to me (I was a former boy, myself). The break-ups caused endless anguish
among all the girls, even those—like her—who were merely spectators of the primal
Oh so slowly, I deduced that she was not disgusted by the observed
physicality of the romance, but dreading the inevitability of a painful break-up. Her
concern reflected her, albeit limited, experience: that all romantic entanglements
must, perforce, end in disaster. Her worries about her older cousin’s potential
for suffering were touching—and strangely informative—because she had no personal
knowledge of any part of romantic entanglement except of the unavoidable agony of separation.
That this tawdry sturm
und drang is the stuff of literary tragedy—not to mention countless country/western
songs—suggests that the chroniclers of misery might, themselves, be cases of