Because of a hysteria surrounding 13-year-old girls piercing their navels and giving blowjobs or what have you, I found that I was never more distrusted than when I was a preteen. As such, I went on a number of supervised dates with boys and their moms. Dates with moms are not so different than dates without moms except there’s no chance of over the pants action, you probably sit in the back seat on the way, and you don’t have to make a show of pretending to pay. Mom always picks up the tab.
Because I met my boyfriend about a billion years ago and haven’t dated another man since, my pre-teen dating history is much richer and more interesting than anything in my adult life. For the purposes of this post, I’m defining pre-teen as 12-13, since those were the years that I wore bras but did not menstruate.
Josh, Age 12
Even though my classmate Josh and I largely ignored each other at school, we struck up a friendship over AIM the summer after sixth grade. Perhaps graduating from our elementary school and moving onto separate middle schools awakened something in us, or maybe everyone else just had away messages up. In any case, I developed a crush on Josh, even though he was functionally illiterate and mostly sent me links to Geocities sites dedicated to Eminem.
His younger sister and mine were best friends, and one afternoon, my mom came rushing into my bedroom with some very exciting news. His mom, who was about to pick my sister up to go ice skating with his little sister, had called and invited me along, at Josh’s request. I had always hoped to be asked out by somebody’s mom. I had never been the cute girl in the sixth grade, and I felt that this was my chance to impress. I grabbed my most appealing boot cut jeans (dip dyed at the knee, embroidered waistband, extra low rise), and selected a polo shirt, thinking that would strike the perfect balance between smart and sophisticated.
When Josh, his mom, and sister arrived, my sister and I piled into the back seat. Josh and I did not speak. Instead, I talked to the younger sisters the whole way to the ice rink or gazed out the window, dreamily. Everything was coming together. Josh would be my boyfriend and our sisters would be best friends forever, and I was pretty sure my mom was going to buy me an even more sophisticated polo shirt for my birthday (it had rhinestones on it). Things were coming up Julia Sonenshein.
Once we arrived at the ice rink, the girls held hands and skated while I mostly clung to the wall, giggling and making stupid jokes. Josh impressed me with his cool skating skills, which primarily consisted of skating really, really fast and then stopping suddenly while creating sound effects. When he ignored me, I talked to his mom, who supervised from the edge of the rink. I was pretty sure I was in love.
Afterwards, we went back to their house for snacks. Josh and I lay on his giant trampoline and talked, which was our first extended face-to-face conversation. He asked me if I wore thongs, and mentioned that he didn’t want his future wife to work for a living, because, kids. I thought he made a pretty convincing argument. I told him it wasn’t any of his business what type of underpants I had on, but am ashamed to say that it gave me a secret thrill that he wondered. Three weeks later, he called me a fat slut over AIM, and that was the end of our love affair. Some loves are just not meant to be.
Brandon, Age 13
I met a family friend’s acquaintance at a dinner party, and she found me to be captivating, as some moms do. Not all moms. I wouldn’t say I have a way with moms. But she found my precocious nature and budding feminism to be charming, and thought I’d be a “good influence” on her son, Brandon. Red flag number one. She and her son had apparently just moved to LA, and she wanted to know if I’d take him out and show him a good time. Being 13 and desperate for male attention, I readily agreed, intrigued by her description of him as “unique.” Red flag number two.
Things moved fast, as these things are wont to do. Pre-teens have an attention span of a Vine, so this woman was eager to get her son in there before I moved on. Two days later, he got dropped off at my house, and my dad drove Brandon, me, and two of my friends to the mall for a movie date. We started with a food court dinner with my father, and then my dad went to amuse himself in the bookstore while the four of us milled around, going into the scented candle store and trying out the massage chair at Brookstone’s. I found that I was not attracted to him at all, because he was a misogynist-in-training, inarticulate asshat. I found his personality to be so offensive that I wanted to make sure he know how awful he was, which is to say I bullied him by trying to be very impressive.
In order to impress him and show how much cooler than him I was, I used my new arsenal of buzz words from my English class at my progressive middle school, and passionately debated whether or not video games lead to violence (“um, no, did you see Marilyn Manson’s interview on the subject from like three years ago? Columbine.”). I guess it worked because he held my hand throughout the movie, which upset me greatly. I made a big show of removing my hand to grab my friend’s watch to check the time, and then sat on my hands for the rest of the movie. This was a great plan, except my hands fell asleep, and as we were leaving, my friend handed me her soda, which I promptly dropped. So there I was with wet pants, two giggling friends, a guy trying to hold my hand, and strong opinions about social issues that I wanted to talk about. My friends were picked up at the mall, so Brandon and I went back to my house where we were inexplicably left alone. He kissed me hard on the corner of my mouth, either missing due to ineptitude or because I moved away–the memory is slightly foggy by this point. All jokes aside, that was the first time I understood the concept of having my boundaries crossed, even if it was just kissing. I was acutely aware of not feeling ready and not wanting to be touched by just anyone, and for the first time as a dumb kid who self-identified as “mature,” I felt very, very young.
Benny, Age 13
Benny and I had been best friends for most of elementary school, but things turned romantic one afternoon over AIM during a discussion of Elliott Smith. I had spent a lot of time in his house in the past and knew his parents well, but heading to his house later that day was markedly different. I knew that romantic things were in store, especially since he told me that his mom was getting a massage and would be indisposed for over an hour. Benny and I spent some time in his hammock, discussing our big plans for the future–to go to college on the East Coast, to live in a giant house with secret passageways, and to be writers. Just as we finished mashing our faces together directionlessly and artlessly, his massaged mom popped her head into the backyard to see if we wanted any snacks. He said “no” and I said “yes” at the exact same moment. I always want snacks. With his mom in the kitchen heating up some Bagel Bites, we made out some more and then he whispered in my ear, “I think I might be gay.” His mom came back. It was Bagel Bites time.
Now that I’m a pseudo grown up and occasionally think ahead to what my life will be like as a mother, I wonder what it must have been like for the moms present on pre-teen dates. I’d imagine the parents involved (I’m sure dads supervise their fair share, too) have to strike a careful balance between keeping a watchful eye, respecting privacy, and not dying of second hand embarrassment from watching two inept children trying to entrance each other with their wiles. I can’t begin to imagine how I’ll handle the day when I need to supervise a pre-teen date, but I hope it will include a talk about boundaries with my kid beforehand, some safe distance to let him or her try out the whole courting thing, and Bagel Bites. I still can’t resist a good snack.