For 17 years, dating was a big, scary unknown to me. I’d never had a boyfriend or a hook-up. As a Christian from a conservative Korean family, I made a promise to God to stay a virgin until marriage.
The guy was a charmer with curly blonde hair, sea green eyes, and a huge brain. We already knew each other from sophomore year science class. When our teacher was absent, he’d plop himself down next to me with a smile even though his assigned seat was elsewhere. Sometimes we would walk down the stairs together to our next class.
But his intelligence intimidated me. His backpack held books by philosophers from centuries past whose names I couldn’t pronounce. He’d ace all the tests without much effort. I felt like he thought I was much smarter than I actually was, and I didn’t want to look ignorant.
I wasn’t sure if he wanted to move toward dating or if I was really ready for that. I was afraid of being in a relationship. The combination of these two things—his intellect and my lack of relationship experience—caused me to respond to the situation in a rather immature way. I shut him out, and he stopped talking to me.
By second term of junior year, when we were placed in several classes together, he’d apparently forgotten how I coldly brushed him off before and he was friendly again. This time, I didn’t push him away.
One day I read an article he wrote online about how he volunteered to help students with developmental disabilities. In the article, he described this programme in a way that wasn’t patronising or haughty. After finishing the article, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I guess all our flirting had built up until my feelings finally hit me like an avalanche. It was a sudden and bewildering crush.
It sucked. I hated how distracted it made me. I hated how I would check his Facebook page 500 times a day. I hated how whenever we were in the same room, I would sneak glances at him. I hated every girl he talked to, even his sister.
I decided to slowly make my interest known. I joined the volunteer programme he was in and saw how he interacted with the disabled students, which made me like him even more. He genuinely cared for the students and respectfully listened to them. His attitude towards them was so gentle—something that I admired.
One day during lunch, he was telling me a funny story about how he and his friends got drunk one night during our school’s college trip. They had sneaked in a bottle of vodka and drank the whole thing (among four guys) throughout the night.
My friend met up with a girl who was a frequent partier. The party girl said she saw my crush at parties (but not often) and that he would drink a lot, until he got plastered. I was incredibly disappointed.
A Prom to Remember
But as the days passed, I softened. I told myself drinking is common among teenagers. Besides, there were so many wonderful things about him that overshadowed that one bad habit. His generosity, sweet and gentle temperament, and intellect said more about his character.
Our “courtship” continued at our school’s junior prom. I had really wanted him to ask me, but he didn’t. I was disappointed, but I figured we could just spend time together on the boat it was taking place on. When I saw him arrive with a group and noticed he was talking to a beautiful girl, I was shocked.
I felt like an idiot for thinking he would entertain the idea of coming with me when he could have a blonde bombshell hanging from his arm. My dress felt like rags covering the body of a troll compared to the one that clung to her slim figure and curves.
I decided to be super suave about this and moped outside on the deck, staring pensively at the water. The tragic heroine. The unrequited lover. I channelled every single poor, dumb, lovestruck girl and pouted at the New York City skyline.
Halfway in, we bumped into each other and started talking. It turns out he hadn’t brought a date. Hot blondie was just his friend, phew.
We spent most of the rest of the boat ride together, talking about music and how bad I am at geography. I asked him what he was doing after the prom and he replied, “Uhh, I don’t really wanna say.…” But I could tell he was going to be drinking. Still, I was happy with the way the night ended. I tried not to think about what he would be doing afterwards.
A few weeks later, we even went on a semi “date” to a café. He was the perfect gentleman. He opened the door for me and even paid. We weren’t aware of the hours passing as we chatted about our families and our respective cultures.
“I never tried kimchi or Korean BBQ before,” he confessed. I gasped, appalled. I had kimchi with most of my meals at home. This boy is deprived, I thought to myself, shaking my head. “What’s your family like?” I asked, “Is it the stereotypical Italian kind?”
He nodded, chuckling, delving into a story about nine-hour Thanksgiving banquets and long tables lined with relatives. I hungrily listened, thinking about my own family—full of loving people, but lacking a certain warmth and merriment that his family seemed to have.
At the end of our outing, I finally got the courage to pursue the topic of his drinking a little further. I asked rather out of the blue and he looked a bit quizzical before answering my question. “I drink—but not a lot,” he amended hastily. I wondered if he was telling the complete truth.
I also thought about the physical aspects of a relationship. He’d had a few girlfriends and so was much more experienced than I was. I imagined him pushing me to go further than I was comfortable with.
Of course, none of the conclusions I was drawing were based on actual evidence. We weren’t in a relationship; he hadn’t even asked me out. I had no proof that he was a binge drinker, other than third-hand information I’d obtained from a gossipy friend. And I had no idea if he pressured girls for sex.
I realised I just wasn’t ready for a relationship. I was so nervous about his possible flaws and the potential pressure for sex that I judged him before we’d even had a chance to open up to one another. I don’t want to do that again.