Sometimes, after you’ve experienced a traumatic event, your brain does all it can to protect you from trauma. In the case of physical pain, your body can go into a type of physical shock — like when car crash victims report that they were able to escape a burning car despite a major open leg wound because their bodies went into protective mode and blocked them from the pain of the wound. And in the case of emotional pain, victims often report burying psychologically traumatic episodes deep within their psyches as a way of moving on with their lives. And I suppose it was something akin to this that made me totally forget about the time I stole a girl’s boyfriend until right about now.
I met Alyson and Aaron at a nerd conference — a summer leadership conference for teens. Back before the Internet made everything totally accessible and easy, being a weird alternative kid meant you had to actually seek out your kind of people by paying attention to stuff like what band T-shirts they wore or if they had piercings or if they Manic Panicked hideous neon streaks into their locks and had a working knowledge of Dave Kendall’s affection for hair gel.
We were all around 14 or 15, and I was getting over my first major boyfriend, a crappy abusive skater (a story for another day). I think (think!) when Alyson and Aaron and I met, they were dating. Or maybe they had just broken up? In any case, the three of us spent the leadership conference hanging out, and became friends.
Soon it became clear to me that Aaron wanted to be more than friends. Was he still with Alyson? Were there negotiations? It was almost 20 years ago and now I can’t remember. I do recall, the sense that Aaron, not Alyson or I, was making all the decisions. The two of us didn’t really talk about it, except in vague terms. It seems implausible that at 14 we’d have been mature enough to properly negotiate the handing off of a boyfriend from one girl to another. Instead, I think, we must have been masterly (and I probably willfully) manipulated by Aaron into thinking that this was something we all wanted to have happen.
Looking back, even in the most ideal circumstances, what I did was effed up and wrong. I should have considered Alyson’s feelings more. I should have told Aaron I wasn’t going to go along with it, but I probably wanted attention and validation, and thought the idea of some guy leaving his girlfriend for me was a really great idea. At the time.
And yes, this was teenage crap, but it is also the kind of stuff that sort of subconsciously starts shitty dating patterns for you. Out of one side of my mouth, I was talking riot grrl and feminism, and out of the other, totally breaking girl code. I have never knowingly pursued or stolen another girl’s boyfriend, but I definitely think that I struggled for a long time with the competing interests of my feminist self and the desire to have a relationship. It took many years for me to realize that those to things shouldn’t be in competition at all — that the best relationships happen when you don’t compromise major parts of yourself.
I wish I could remember specifics of how it all happened — I do know though, that whatever happened didn’t terminally damage my relationship with Alyson. We remained friends through at least part of high school, before falling off into different social circles.
Aaron on the other hand? Well, he taught me a couple of valuable lessons: If your relationship doesn’t start on the up-and-up it’s probably not going to end on the up-and-up. A month or two after we started dating, I caught him making out with another girl at a show. When I confronted him, he said he “was just saying hello to her.” Weirdly (thanks low self-esteem!) we kept dating, eventually breaking up because his Presbyterian youth group leader told him Jews and Christians could be friends, but probably shouldn’t date. I really should thank that youth group leader.