The image featured above remains, after nearly six decades, one that is a bittersweet image of three girls I loved when I was a Boomer growing up, which is testimony to a claim I made at the end of the post, Girls:
... it seems as though the pursuit of and the temporary experience of being in love were more important than anything else in my life …
I can only speak from the perspective of my non-scientific sample of one, but from what I’ve read and observed, what I referred to as the “temporary experience of being in love” has long been understood as a coming-of-age experience that has been historically common among teenagers, but that historic commonality was not recognized until the 1920s. Prior to that time, according to The Invention of the Teenager, the concept of the teenager that we fully embrace now—the characteristic display of or yearning for independence—had been undocumented among adolescents in America prior to that time; further, “the single greatest factor that led to the emergence of the independent teenager was the automobile (which allowed teens the opportunity to enjoy) a freedom from parental supervision unknown to previous generations. The courtship process rapidly evolved into dating (which) was removed from the watchful eyes of anxious parents. Teenagers were given privacy, and a sexual revolution swept America.”
There are many hypotheses as to the origin of the term “teenager,” but The Origin of the Teenager (a U.K. source) proposes that the first use of the term was coined in 1944 in America as a marketing hook that “recognized the spending power of adolescents,” and as a market, teenagers were acknowledged for the first time as “a discrete, separate age group with its own peer-generated rituals, rights and demands (and) it was during this period that the romantic idea of youth as a separate, stormy, rebellious stage of life began.”
I cannot imagine that the origin of “teenager” was in our suburban minds in the 1960s, or in the late 1950s when some of us as preteens started watching American Bandstand, but there was certainly one thing often on my mind: Girls. When I first heard the initial stanza of the lyrics penned by Hal Davis in 1975, I remember that the words resonated with me, as it must have done for millions of others when in 1984 Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson took the song, To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before, to #5 on the Billboard Top 100 …
To all the girls I’ve loved before, who traveled in and out my door, I’m glad they came along, I dedicate this song, to all the girls I’ve loved before … for helping me to grow, I owe a lot, I know, to all the girls I’ve loved before …
… and I think what the lyrics express is how I had long felt about the three remarkable and beautiful women depicted in the featured photo, but having slowly emerged from my adolescence (beginning when I was in my late forties!), I find the notion of thanking “all the girls I’ve loved before” to be distressingly illustrative of one aspect of “the mother complex” I have referred to in Girls: At the core of any mother complex is…a collective image of nourishment and security.
The lyrics suggest that a primary role for a woman who is loved is to provide an opportunity for a man to grow, and given the propensity for men to see the world through typically egocentric lenses, I suppose the song’s theme was inevitable, as was, perhaps, my feelings toward the three young women who had been friends to me as far back as 64-years-ago.
(Before I travel further down this “blogway,” I want to acknowledge that I began Growing Up Boomer with the full intent of not creating a “tell-all” blog, and I am not about to start telling all now, but I do intend to tell something about the importance of the three cheerleaders in the posted photo to my having grown up Boomer.)
It is my understanding that two of those remarkable young women are now aware that at one time in my life I had been hopelessly in love with them. “Hopelessly in Love.” This phrase, the parlance of poets, is synonymous with unrequited love, the one-sided love that is not openly reciprocated because the beloved is not aware of the admirer’s deep, romantic affection for them. Often these affections arise out of platonic friendships in places like schools where the two players usually encounter each other within a circle of friends, which makes it difficult for the true expression of feelings, the revelation of which might bring the possibility of rejection and the end of any relationship at all with the beloved. It is my understanding that the two women of whom I write did not know of my unrequited love when we were teenagers, and they did not know because of the reasons presented.
I am sharing this because one-sided love seems to have been a prevalent experience in Growing Up Boomer, although an experience certainly not restricted to our generation. Friedrich Nietzsche has noted that “indispensable … to the lover is his unrequited love, which he would at no price relinquish for a state of indifference.” Despite my capacity then and now to play the extrovert, I still endure the insecurities so many of us had as teenagers, and it was the fear generated by those insecurities that kept me from doing what I might have done to address my unrequited loves; in other words, I found the one-sided love I held for my two friends became so indispensable to me that I was not willing to risk losing it. Thanks to the wonder of social media, I have reconnected with both of them and have not been surprised to discover that each is as remarkably vital, interesting, and beautiful now as the girls I remember them to have been.
Sometimes, if we’re lucky, one-sided love is reciprocated, and many of us (I hope most of us) have memories of those first mutually experienced crushes coming to fruition, coming-of-age experiences that provided us with a sense of individualism because they may have been the first intimate emotions shared with a person who is not family. Not surprisingly, these adolescent experiences have been analyzed and reported on, including the romance-busting science that “feelings of a crush and feelings of love release the mood-boosting hormones dopamine and oxytocin to the brain” (Here’s why you develop crushes…).
Which brings me to the third cheerleader, the young woman who became a friend when I complimented her hair one morning in a Cedar Cliff HS hallway in 1962. Looking back, I know that her response—that amazing, bright-eyed smile of hers—generated an explosion of cortisol, dopamine and oxytocin that began an ongoing, coming-of-age experience that exposed me for the first time to a barrage of intimate emotions shared with someone other than those shared between a parent and child.
Over the following four years, our relationship vacillated from an initial, intense infatuation, through periods when we learned things about each other and our life experiences—things that we had not shared with anyone else—that drew us into the closed paring of two young souls in love, into a time when our love fell into disrepair. That last period was certainly due to the fact that the woman she was becoming far outstripped my boyish and fawning naivete; yet, during that time, we remained friends, and at times, still shared memorable moments, one of which was an evening when she pulled up in front of my house in a red, Triumph TR3. If memory serves, she was dating an older boy at the time, and it was his car. He had apparently succumbed to her pestering him to let her take the car for a spin, and she chose to share the spin with me. With the top down and with me wrapped in a blanket against the cold air of that evening, she drove me through Harrisburg and its suburbs for three hours (and those who remember her know how well she could drive a stick shift!). We did not do much more than share smiles at the shared experience that evening, but it seems now that perhaps we were celebrating those months in 1962 and 1963 when we were each other’s “true loves.” That evening remains one of the top ten memories of my life.
Going off to college in 1965—her to West Virginia; me to E-town—effectively ended any vestiges of our friendship, but on the Saturday of Mother’s day weekend, 1966, we bumped into one another and the old feelings came rushing back. We shared one last magical evening, which ended suddenly in the most unexpected and unfortunate of ways, an event that shall always remain between just the two of us. From the time we parted that evening until her passing, there was only one exchange between the two of us, a letter from her that went unanswered, one to which, no matter how much I wish I could, I cannot respond because she is no longer a fellow traveler in this Vale of Tears.
Many of us have our stories of unrequited love, of fulfilled love gone awry, of love sustained and celebrated. I’m sure that my life has been no different than most Boomers in having traveled along a long and bumpy highway in search of that Best Friend Forever, whose presence after 22 years still generates the neurotransmitters of love in my aging brain…
Blogger’s Note: For those of you who may someday read novels that are part of the Myers/Benton Chronicles, you will encounter the name of the third cheerleader. It is important to me for you to realize that the character in the Chronicles is fictional; nothing described is biographical; rather, my use of her name for what will be the most noble of characters, whose arc describes a life that overcomes the most demanding of challenges, is simply my way of providing homage to a person I once knew and loved.
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