When I was a teenager, I was a confusing mix of adult and child. I was not your average-looking teenager. I was at least 5’8” tall by the time I turned 13. I eventually stopped growing at 5’10”. Along with that came other indications of adulthood that were far ahead of my actual age…
I was aware that something about me was different, but not quite sure what to do about it – or even if I could do anything about it. I wanted desperately to fit in somewhere, but I didn’t look like the kids my age. So I wore makeup, dressed up, and tried to act older in an attempt to fit in somewhere. These odd behaviors did little to help me fit in.
I just wanted to look somewhat normal, somewhere.
This paradox caused me to confuse people, including men… There was one guy in particular that stands out in my memory. I haven’t forgotten the night I walked into his house with my family to have dinner with his family. They had a son I didn’t know about: a very handsome son who was standing behind a recliner smiling shyly at me. I’d been kind of dreading an evening of grown-up talk, but I quickly determined to amuse myself by trying to get him to notice me.
It wasn’t until later that my parents told me he was 9 years older than me.
Now when you’ve turned 29 for the fifth time, 9 years doesn’t seem like that much. But for a teenager, it’s a lifetime. I was going to football games on Friday nights, trying to avoid acne, and studying for tests. He was working full time, thinking of getting his own place, and looking for a wife.
But he sure was cute… and friendly… and interested in me…? He came to a few of our youth group social activities. He maintained a healthy distance, but was around a lot. He sat near me in church, but not with me. Despite our age difference, I flirted and flirted, doing my best to win him over. I enjoyed the challenge without a thought for what the prize might be if I won.
Well, “win” I did. I don’t remember exactly how this happened, but after church one night we got to go out together. We went in his cool black sports car to a restaurant and were able to talk. How the exact words came out, I don’t remember. What I do remember distinctly was the impression I got from that conversation: if we dated and fell in love, I could drop out of high school and get married. A stay-at-home wife and mother didn’t need a high school degree. He had a good job and could take care of me.
(This guy was not crazy or creepy. He’d just come out of a very restrictive culture where people got married young, worked hard on farms, and didn’t pursue education because they felt it led to pride. I understood the culture well and that way of thinking.)
I also remember that what he was proposing should have sounded very appealing to me. I’d probably told him all I wanted to do with my life was get married, have babies, and be the best wife and mother in the whole world. But when I believed he was suggesting that very thing, a panic button inside got pushed and sirens and warning lights were flashing and beeping and screaming.
It was probably one of the first times in my life that I realized how important it was to me to be more than a good wife and mother. I wasn’t sure what else I wanted from life, but I knew I needed more.
Suddenly the stakes in my little game had gone up, uP, UP, and I panicked. I ran as fast as I could in the other direction. As quickly as I’d become interested in him, I got uninterested. He was still a great guy, very cute, and very nice – but I stayed away from him. As fast as I changed my signals, I probably gave the poor guy whiplash. I had no skills with which to communicate what I was feeling. I just freaked out. While I looked like I should’ve known better, my relational skills were those of a typical 16 year old girl.
Many years have passed since then and I’m a much different person now. I’ve lost the brazen confidence I had and can’t remember the last time I amused myself by trying to get some guy to notice me. These days I figure it’s the guy’s job to get me to notice him. If I ever get married, it’ll be because there’s a man in this world who’s godly, responsible, fun, and so sure that I’m the one for him that he steps out of the shadows and pursues me with his whole heart. I’m having too much fun with friends and feel too fulfilled in my calling to settle for anything less. I think this way of doing things is probably much less confusing for men too… And I’m so thankful these days to fit in with friends of all different ages, shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and backgrounds. It makes life a lot easier.