I was 12 years old the first time I ever loved a boy. It probably wasn't real love, but it was the closest thing my childhood heart had experienced. He had moved to Australia from Canada, and from the moment I saw him under the sun shelter at little lunch I was smitten. Everything about him intrigued me. From the way he laughed with his friends, to the way his hand lingered in the air after he threw a basketball. I would follow him around the playground, formulating plans on how I could get him to like me.
At our school disco all my dreams came true when he asked me to dance. I felt like I was going to bring back up my sausage roll and pink donut that I had just gobbled down. He grabbed my shaky hands and we bopped along to an Aqua song.
Talk to him! I coached myself.
"So... you're from Canadia?"
Without correcting me he smiled and politely nodded - like only a true Canadian would. I heard the laughter of my friends. I seemed to be the only person in the room who didn't know that "Canadia" wasn't a place. The next few weeks involved me turning bright red whenever he was around, and my class being amused by my obvious crush.
All it took back then for someone to become your boyfriend was for your friends to tell them you liked them. So my best friend (who is next to me in the image below and still holds that title today) told him I wanted to be his girlfriend. He looked at me from across the playground and nodded his head - that meant it was official.
That afternoon I was pulled into the library with the news that my new boyfriend had something to tell me. A circle of bodies surrounded us. I'd never stood this close to him. I looked into his pretty blue eyes.
"I love you" he said.
My world catapulted. My heart beat was drumming in my ears and I remember my vision blurring.
"Thank you." I whispered, before turning away and leaving the library.
Thank you? THANK YOU? His feelings must have been hurt, because that afternoon he sent one of his friends to tell me that he was going to break up with me. I watched him finish the school year going out with another girl who was much more comfortable with vocalising her feelings than I was. He moved back to Canada a few months later.
It's been 16 years since I have seen or spoken to him, but through social media I found out he was in Australia. I sent him a message and we organised to meet. We spent hours laughing and reminiscing, and we even visited our old school. Towards the end of the day he gave me a compliment. I awkwardly laughed, sheepishly looked down to the ground, and started to walk away before he said something that shocked me.
"Oh NOW I remember you!"
He confessed that when I asked him to meet up, he didn't actually know who I was. I couldn't believe it. This boy - who I had thought about every day for a year, who still crosses my mind, who I count as my childhood love - didn't remember me!!! He could recall my friends because they pestered him, he recognised the teachers who taught him, he could navigate his way around the school that sheltered him, but he had no recollection of the girl who loved him. At least not until he saw the top of my head and my back. Part of me was hurt all over again, and he could tell.
"How was I supposed to see someone who didn't want to be seen?" he asked.
He was right. How could he remember a girl who made herself so unmemorable.
At 12 years old it was hard to understand why I acted the way I did, but as I reflect back I am able to make more sense of it. I couldn't build a connection with him because I was scared. I was scared of talking to him incase I made another mistake. I was scared of succeeding in winning his affection and then failing by losing it. I was scared of not being good enough for someone that I adored so much. Instead of being grateful for that beautiful moment that he opened up and told me how he felt, I was scared of how I would feel when he moved away, so I put on my armour, and built up a wall. The tragic irony is... all of the things that I feared would happen ended up happening because of my fear.
As much as I would like to hope that those 12 year old fears stayed locked away in my 12 year old self... they didn't. 12 year old Sam lives with 27 year old Sam. She still whispers uncertainties in my ear and wants to look down or run away when there is a risk of being hurt. Even in writing this blog she plants doubts: what if people think this is silly, what if no one cares what you have to say. The difference now is that 27 year old Sam has some psychology on her side.
We all want to be loved, and we all want to belong. Research has found that people who feel a strong sense of love and belonging have the following attributes:
This vulnerability is the willingness to tell someone you love them even if they just say "thankyou" back, to do something where there are no guarantees for the desirable outcome, to spend time working on a relationship that may or may not work out. As Brene Brown states, "Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears it is also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love", and of building connections with others.
So what would I tell my 12 year old self (based on the research and life experience), who so timidly loved a boy who was kind and vulnerable, but who never really got the chance to see her?
I can't go back in time, so instead I will remind my 27 year old self of this, and hope that by showing this vulnerability I am giving other people permission to do the same.
B. PSYC (HONS). M. PSYC (ORG)
Psychologist / Founder of HEAL Psychology
Samantha Tassini, Psychologist and Founder of HEAL Psychology shares her experience as a therapist and in helping people heal with horses.