Re-Learning Middle School Love Lessons the Hard Way


You may have left your platform shoes and gel pens behind, but hopefully you hung onto your hard-earned middle school dating wisdom. (photo illustration Craig Calefate/The Observer)

Published: December 11, 2008

Swept up by the recent wave of nostalgia for all things ’90s, I decided to go out with my old middle school boyfriend. John and I dated for four glorious months in junior high, and it was probably the sanest relationship I’ve ever had. We ran into each other at a house party in my hometown after he moved back from Florida, and even in my jungle juice-induced haze, I realized I had the same sixth grade butterflies as I spoke to him. A few days later, when he texted me to catch up, I decided to give it a go and have dinner with the guy.

Dinner turned out to be an absolute disaster, but I was reminded of a very important lesson that I had forgotten: everything that’s worth knowing about relationships was learned in middle school. Sure, my middle school self probably didn’t have great taste in clothes (Hello, body glitter and butterfly clips), but she definitely knew what was up when it came to dating. Here are a few lessons from the Backstreet Boys-era that I wish I had never forgotten.

1.  If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

Every elementary school teacher drilled this into our heads for years, so by middle school we should have had the lesson down pat. John apparently didn’t get the memo. When I showed up to meet him (after not seeing him in seven years), he was less than kind in his comments. “Wow, you look really different. You’ve lost like, so much weight. And no braces? I hardly recognized you. No, really, have you been working out a lot?” Okay, maybe as a bespectacled, metal-mouthed adolescent I wasn’t a gem, but talk about beating a dead horse. I mean, I didn’t even mention how everyone used to make fun of his chicken legs in gym. He really could have extended the same courtesy.

2.  Don’t let the Lance Basses of the world distract you.

I should come clean that the reason John and I ended all those years ago was another man. Two syllables. Nine letters. Lance Bass.

I was obsessed with the man, so when I heard *NSYNC was coming to my town, I ditched John’s birthday party to scream with my three best friends in the back row at their concert. He found out about my indiscretion and promptly dumped me. The thing to learn here is that (especially at FCLC) there will always be boys with highlighted hair and amazing dance skills that you can have a crush on. The problem is that, like Lance, they will most likely be interested in boys too, and you shouldn’t waste your time drawing things like LANCE + KELSEY = <3 4EVA on all your notebooks when you could actually be with a guy who’s interested.

3.  History repeats itself.

I don’t really remember much about the actual “school” part of middle school, but I do vaguely remember Mr. Caminiti, my history teacher, telling our class stories that all pretty much sounded the same. Bad guys do something terrible, America swoops in, fixes things, everyone waves American flags and eats Wonderbread or something like that. Anyway, it didn’t really sink in that history does indeed repeat itself until John was dropping me off after a mind-numbing hour and 39 minutes of him talking about how working on his “baby” (his car) was akin to a religious experience. See, in middle school, John was always a bad kisser. I let it slide then because he was cute and would send candy grams to my homeroom, but at this point, I really had expected him to have figured it out.

I was wrong. After 13 seconds of the slobberiest kiss of my life, I pushed him away, told him it was lovely catching up with him and ran to my door.

4. Have your priorities straight.

There were many times while I was dating John that I ditched him because Limited Too was having a sale, Lynette wanted to try to pierce her bellybutton (again) or some other equally ridiculous thing. Ultimately, our brief romance ended because I felt that belting *NSYNC at the top of my lungs, despite being tone deaf, was far more important than a boy (and really, it still is).

If I hadn’t done all those things, I would probably still be in John’s basement, watching him play video games or getting slobbered on during one of his “kisses” and thinking that no number of candy grams in the world is really worth this amount of saliva on my face. Instead, I’m still going to cheesy concerts and singing my tone-deaf heart out with my friends, although now we have the help of a bottle of wine to improve our singing capabilities.

5. Recognize that the Spice Girls were right about everything.

Sure, the ladies made some errors in judgment (maybe pinching the rear of a member of the royal family was a faux pas), but they had the right idea about most things.  In their song “Wannabe,” the Spice Girls sing about how important it is for a guy to get along with their friends. My friend Lynnette never liked John when we were in middle school and had advised me not to bother going out with him again. Alas, if I had only followed the sage wisdom of the Spice Girls and not tried to date someone my friends didn’t approve of, I might not have tried to impale myself with a chopstick to end dinner early or have had to wipe the spit of a 20-year-old boy off my chin before going into my house.

In spite of the borderline abusive nature of the date (did he really have to bring up the overalls with one strap down I used to wear?), I’m glad I subjected myself to dating John again. It reminded me of the very important lessons I’ve learned since then (i.e. Chinese slippers are not shoes.)

More importantly, though, it reminded me of the lessons I wish I had remembered (like listening to the Spice Girls). Sure, it’s important to date if you so choose, but really, when you have five cool chicks, platform shoes and short skirts on your side, it doesn’t really matter if you have a guy, does it?