I’ve been teaching English this semester at a local high school, and the experience working with high school seniors has taught me a few things about love.
Whoa! Wait! Not like that!
I just meant that the whole high school experience reminds me of what love really means, because nowhere in the world is love more of a laboratory experiment than it is in high school.
Walking through the halls, I can see couples staring longingly into each other’s eyes, barely able to make it to American history on time. Usually, they occupy a major traffic route, such as the exact middle of the science hallway, or a doorway to a classroom (usually mine). But they don’t care. No, because they are in that 18-year-old, perspective-less, teddy-bears-for-Valentine’s-Day love, and the prospect of an indefinable future only sharpens their senses.
Scientifically speaking, they stand as close as it is anatomically possible to stand — so close, in fact, that their skin cells begin to fuse into one skinny-jeaned, sleep-deprived being — forcing anyone else who would dare to walk through that doorway in which they are standing (and so sweetly parting) to try and squeeze past like cockroaches. While angling their backpacks and trying not to pick up any contact lust, the other students tiptoe through the cracks with their tongues stuck out, disgusted grimaces on their faces.
I can remember those days. Back at good ol’ Weber High, a few of my friends started a campaign to stop the spread of public displays of affection (PDAs). They made T-shirts with giant Xs carved through a picture of two stick figures holding hands. I bought one, and even joined in the heckling of couples who cared nothing for the disgusting, soggy-lipped spectacles they were making of themselves.
Looking back, I’ve realized that we were all single.
Subsequently, our protestations of PDAs seemed to take a bit of a dip each time we managed not to be single. This mindset is still something you’ll see from all your single friends this Valentine’s Day, when they throw parties for each other and watch “Die Hard,” and then talk about how much they love having a bathroom to themselves.
Anyhow, there are things that we adults — so practical and full of perspective — can learn from these torrid, unabashed adorers. Of course, we would never admit that to these little heathens, but it’s true.
For instance, sometimes the most important thing in the world is telling the person you love how great they are. High-schoolers are so good at this. The little couples cling together like two sheets of Saran Wrap, complimenting each other for hours (“no, you’re cuter”).
They also don’t care that their hands are sweaty.
They don’t think that a box of chocolates is trite or meaningless.
They don’t make it more than one class period without writing a flirty note for each other.
They sit together for hours and share one pair of headphones, nodding and smiling at music we could never understand, because we are old.
Of course, they don’t have the perspective we do. Seasoned adults like us know that everyone in the world has broken up with everyone they’ve ever been with, except for the person they’re with right now (and even then, maybe not).
We know that our old high school boyfriend/girlfriend is now on his/her third spouse, struggles with a job at the credit union, and is trying to get everyone they know into some Ponzi scheme involving time-shares.
We know that no one actually stands outside of a another person’s window, holding up a boom box that wails Phil Collins or Bonnie Raitt, without getting the cops called on them.
We know that Nicholas Sparks’ novels are emotionally manipulative.
We know that Marilyn Monroe was probably mentally ill, and Clark Gable was an alcoholic, and Brad Pitt probably did cheat on Jennifer Aniston.
And we know that Mr. Darcy, Stargirl, Han Solo, Jane Eyre, and Edward-and-Jacob aren’t real people.
The warmth of our youth has been sitting in a Tupperware at the back of the fridge for years. Who knows what it would smell like if we tried to open it and throw it out?
But my advice to you would be this: Open the Tupperware. Carpe a little diem, as it were. And, most importantly on this Valentine’s Day, try and learn a little bit from these high school kids who are hopelessly, ignorantly and utterly in love. Yes, they’re disgusting. Yes, they spend too much on Axe body spray. And yes, they become even worse drivers when they have someone to stare longingly at in the shotgun seat.
But they are happy, and not embarrassed by it. That’s how they can stand, unaffected, in the middle of a crowded hall, just staring at each other.