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Girlfriend is better

Alex Miller

Allow me to speak hypothetically about a fictional young man I know. I do this to spare the real teenager any undo embarrassment since, at 14, being embarrassed, awkward and uncomfortable is a default state. Why make it any worse by writing about such in the newspaper, naming names and all?So this young man, whom I’ll call Ted, has his first girlfriend, whom I’ll call Alice. After a few false starts with other girls, Ted found one as interested in him as he is in her. Although unfortunate in his choice of the girl’s father (one of those European super-protective types), Ted is happy having a girlfriend … if only he knew what to do with her.I know, perhaps I’m being naïve, but Ted doesn’t seem to have a clue that having a girlfriend entails some work on his part. Like it’s an honorary title or something. And here I was previously, reading about boys barely past the Power Rangers stage conceiving children left and right. Is it a mountain thing, that Ted is so deficient in the romance department … or did I leave something out in that talk we had what was it, five years ago now?”Shouldn’t you call Alice?” I might say (Ted and I happen to live together). Blank look. “I mean, when was the last time you called her?”Never, as it turned out. Didn’t even know her phone number. Negotiations for the one and only date thus far were handled by intermediaries. Alice’s number is, of course, unlisted. The next time Ted is on the phone with one of the support staff, I suggest in a loud whisper that he get her number.So then they had breakfast together, which is a damned odd date for eighth graders in my mind but, hey, it’s better than what I was doing on Long Island as a kid: hanging out behind the movie theater hoping one of the girls would notice my skill at blowing smoke rings with a Parliament. Like most teens, Ted likes to bemoan his awful fate. Not having a cell phone is a horrible trial he must endure, and he’s convinced he can’t make another turn on skis until he has high-end Leki polls. But while skiing with one of my friends the other day, he heard of Ted’s girlfriend, his high grades, his gig shoveling driveways that’s netted him a new pair of skis and an iPod.”Man, you’ve got things wired!” my friend said.Ted could only agree, albeit grudgingly. Teens like to nurse their pain, and it’s not easy to acknowledge that things aren’t so bad. Somehow, parents could use it against them; it could dilute future whining. It’s dangerous territory.But I can only cheer the fact that Ted has things so seemingly dialed. At 14, I was as far from having a girlfriend as Quasimodo, and I possessed none of the fervor Ted does about excelling in school. I had zip-up velour shirts, math-teacher glasses and puffy, blow-dried hair. And I wondered, painfully, why I seemed invisible to girls except as a “friend.”It’s a curious thing now to be in position to advise a young man on the careful movements of romance (something I didn’t have much experience in myself until I was well into adulthood). I don’t claim any great knowledge, but I do know a few of the basics. Call her, lad. Tell her she looks good. Get her a gift, even if it’s a just a candy bar or -who knows these days – an iTunes gift card. And, to the extent that it’s possible, embrace the embarrassment. Real or trumped-up angst aside, these days of discovery are the best times of life.Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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