I remember the moment perfectly. It was a sunny spring morning, and I was turning out of my driveway on my way to school when my phone rang. It was him — my boyfriend of a few months. But it didn’t feel like just a few months. We’d been childhood friends since the fourth grade, he’d recently written me a song on his guitar, and we were still religiously sneaking behind my ballet studio to make out between my classes. Things were going great, and in a short month, we’d be attending prom together. I mean, he hadn’t asked me yet, but I knew it was coming. The song, guys! He wrote me a song!
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“Hi!” I cheerily answered my phone. “Hey!” Jake answered. “I wanted to ask you something about prom.” Here it was! He was about to ask me to prom, and then I’d adorably say “Yes!” and admit that I already had the perfect dress.
But then, he didn’t ask. He just kept talking in circles about tickets, his friends, this girl named Nikki, their table, and how it was a super complicated situation. After what felt like an hour, he finally just asked: “So I think it makes more sense if I just take Nikki. Is that okay with you?”
“Sure!” I answered. “I guess that works…” When I hung up, I had a huge WTF-shaped hole in my heart. Why had he asked me that? And why, for the love of god, had I said “Sure”?
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In hindsight, Jake was clearly more interested in taking a girl to prom who already knew his friends (he and I went to different schools, so I hadn’t met them yet); the “have the best night of your life” part of prom called to him much more than the “introduce your new girlfriend to your friends” part.
I called him out on his odd ask years later (we’ve remained on-and-off friends since high school), and he just laughed it off: “Yeah, I was an idiot,” he said. That doesn’t really explain why he did it, but he definitely knows it was a bad move.
This spring, it will have been 10 years since that beautiful, sunny morning, and while his actions no longer confuse me, I’ve learned a few things from that horrible moment.
1. Just because someone asks your permission to do something, does not make their actions kind or okay.
It’s a tricky move! When someone asks your permission for something, you automatically assume they’re being thoughtful and considerate of your feelings. WARNING: This is not always the case. Do they really care about how you feel, or are they trying to alleviate their guilt?
2. People-pleasing is actually super painful.
For years after “the incident,” I’d beat myself up. Why had I said yes? I should have read him the Riot Act! But it’s so clear to me now: I wanted him to like me, I wanted to be the “cool” girlfriend, I didn’t want to come across as “jealous.” In order to be the non-jealous, totally cool girlfriend, I put his wants and needs over my own, and guess what? It was super painful. People-pleasing is great for the person being pleased, but it’s torturous for the person doing it.
3. It’s okay to be confused — but be honest.
Relationships are complicated AF. Of course you’re going to be confused, wary, and every other emotion under the sun. Looking back, Jake was simply confused. He liked me, but wasn’t really feeling the whole dating thing. That’s okay! We were 17. What’s not okay is not being honest about it. Leaving someone utterly confused on where their relationship with you stands is basically the emotional equivalent of hourly bikini waxes.
4. If it smells fishy, it probably is fishy.
As you can probably deduce, we broke up shortly after this. No, it wasn’t because I confronted him about his hurtful actions. It was a slow, painful pull-away. In hindsight, I wish I’d confronted him and said, “Hey, something’s up. Let’s talk through this.” I probably would have gotten the information I needed a whole lot faster and would have saved myself many long days of wondering “WTF is going on?”.
5. The social media black hole is hell.
I didn’t have Facebook when Jake took Nikki to prom instead of me (guys, it was 2007). So fortunately, I didn’t spend that evening stalking the prom I should have been at.
Unfortunately, I did get Facebook a month later, and let me tell you… Mark Zuckerberg, you are a cruel man. For the rest of the school year and that whole summer, I’d impulsively sign on, clicking through not only his prom photos (Nikki wore a yellow dress) but all his summer photos that were filled with hot tub nights and lakeside days. I’d study the girls he was with meticulously. What did they have that I didn’t?
I feel lucky I got to experience this heartbreak pre-social media and post-, because I learned which one will heal you a whole lot faster, and it ain’t the one where you’re constantly overanalyzing the pretty girls your ex is hanging out with.
6. A girls’ night in is totally as fun as prom.
Ice cream, PJs, and Britney Spears’ Crossroads with my BFF Anna? Yeah, that’s heaven. Plus, guess who I’m still great friends with today? Yep, Anna.
7. Forgiveness will set you free.
Do I forgive him? One million percent. Of course, it didn’t happen overnight. It took years of watching each other make mistakes and trying to do better the next time. Learning to give someone room to make mistakes, and in turn, giving it back to myself, helped heal the old wound. And then one day I woke up and thought, “Oh, I feel stronger from this,” instead of “HOW DARE YOU TAKE MY PROM FROM ME.”
So now, what was once a horrible teenage heartbreak is simply a fantastic dinner party anecdote. See? Forgiveness does set you free (and rewards you with a great story or two).
8. On-sale dresses are not returnable.
But they can be worn on a fabulous New York City trip where you perform in the Youth America Grand Prix Gala at Lincoln Center for the first time.
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