I just had my high school reunion. I’ve been to a couple of my reunions over the years and found each to have its own unique “take-away”- or conversation I didn’t expect to have that somehow changed my life. This year’s “most memorable moment” goes to a long ago crush I will call “Bobby”.
Bobby was tall and cute and outgoing. We met the summer before freshman year and formed a friendship that was unlike anything I’d known before. Our dynamic didn’t have the angst that came with a boyfriend or girlfriend. “Does he like me?” or “Will he call me tomorrow?” were sentences that never entered my mind. We were friends who talked about everything – for hours – and I didn’t want our conversations to end.
Another plus to this time in my life was that keg parties and sex weren’t on the radar. This made things much less complicated. Nobody had a driver’s license either, so if you wanted to get somewhere, you had to walk or ride your bike. And this was before cell phones, social media, email or even answering machines. If we wanted to reach somebody, you either found them at Clark Street beach or you called them on the telephone, (complete with a chord that barely stretched from the hallway to my room without snapping.)
During many of my phone chats with Bobby, he would often talk about his crush on one of the most popular girls in school. We’ll call her “Julie”— a gorgeous thing who hit puberty early and captured many boys’ hearts by rocking a purple bikini. (I was a late bloomer. At the age of 14, my “Flock of Seagulls” haircut and braces made it impossible to compete with someone like Julie.)
One day I was sitting on the beach putting my “Purple Rain” cassette tape into my boom box, when a friend said to me,
“Bobby told me, ‘If there was one person I could grow old with, holding hands and sitting in our rocking chairs talking until we’re 95, it would be Jenny Weigel.’”
At first, this news confused me. I didn’t want to mess up a great friendship with romantic daydreams. But I too felt that if I could grow old with anyone, it would be with someone I could talk to about anything.
Someone like Bobby.
Does this mean we’re supposed to be more than friends?
Armed with my new information, I decided that I would ride my 10-speed bike over to his house later that night. I wasn’t sure what I would do once I got there, but I was hoping the trip would give me some clarity. The fifteen-minute ride felt like an eternity as different scenarios swirled in my head. If I told him how I felt and he didn’t choose me over Julie, I would be sad. But if I didn’t tell him about my growing feelings, I worried I might have regrets.
I knocked on his door, and within moments, he was outside standing next to my bike. He leaned onto my handlebars with comfort and ease as he chatted about the day’s events. For him, this was just like any other day, but for me – I was thinking of changing the game. I watched his lips move as he talked, but the noise of my pounding heart was so loud I could hardly hear a word he was saying. And then, when he paused to take a breath, I decided to seize the moment. I quickly leaned over my handlebars and went in for a kiss.
Oh my GOD!
Our lips were together for several seconds and I felt a tingle that went from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I’ve had some memorable kisses in my day, but this one ranked in the top five — (which is pretty good considering I had a mouth full of metal.) As I pulled away, Bobby looked shocked. I couldn’t tell if it was a good shock, or a bad shock, but there was definitely a “did that just happen?” expression on his face.
When I rode my bike home, I was grinning from ear to ear. I had no idea where that kiss would take me, but I knew that what I had done was sincere. I had no regrets because I was being authentic to my feelings. That was all that mattered.
The “handlebar smooch” didn’t change my fate — Bobby still went with the girl in the purple bikini. My friendship with him fizzled when she declared that he didn’t need female friends. He went on to date different girls, I discovered upper-classmen and we never really talked after graduation.
So fast forwarding to present day – when I saw Bobby across a crowded room for the first time in 25 years, I felt a conversation was in order.
“Being friends with you during that summer was one of the happiest times of my life,” I told him. “And I don’t know if you remember the time I came over to your house and…”
“When you reached across the handlebars and kissed me?” he interrupted.
This now happily married Bobby told me that each relationship he’s had since college began with the endorphin rush, followed by an attempt to build a friendship for sustainability. What he and I discovered at the tender age of 14 was the key to relationship success – a strong foundation of friendship before kissing made things complicated.
“I’ve never forgotten that kiss,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I thought to myself later in my life, ‘If this person would just reach across the handlebars like Jenny Weigel, maybe we could get somewhere?!’”
What seemed to me like a risky move that didn’t produce the desired results was now a former crush’s action phrase.
If this person would just reach across the handlebars like Jenny Weigel…
“Men are always expected to make the first move, and sometimes we need to know where the woman stands,” he continued. “After that kiss, I knew you had feelings for me.”
“But you still went with Julie and the purple bikini!” I laughed.
Or did you forget that part?!
“Yeah,” he said, shaking his head. “What can I say? I was running on hormones. But I regretted that. You and I had a foundation. And it’s something that I’ve been struggling to re-create ever since.”
“I was just being myself around you,” I said.
“I was too,” he said.
As Bobby shared more about his dating woes before he got married, I too realized that every romantic relationship I’ve had in my adult life was missing the “friends first” theme. Very rarely are we able to be care-free and authentic as adults. We are so busy projecting an image and masking our feelings that we neglect to reach across the handlebars. If you don’t reach for it, you can’t be rejected, and the act of not doing prevents you from hurting.
Or does it make you hurt more?
It’s been a week since the Bobby reunion conversation, and it has continued to re-play in my head like a Lifetime movie script. At first, the encounter had me longing for a simpler time, when “mortgages” and “divorce” weren’t a part of my vocabulary. Then, I felt grateful to be reminded of the person I was before life got difficult.
I was just being myself.
She’s still a part of me. She just needed permission to take center stage.
So every once in a while, do yourself a favor and reach across the handlebars. No matter what the outcome – you’ll see that being true to your own heart is one of life’s greatest miracles.