Growing up, my best friend Ali and I never really understood relationships. We learned from watching the women around us, like many other girls throughout humanity, but it seldom worked out the way we hoped. Many of our older female role models, including both our mothers, either had children in high school or very soon after. Some, my own grandmother for instance, preached that gold digging would be our only chance at happiness. Others simply seemed miserable in their marriages, having married the wrong man too young. Options, it seemed, were not available to every girl.
“My grandma always told me to marry a rich old man,” I told my best friend Ali. “He has to be old so he’ll die a long time before you and then you can get all his money.”
“No, no, no,” Ali replied. “You just divorce them and take all their money.”
That’s basically what Ali’s mom did, which is exactly why she stayed at my house much of the time. Her dad worked crazy long hours because her mom cleared out their bank accounts when she ran away to Ohio after meeting a man online. She took every cent, even the college savings fund the couple had been compiling since Ali’s birth. We never really talked about Ali’s mom, but I could tell she was always in her thoughts.
Ali and I were best friends, probably because we were both a little broken. We never really had much in common, but we understood each other on a real, authentic level that many friendships never reach. In my eyes, Ali knew much more than I did about life and how to be a girl while my head was up in the clouds.
My peers thought my dreams were stupid and ridiculous, a good fiction story that would never take flight. I wanted to be a writer, traveling the world and putting my amazing experiences into print. The idea of marriage and kids seemed downright boring, even if everyone in my family expected me to create my own family directly after high school, just like they had. Instead, I thought I would explore vast cultures, meet and learn from diverse people, and explore the globe. Ali wanted to find a man, with thoughts of kids to follow in the nearing years ahead.
We might have been different, but Ali and I both wanted to be loved, an overwhelming desire that welled up inside us – maybe before we were even born. We wanted, no, needed male attention, and we explored ways to become what they desired.
“You don’t actually have to put out, Hazel,” she said. “You just have to make them think you will.”
“Well, how do I do that?” I wondered out loud.
“Just act interested in them,” she stated, in a matter-of-fact tone.
How could it be that simple? I thought. When I talk to boys, we always just end up becoming friends. I want to be more than that.
“I don’t think boys like me,” I said.
Ali laughed. “They’re scared of you.”
I watched Ali talk to boys all the time. Everywhere we went, they always swarmed her. Whether due to her already shapely DDs, her awesome name-brand clothes that clung to her hips, or her flirty personality, I couldn’t grasp exactly what made her better than me. No matter where we went, guys wanted her and I wanted to be her, to be seen as more than a child or a friend.
Perhaps they are scared of me, I thought, but why?
I even bought the same Victoria’s Secret bras she did, only I had to stuff mine with tissue paper or buy the extra padded push-up bras so it appeared real, thinking maybe that’s what boys wanted.
“Are your boobs ever going to grow?” She snickered, poking my cushioned chest.
The boys in school only wanted the girls who put out though, so they never stuck around Ali long either. But that didn’t matter. She already had another boyfriend lined up before her current one even knew he wanted to leave. Every boy wanted her. I, on the other hand, was lucky if a boy talked to me with any legitimate interest whatsoever.
“Shake your hips a little when you walk,” Ali said, demonstrating. “No, no, keep your shoulders back so it looks like you have boobs.”
“Stick your butt out a little… wait. There! Okay, now walk.”
I strutted forward.
Ali laughed. “You’re going to have to practice that.”
We scoured teen magazines on my bed, from J-14 and Ym to Teen Vogue and Seventeen, reading about every tip and trick we could to fool boys into liking us. We tried out different makeup techniques and tried on clothing with things like ‘Bootylicious’ or ‘Angel’ scrawled across the seat.
“It draws their eyes to you,” Ali explained.
We cut our shorts shorter, creating our own daisy dukes from our jeans.
“Those look sexy!” Ali cheered on.
We wore crop top shirts and talked about how badly we wanted to pierce our belly buttons.
“Oh, man. That would be hot!” Ali exclaimed, but there was no way our parents would let us have belly rings.
We wore gel bracelets, the ones that some of our classmates were using to play sex games, each color representing a different sexual act. Ali and I liked the twinkle in a guy’s eye when he leered at us, a smile forming on his lips. “Did you earn that?”
Neither of us ever actually had earned them, but we’d definitely lie if anyone asked.
We fanaticized about boys all day, cutting out and hanging photos of cute boys pictured in magazines.
“Someday, I’m gonna marry a guy who looks like this,” Ali would say, showing me photos of gorgeous models.
I believed her. She probably would marry a model because, unlike me, Ali got any guy she desired. They all loved her. She only had to choose.
“If you pull your thong up like this,” Ali said, pulling the strings of her panties up over her hips, “they’ll like you more.”
“But don’t you have the biggest wedgie ever right now?” I asked. “How can that be comfortable?”
“It’s not,” Ali laughed. “But neither are heels, are they?”
“You’ve got a point.”
I felt like Ali always understood things I didn’t, like how to be a girl. She had style, and like any only child, she always found a way to get what she wanted.
“You have to make them like you,” She told me. “Boys think you’re intimidating because you’re too much like them.”
What? I thought. I can’t be like a boy! I’m a girl!
But I didn’t know what being female really meant, and I didn’t know how to be anyone other than myself either. My desperation stemmed down to my core. I wanted to be a real woman with a shapely figure, who didn’t spit on the sidewalk or have better friendships with the boys at school than the other girls. I wanted to be a woman who could walk into a room flawlessly, regardless of her 4-inch heels, with every hair in place and glide through as all eyes followed my every move. I wanted men to want me and women to want to be me. But what I really wanted was Jeremy.
Jeremy was my best male friend, and he had no idea that I had a huge crush on him. He was the whole reason I needed to learn from girls like Ali. Yet, I could never do anything right.
“No, Hazel,” Ali scolded. “If you act like you can’t carry things, a guy will come help you.”
Ali was trying to teach me, but I didn’t understand why I should pretend I can’t do something. It was that type of thinking that always got me those looks that screamed ‘What’s wrong with you?!’
“But my books aren’t even that heavy,” I argued, stacking textbooks in preparation for school the next morning. Ali was sprawled across by bed, partly watching me pace the room and partly flipping through the newest issue of Teen People.
“Hazel, if he thinks your books are too heavy for you to carry, he’ll like you better. It gives him a purpose.”
(Ali knew about my infatuation with Jeremy).
“Well, I guess I’ll try that tomorrow. Maybe.”
“Just do it, Hazel. Guys need to feel needed,” Ali fluffed up her hair, looking at her reflection in the mirror. She looked beautiful, as always.
The next morning at school I decided to try Ali’s advice on Jeremy. We always met in the morning to hang out before we walked to our first class together.
“Hey, Jeremy,” I said. “Wanna see something cool?”
“Sure!” His eyes lit up, probably thinking I was going to share another infamous fart joke, as per usual. I wasn’t sure what I was actually about to do, but I had to get his attention. I had to make him want me.
Instead, I bent over and squished my boobs together with my hands, a motion that made it appear as if I had decent-sized breasts and cleavage for once. I forced them together and pushed them out.
“Check this out!”
Jeremy seemed stunned at first. Then his face turned a shade of red that can only be described as vermillion. He turned, looking down the hall, as far away from my chest as he possibly could.
“Um. Well, isn’t that something. Uhhhh. Well, class?” He cleared his throat, still looking down the hall.
Why didn’t it work? I wondered. I thought he’d at least laugh, but he didn’t even want to look at me. I’ll have to try something else.
I shook my head and pretended to pick up my books. I had set them on the ground in order to show off my fake cleavage. They fumbled, dropping to the floor.
Jeremy jumped a little, surprised by the fallen books.
“Can you help me? These books are just too heavy for little ol’ me,” I said, batting my eyelashes.
A confused scowl crossed Jeremy’s face. The skin about his nose wrinkled up the way it does when something doesn’t make sense.
“What’s going on today, Hazel?” he asked. “Did you get your period or something?”
I could only look at him, baffled. I felt my chin slide open in utter shock at his question.
Guys are crazy, I thought.
Brit Haines is a KC native freelance writer. She is a book nerd and coffee addict who loves spending time outside in the sun.