At 11, I was of the opinion that I was too young for love.
Despite my Nan's assertion that I was incredibly good-looking "it must be something in your demeanour that puts them off...", and my mother's equally saccharine comparisons to Leonardo DiCaprio (which I actually found insulting; I've never really seen the attraction), I've never thought of myself as particularly attractive. Besides, at this point I was 11. That's far too young, I told myself, and I was going to wait until I was a teenager before I even started thinking about it (lies; I got a crush almost immediately after starting year 7, and even sent her a flower).
Nevertheless, I was certain that nothing was going to happen at that time, and I assumed a kind of aloof position, just to make it clear that I was both (i) intelligent; (ii) unattainable. I didn't have any friends at that point (Robinson and my friend-who-is-a-midwife, who had been my Ron and Hermione at primary, had gone to the local selective grammar; I was at the mixed-ability comprehensive), and as an immediate outsider, I developed a kind of mystique, firmly insisting that I wasn't interested in love, I would never be interested in sex, and that "nobody fancies me and gets away with it".
Uninterested as I may have said I was, the same can't be said for a couple of girls. There's the one I wrote about here, of course... and then there's one more, as well.
This girl was in my class. I knew who she was, but I hardly ever talked to her. We worked together a couple of times, but she hardly ever said a word ("je suis timide", as she put it in a French lesson). Quite a few people in the class were quite cruel to her for her unassuming nature, withdrawn personality and unflattering body shape, so I tried to be as courteous as possible to her, as a fellow victim of bullying.
It didn't take long for people to matchmake, although their reasons were, as far as I was aware, very loose at best. "You two suit," one of the girls in my class pointed out, although I thought she may have also fancied me (she had my name written on her pencil case). "You both read books," pointed out one of the boys, as if that was a pastime nobody else had ever considered. "You both like going to school," pointed out yet another, "and anyway, I thought you two got on well together."
I wasn't convinced, and in the end, I went to talk to my Head of Year about it. He, rather gallantly, talked to the class, without naming names, and after that it eased off a little. But only a little. (I remember missing the lesson when he did that and hanging in his office for a while. I didn't need French; I could, at that point, already speak French).
The problem was, however, that she did in fact have a crush on me. She tried to confide it in someone, which was probably a mistake, as it made its way back to me.
"I don't care," I said coolly to whichever rumourmonger it was who told me. "You shouldn't be telling me that sort of stuff. I'm not sure it's even true," I finished, even though I knew it was, in fact, true. I could have talked for a while about the nature of human attraction, and how not disliking someone doesn't automatically indicate true love, but I didn't (and, in the first two years of secondary school, this kind of binary opposition seemed to be the norm). And I didn't mention it at all, because if she was pining, then I didn't want to prolong her suffering.
The worst thing was that I couldn't do anything about it. I started to hesitate when going to school, and made absolutely sure to stay away from her, lest I would be seen talking to her and it being mistaken, yet again, for a relationship. I felt awful about it - it seemed to me like I was being cold and distant - but everyone, including my Head of Year, said that this was the right course of action. I continued to feel, though, that this was entirely out of my control, and eventually she sort of asked me on a date, although I wasn't entirely sure she was talking to me at first.
She asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I told her, politely I hope, that I didn't want to - a sort of "hmmm... no, thank you" deal - and was both impressed by her courage and incredibly guilty at having disappointed her. We barely exchanged words after that, although in year 8 we were library monitors together, and it was brought up within earshot of both of us that "she used to fancy you, but it's okay, she hates you now" (binary opposition again!). Eventually, of course, things seemed to thaw, and by year 13, when I'd evolved into a floppy-haired, quick-witted, guitar-playing alternative music fan, I found myself in the same class as her again, and was quite cordial to her - warm, even. I felt she deserved to do well, as her first couple of years hadn't been her happiest.
She denied having ever had a crush on me. I suppose that's for the best. It wouldn't have dragged up good memories.
And that's the first time I've ever been asked out. Hardly one of my best moments, and although I think I handled it well enough, I didn't like the fact that it was almost competely out of my control. The mocking cruelty of my classmates, my oddball outsider status, and her faltering start - even though, academically, she was doing well - was completely new to me. I didn't like it one bit... but what could I have done? And, as I said, I was 11. I really was too young for love.
The next time someone asked me out, of course, I was 17. And I was ready. I said yes.