Innocence in the Unlikeliest of Places

The TV show “The Middle” hasn’t been on my radar for long, but I’ve had it on in the background from time to time when working from home. Being recently pregnant and then miscarrying has also meant a lot of couch and bed time, and I’ve seen the last few new episodes in a row. Overall, the show doesn’t blow me away, but the last two episodes featured a fascinating marriage proposal for the 17-year old, overachieving, nerdy, sweet daughter, Sue. I very much identify with Sue in general, as I was an over-achieving, bookish teenager (right down to the long, brown, middle-parted hair), and I just loved the fact that this sweet, innocent relationship storyline is portrayed on mainstream TV in 2015.

Sue’s boyfriend sends her on a Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt all over town, which ends at the tiny house he just bought. He gives her a tiny tour and then proposes to her. She is shell-shocked and says, “Sure.” She goes home, still stunned, and tells her parents at the family dinner table that she loves him but doesn’t want to get married, and was too afraid to tell him so. The whole episode is her trying to tell him this but being faced with potential in-laws, wedding dresses, and honeymoon plans – and all she can do is go with the flow, run away, or crawl into bed to sleep between her parents.

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I know to a lot of people, Sue’s might seem like a disingenuous, unreal reaction, but I know it’s really not. My first kiss was at age 12 or so at the local roller skating rink. The guy was a friend of a friend, very tall, and he liked me. The details are a little fuzzy, but I remember standing in our roller skates near the lockers when he kissed me – nothing crazy, just a quick peck. Afterward, I went to the bathroom and hid until my father picked me up, what felt like hours later. He sent one of my friends in to talk to me, saying he wouldn’t try to kiss me again – he just wanted me to come out and talk to him. I refused! I was afraid because it was new and scary and grown-up, I wasn’t ready for it, and I didn’t know how to deal with that. I let him keep calling, but I’m not sure I ever even saw him again. I didn’t know how to deal with the situation, so I acquiesced in person and then just didn’t. A few years later, an older guy, 19 I think, liked me, and I really liked him back. We spent hours on the phone, but the reality of dating was scary, and I wasn’t ready for it, so I met his repeated attempts to take me out on a date with excuses; I told him my parents wouldn’t let me go because he was so much older. He said he’d love to meet and talk to them in person or that we could go out with a group of people first – but I kept insisting they said no, even though I never mentioned a word about it to them. My diaries from those years talk about little else BUT boys, but when it came to the reality of dating and being physical with them, as many of my friends did, I just wasn’t ready. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I started dating my first real boyfriend, and that fun, innocent, functional relationship lasted a year until he went off to college.

I wasn’t unaware that other girls my age made different decisions. In fact, my zip code was featured at some point during those years on Oprah because we had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. I just operated with a different mindset, one that wasn’t brainwashed or scared or culturally bred into me – it was simply my truth, falling, I suppose, somewhere in between the Duggars and Kardashians (who, strangely, fascinate me equally). This is why I love that, in an age of shows like Teen Mom and even Modern Family, where kids lose their innocence at a very young age, and 19 Kids & Counting, where teenage girls are only trained to be submissive wives and mothers, The Middle successfully and honestly portrayed an intelligent teenage girl at an uncomfortable crossroad knowing herself well enough to make the conscious decision to put off growing up before she was ready. Several of my high school friends got married very young, and most of those ended up being great decisions. I made the right decisions for my teenage self by staying in the slow lane, although I wish I’d had Sue’s example back then to articulate for me why I hid in that bowling alley bathroom (because at the time, I just felt intimidated and scared). So kudos to ABC for explaining it so well for today’s young girls.

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2 Responses

  1. We really enjoy that show! This post made me smile thinking about how awkward we all were back then. Maybe some of us more than others 😉 I’m often amazed that the decisions we made back then actually worked out well all around. 17 years and counting…

    • Well, we were more self-aware than the average teenaged bear. Our idea of a fun night was deep, philosophical conversation over a nice dinner…or empty parking lot:)

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