Fifth grade was when it started. The other girls started talking about their crushes, which boys in class were cute. Only two years before my girl peers were saying all the boys had cooties. Now they blushed and giggled about which cootie infestation was cuter.
I didn’t understand their criteria. Our class of 24 had only six girls but 18 boys, so we had plenty of candidates to choose from. But I didn’t know why they picked the boys they did. I’d found only a few men nice to look at before, like Sulu (young George Takei) who had a friendly smile and Michael J. Fox who I liked to pretend was my dad.
Finally one of the girls mentioned that Andrew in class had good hair. At last, a clue! I learned that ash blonde bowl cuts are good, and boys who have them are cute. More, I learned that hairstyles were a criteria for cute boy selection. As a biologically appointed yet underprepared judge, I needed all the criteria I could get.
Over the years, teen girl magazines like YM and Seventeen gave me more criteria like muscular (but not too muscular!) arms and “piercing” eyes. But hair was always what I looked to first. I can remember the hairstyles of all the boys and men I dated, from bowl cuts and Kurt Cobain style straight hair, to an Afro and locs, to two bald men, my mental catalog of hair remembers them all.
I can’t tell you what all of their faces looked like, or all of their bodies. I can’t remember all their names. I have to admit, because I didn’t understand why I didn’t really like boys, I didn’t so much date boys as I dated hairstyles with boys attached. (I was not a terrific heterosexual girlfriend.)
I did learn a lot through my years dating hair and painfully bewildering the boys who grew that hair. I learned my pet peeves and my favorite first date activities (mini golf and go-carts followed by milkshakes at a diner). I learned how a partnership works and fails. I learned that I’m gay.
I’m sorry to the boys I misused, amf I’m sorry to my younger self that I didn’t know earlier and couldn’t spare as all some sorely mismatched dating. But I am grateful too, for all I learned about relationships and myself. This isn’t the path I would have chosen but it’s the path I took and I’m not gonna waste it.