Sex + Love

Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me

The highs and lows of middle school romance.

Collage by Caitlin

In middle school, romances are built and destroyed on the tiniest whisper of a nothing: a guy making fun of you harder than usual, or seeing a girl’s bra strap on the bus one day and its becoming a shared secret, or just an extra X or O at the end of a text. But that doesn’t make those relationships insignificant—in fact, when you’re in the throes of one, it feels like they make it mean more. My own middle school couplings have carried more weight in my heart than relationships with men I’ve shared pets with. The concentrated brew of newness, confusion, and hormones that we all experience at that age, while we’re trying out a very undeveloped, grown-up part of our brains, make these romances as intense as they are tissue-thin. This is a tale about one of those romances.

For weeks, Lewis* had been telling me about a girl at our school that he was secretly in love with. He wouldn’t tell me who she was, just that she was his “dream girl.” We were in sixth grade, and Lewis was my totally platonic buddy from homeroom and lunch. He spiked his hair with gel so that it always looked wet and wore a trench coat and a bolo tie with a plastic eyeball on it. He liked Ernest movies and sci-fi. At the time I was coloring my shoes with markers and watching a lot of old SNL, so our personal styles and life philosophies meshed nicely. I was a fairly happy, fairly unpopular kid, but I made friends with a small cluster of fellow oddballs, including Lewis. Together we made up our own solar system and didn’t need the popular people.

At the time I was way too tall and weird to be considered a viable “going with” option, but I was fine with that. My love life consisted of crushes from afar—the farther the better, because if one of my crushes actually spoke to me, it would shatter the illusion that he was totally perfect and certainly meant for me. (In middle school, crushes are as easily squelched as they are ignited.) I was obsessed with the idea of romance—I could speak at length about the relationships on shows like Moonlighting and Saved by the Bell—but since I wasn’t an actual player in that game, I became more like a curator and aider/abetter of romance for our group. I knew everything about romantic comedies, flirting, and who was dating who, and I helped my pals compose love letters and pick outfits for dates, while experiencing none of those things firsthand. So this “Lewis has a secret crush” thing was totally in my wheelhouse.

I pledged to help Lewis get his girl, but he begged off. When the time was right, he said, he would tell her himself. We all teased him about it in homeroom and he upped the ante by announcing that he would reveal his crush at the Valentine’s Day dance. Our group of outcasts were beside ourselves with excitement. This was drama. This was romantic. This was what grownups did, right? None of us could wait for the dance.

Finally the day arrived, and I showed up at the dance in a new dress from one of the “junior” stores at the mall: a black tank top connected to a tiered houndstooth skirt, with a matching houndstooth jacket—pretty slick for 1991. My friend Jenny and I decided to arrive together—in my middle school no one was expected to have a date, none of us had the confidence to walk in alone. We’d barely had time to check out the refreshment table when suddenly Lewis appeared at my side, in formal clothes. You can disagree, but I think that formalwear on middle school boys aways makes them look like they’re dressed for a funeral. But still, I was excited to see him, because this meant I would soon learn the identity of his secret crush!

I looked at him expectantly, and then he pushed a plastic box of roses into my hands. I heard our friends, clustered loosely around us, gasp. Holy shit, I was the secret crush!

“Emily, I will always love you,” read the card on the box. Whoa. This wasn’t vicarious romance via a TV show or a friend or my older sister—this was real-life romance that was happening to me, RIGHT NOW. Whatever I was supposed to do at that moment—swoon, kiss him, stomp on the roses?—I was too flabbergasted to discern. I knew, though, that I wasn’t supposed to laugh and go, “Whaaat?” which is what I actually did.

Lewis and I were the talk of the dance, or at least our tiny little corner of it. That afternoon (this was middle school, remember, so the dance started at 4 PM) we slow-danced, we held hands, we stared into each other’s eyes. We didn’t talk much. When you’re in love, I guess talking is pointless. As Lewis spun me around on the dance floor, I felt like the object of affection from the Cure songs I was singing to myself in my head to drown out the Color Me Badd and House of Pain tracks that the DJ was playing.

When the dance was over, our parents came to pick us up, and Lewis and I ducked behind a hedge near the parking lot to hug goodbye. I took that quick embrace as an implicit agreement that we were now going together. In the three hours that the dance had lasted, I’d gone from bemused curiosity about Lewis’s mystery crush to a full-blown obsession with this shrimpy, spiky-haired kid that I’d been friends with for a year—a dude I’d had drool contests with, and who regularly farted in front of me. A dude whom I now found to be the most gorgeous, most charming, sweetest human being on the planet.


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  • nicholo94 February 18th, 2013 11:09 PM

    Oh wow, I went through something kind of similar to this in middle school. I think that everyone does at some point; it’s so much easier to have a fantasy relationship than a real one sometimes. Great article!

  • Dick February 18th, 2013 11:13 PM

    Love the “The Smiths” reference. :)

  • thefilmrookie February 19th, 2013 12:57 AM

    I had a short little middle school relationship too! In the 6th grade a boy from my hebrew school class “asked me out” via text message on our oh-so-cool flip phones, the day before winter break. I said yes. Over winter break we hung out once, and during that hang-out he never mentioned me being his girlfriend, nor did he mention it ever again after the day he asked me out. So, I guess be never “officially” broke up, so I guess technically we are still dating!

  • casey February 19th, 2013 2:22 AM

    i actually cried

  • Sorcha M February 19th, 2013 6:13 AM

    I remember a guy asked me out when I was 12 and I said yes and then avoided him for the rest of the day, before sending my best friend to tell him we were breaking up. First love <3

  • Libby February 19th, 2013 11:28 AM

    I’ve never had a boyfriend (I’m fifteen, so not exactly an old maid yet despite my grandmother’s worries) or been kissed, or even crushed upon.
    But I’ve had crushes — god, I’ve had crushes. There have been five boys altogether that have become crushes in the sense of being the object of my desire for a sustained period of time (mostly like six months, but one for about eighteen months?) and I’ve fallen in ‘like-like’ thousands of time for just a moment. There’s so much sexual tension between teenagers on public transport!
    So Emily, your experiences are really different to mine (although they are quite similar to a couple of my friends) but I still really identified with this, and with all the crazy emotions that come with those first intense teenage crushes. It’s such a strange moment in our lives, and we all seem to have such high expectations of it from the media, and it’s nice to see that it was just as messy and awkward and odd for other people.

    • inkandhonesty February 21st, 2013 10:46 PM

      When I read your comment, I literally breathed a sigh of relief. I’m 15, and none of that stuff has happened to me yet. And it seems like everyone has a boyfriend, or has at least been crushed upon. And I know having a boyfriend won’t validate my existence, but it would still be nice. I always thought I was a “late bloomer”, but I guess not.
      God, this is so sad. Oh well.

      • all-art-is-quite-useless February 22nd, 2013 11:58 AM

        Me too. I’ve just turned 16 and I know that boys liking me isn’t the be all and end all of existence and that everyone else hasn’t had a boyfriend, but it doesn’t feel like that. Thank god I’m not the only person in the universe who feels like this…

  • Amelia February 19th, 2013 12:39 PM

    eeeeep! waves of nostalgia coming over me after reading this: in my seventh grade english class there was this boy who was, as it would be, “the pervert.” through the grapevine, I’d discovered that his best friend had “liked me,” but he had never acted on it and all of a sudden the other boy asked me out and he magically lost all “perversion” and become the epitome of charming. so we went on a “group date” (because god forbid we had to have genuine conversation) where we watched that awful will ferrell movie, land of the lost, that made us feel oh-so-grown-up-and-knowledgeable-about-sexy-stuff.
    and the whole time while this was taking place, I was unsure of my status with his best friend who was also being rather flirtatious. and so we went more confused group dates to sky-high, the hip trampoline place, and when summer came we were informally dating.
    truth be told, the relationship was a lot more exciting in the gossip and dramatic whisperings that my friends and I threw around, and halfway through the summer while I was away at my cabin, I facebook message-d the guy (who was in mexico! with his best friend!) and told him that it wasn’t going to work out. it was as dramatically heartbreaking as it could be over a social networking site for the both of us. and looking back on our oh-so-public slow dancing at middle school dances, I realize now just how cold I was!
    ahh, taking me back to the warped and delightful romantic fantasies of middle school, THANK YOU ROOKIE!

  • poetess February 19th, 2013 12:56 PM

    Oh god yes– being told by the friend! I’TS ALL COMING BACK TO ME.
    My middle school boyf was pretty fearless, but I remember that to get my BFF hers, I had to do a lot of back-and-forth talk with her beau’s BFF.
    There’s something comforting about that web of connections between you and the other person, I guess.

  • Suzy X. February 19th, 2013 3:50 PM


  • hadley February 19th, 2013 4:19 PM

    i hate to admit that i was the one sending the friend to break it off.. eek looking back on that now

  • Lulli February 19th, 2013 6:17 PM

    This is actually happening to me right now. Well, pretty much.

  • Jolala February 19th, 2013 8:38 PM

    ♡Just what I needed to read yes yes yes♡

  • llamalina February 19th, 2013 8:57 PM

    i had my first boyfriend when i was 12. it lasted for three weeks, which isn’t bad for 7th grade. we held hands twice, i believe, and we broke up with each other over the phone. middle school romance was the best.

  • cammy-poo February 19th, 2013 9:07 PM

    I laughed so much through this! We were so dumb, but also so awesome in Middle School, right?

    But under all the funny/sweet is some really good advice. Nicely done. :)

  • momobaby February 19th, 2013 10:11 PM

    This so reminds me of my first boyfriend. We started going out in may, only hung out once outside of school, and didn’t see each other at all over the summer even though we lived in the same neighborhood :P

    But we were still totally in love because we texted

  • Kirsten Lipsky February 21st, 2013 11:42 AM

    I know exactly what you mean; my first kiss waswith a friend, but now it’s like he can’t even look at me. It’s my fault anyway for thinking he liked me; it was an emotional time in his life and I was the only one there for him. But how I’m not. And neither is he.

  • Gabbi Tolentino March 11th, 2013 1:38 AM

    this was awesome! totally relatable– totally me, which is important in these types of articles, to allow people to relate, i loved it (:

  • Mary the freak March 30th, 2013 4:11 PM

    this is all so true and relatable and amazing!

  • Birdie Love April 21st, 2013 1:38 AM

    I can totally relate to what you went through. It’s just another one of those Middle School romances…