Are You There, Bullies? It’s Me, Kelly

I came to a realization this week.

After reading this article, I’ve come to believe that my status as a late bloomer is the result of my years of being bullied during my formative years. I’m up to speed now in that department, but back then? Forget it. I was lucky if a guy wanted to be my partner during science lab.

My awkward self at age 16:

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When I look back on my time in high school, I see a girl who couldn’t understand why not one guy was interested in her. While most of my friends had relationships during these formative years, I was forever the singleton. I was the girl who couldn’t get a date to prom — I went stag to both of them — and I was the girl who tried to be content hanging with the single ladies every weekend while the rest of my friends spent time with their pre-pubescent boyfriends.

I swear the guys I went to high school with aged far more slowly than their public school counterparts. No muscles or facial hair to speak of, as far as I know.

So I suppose my main question is, did my time as the victim of high school bullies make me into the late bloomer I am?

Once in a while, I think back to my 9th grade self. As far as I’m concerned, I was quiet and unthreatening. I had recently started straightening my hair and wearing contact lenses, making me into a slightly less awkward version of my 8th grade self. I was silent in class, fearful of how people would judge me if I ever dared to raise my hand. I’ll admit I was timid in nature but I never considered that I may have come off as unfriendly. Looking back, maybe I did. However, that could not possibly have been the fuel that fed the mean girls’ (and boys’) desire to mentally damage me for years to come. It just didn’t add up.

9th grade was the most difficult and anxiety-inducing year of my life. And yes, I’m comparing this to my freshman year of college when I was actually diagnosed with anxiety disorder. I don’t know how it started, but a few girls and guys decided on my behalf that I had a huge crush on a boy in many of my classes. I had never really been friends with this guy, at least not since he’d “dated” my friend (by dated I mean he stuck his tongue on her face after his Bar Mitzvah) in middle school. He seemed nice enough but I’d never really given any thought to a romantic future with this dude.

But the bullies did.

They decided it’d be funny to force me into awkward situations with this guy, despite the fact that I’d never developed any sort of feelings for him. And I assume he’d never developed feelings for me, either. To this day I have no idea how any of this started.

The bullies planned for all sorts of uncomfortable positions to put me in with this guy. For example, there was that time I was buying lunch in the cafeteria and one of the mean girls approached me, with the guy in tow, and told me I ought to walk more sexily and whip my hair around because it would turn him on. There was also that time my science teacher put me in a study group with the guy and one of the main bullies. How convenient. During one of our required study sessions, the bully decided to “borrow” my calculator and write on it, “KELLY AND [BOY’S NAME] 4EVER”. She then handed it to the guy to show him. I can’t make this stuff up.

The bullies dragged this on for two full years and it took me the remainder of high school to recover.

This isn’t the only bullying situation I’ve been in. I was always made fun of for my frizzy hair and large nose. Adolescents will find anything they can to make a seemingly weaker individual feel bad.

I hate to admit it, but they did weaken me.

As I said before, I was always on the quiet side when I was a teenager. My personality drastically changed — and by changed, I mean I let it out — as soon as I entered college. But in high school, I was beat into submission. I kept my head down at all times and completely turned off my ability to feel anything for anyone. It was safer that way. If a guy found out I liked him, I knew I’d be tortured for it. Because of this mindset, I believe my status as a late bloomer was caused by both the bullies and my own fear of being noticed. After all, for me, being noticed meant being singled out and picked on. The bullies absolutely instilled this fear in me by spreading rumors and approaching me about this one particular guy, but they also made me feel like I had to shut up and hide. If I didn’t obey, they’d humiliate me.

Because of this need to hide, I refused to show any interest in anybody of the opposite sex. Nobody was interested in me during this time because I wouldn’t let myself show interest in them. The bullies had managed to make me completely terrified of my peers and I was emotionally in hiding.

Despite my silence, the mean kids rarely missed a chance to point out my lack of experience with boys. I’ll never forget a 12th grade class I took called Sexuality and Society (my school was super progressive). The teacher was speaking about virginity and one of bullies looked me in the eye and hissed, “maybe we should ask the virgin in the class about that.”

That comment has stayed with me all these years as a reminder that it took me longer than other girls to start the path to intimacy. It may not have taken me nearly as long as some people to experience a relationship and the things that come with it, but it took me long enough to feel ostracized. The way these bullies tormented me over my made up crush on this one guy scared me into never crushing on or pursuing anyone at all.

You may be wondering how this relates to a blog about online dating. With all of this happening in my formative years, when the majority of girls my age experience things like first dates or first kisses (or more), it took me a bit longer to feel comfortable with expressing any interest in the opposite sex. I actually believe my openness and willingness to venture out into the dating world, in real life and online, shows great courage. It’s a bravery I wish I’d possessed as a teen. Having an online dating profile (or three or five) is physical proof that I finally feel good enough about who I am to put myself out there for others to see. I’m quite literally showing that I’m available and interested in finding a partner. This is a far cry from how I felt in high school.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the people who spent their time abusing my mental state and making me feel small. Did they even do it on purpose? Was it fun for them? Have they matured into kinder people? Or do they continue to seek out weaker individuals to prey on?

There’s only one thing I do know. One of the main tormenters, a male, wrote the following in my senior yearbook:

“Congratulations on Penn, Kelly! You truly deserve it.”

I did deserve it. I deserved something. And I’m so glad I can finally say that and believe it.

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