My mom always told me to be kind to everyone, but especially to girls. I was to be equally kind to every single girl I came across because in my mom’s eyes I was never old enough to date.
This was never an issue. I developed crushes, as any fourth or fifth grader does, but kept the opposite sex at bay with the barrier of friendship. Boys are just like men when they are amongst a group of their peers; they insult each other as a way of bonding.
Growing up, my best friends were dumbasses, fatasses, sons of bitches, assholes, and any number of colorful descriptors, and I was the same to them. It didn’t hurt. It was just normal. That’s how I associated with friends.
Because I was young and my mom drilled into my brain that girls were just friends and nothing more, I didn’t see any reason to act differently around girls. I was wise enough to know not to be as crass and vulgar, but naïve enough to keep the sentiments aligned. It wasn’t until one day that I called one of my best girl friends fat did I know there was a major difference in how I was to conduct myself and converse around girls as compared to my own gender.
At that time none of us had cell phones, so this girl and I communicated via email every day after school. My parents also had access to this account.
The day after I insulted this sweet girl, my parents both woke me up together, which had never happened before. They were upset with me and disappointed. The girl had sent an email with the subject line “How Could You?”
I don’t remember exactly what the email said, but I know the gist of it. She was hurt, and I was an asshole. This time it hurt.
I remember the exact words my mom said to me. “You’re going to school today and you’re going to apologize. You’re going to tell her you’re sorry and that you think she’s beautiful and sweet and a great friend and you never meant to hurt her.”
“Yes ma’am,” I responded sleepy-eyed and dejected.
Halfway through the school day I walked up to the girl and said my lines just as I had rehearsed, only it led to something else. There was a stir on the playground because I called her beautiful, and now the word on the jungle gym was that I liked her. That’s a big deal in fourth grade.
This story is relevant because I still do the same thing today. I’ve grown smarter. I don’t talk to my girl friends the same way I do my guy friends, but I still hurt girls. It’s inevitable with me. But my response to it is the same as it was when I was in fourth grade. “I’m sorry, you’re beautiful, forgive me.”
That’s such a shallow apology, and a habit engrained in me unintentionally from a young age that I must break. It doesn’t even begin to express remorse for what I did. There’s no clear acknowledgement.