Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Welcome Wednesday: Leah Cypess' Loveless High School Existence

When I first saw this topic post, my initial reaction was, “eep!” (actually, I think I sent an email to Lea with “Eep” as the subject line.) Here’s the thing: I went to an all-girls high school. I had not a single date, not a single romance, not a single crush on a guy I actually knew in all of high school. So what do I know about teen love? Nothing, I thought.

Then I thought, Well, maybe I could write about that.

If I’m to go by the stories told by most of the YA books I read, romance is an essential part of the teen experience. First crush, first kiss, first boyfriend, first heartbreak… it’s all supposed to happen in high school, right? It’s part of growing up. 
Except for me, it wasn’t.

So here’s the question: Did I miss out?

When I was in high school, of course, I wished my school was co-ed. The YA books back then, different as the genre was, were often focused on romance as well. Not to mention, I was a teenager with quite functional hormones. I thought having guys in school would be the best thing ever.
Looking back, I realize I was kind of an idiot.

Here’s the thing: I was not very attractive in high school. I had bad hair, I had bad glasses, I had bad acne, and I didn’t hit puberty until I was about sixteen. Had there been guys in my high school, I rather suspect they would not have been falling all over themselves to ask me out. I suspect that having a chance at “teen love” in high school would have more likely exposed me up to emotional harm at a very vulnerable point in my life.
[Hollywood’s version of an unattractive girl.
This bears no resemblance to what I looked like in high school.]
Not that being in an all-girls high school entirely shielded me from society’s pressure to value myself based on how attractive I was. My friends and I regularly did the “we’re so ugly, we’re so fat” bouts of complaining. But we also went to school at times – especially during finals – without tucking in our shirts or brushing our hair or putting on a dab of makeup. I actually bought makeup for the first time when I was 18 years old.

So again: Did I miss out?
Obviously, many girls have great relationships with guys in high school. In some cases, that’s where they meet the guy they end up spending their lives with. More often, they get to have “practice relationships” with really nice guys (though I do have enough experience to say that the teenage years are usually not when guys hit their maximum niceness levels). And perhaps they learn a lot, about relationships, about themselves, about life. So I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty, obviously, since I never did go to a co-ed school. (And I’m looking forward to hearing agreement and disagreement from those who did!) But my instinct is that, no, I probably didn’t miss out. If anything, I think I might have gained.

So I guess what I learned about teenage love, really, is that it’s not necessary. Not a popular opinion, I know, when it’s such a large part of the high school experience for most people. But for me, I think that doing without it worked out quite well.


Leah Cypess is the author of Mistwood and Nightspell, published by Greenwillow/Harper Collins. You can learn more about her at her website, Goodreads, and follow her on Twitter.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Leah! This was a great post. I think I have to agree with you - without a bunch of boys in the mix, you probably had a lot more time and energy than I did to focus on school. 

So what's your take, gentle readers? What are the pros and cons of a loveless high school existence?


Jessica Lemmon said...

Sheesh, I NEVER had a boyfriend in HS! Well, I did, but he wasn't actually going to my school (of course!) There were many a dance I awaited my prince to come. Alas, my memories involve bleachers and watching everyone else sway to Bon Jovi's Never Say Goodbye. *le sigh*

Kimberly said...

I have a friend who had an arranged marriage--it was her choice. She is outgoing, went to a co-ed high school, college and law school knowing that her parents had already picked her husband. I'm always awed and amazed at that. She didn't go through that "regular" dating experience, and she and her husband are perfectly happy together. So, maybe you don't always have to have the same experiences as peers your age....
I, personally, think it's an important part of growing up. But, that's just me. I had a pretty positive experience, so maybe that's why I feel so strongly about it.
I'm curious about one your books have teens involved in romance, and, if so, how do you write that? And why? Do you feel your characters don't need to experience teen love? And if not, how does that connect with a vast majority of teens today? THAT would be an awesome post to discuss on a future date. :-)

Melissa Landers said...

Ditto Kim. I had so much fun dating multiple boys in high school, so I do think it's an important part of growing up. But if my experiences had been negative, I'm sure I'd feel differently, LOL.

Leah Cypess said...

Kimberly, great question! My books (so far) are high fantasy, set in medieval-style worlds where teens are functionally adults, so this hasn't been a problem for me. And I did plenty of dating post high-school, so I do have experience to draw from! I think I could write a high school book with romance in it, but I suspect I'd have a hard time writing a "soulmates"-style romance in high school, because I would have a hard time taking it that seriously. (Not to say I don't enjoy contemporary teen romances, but there's some suspension of disbelief involved.)

That said, I do feel that teens don't HAVE to experience love in high school, and I think many teens don't and/or are better off without it. I love YA books that reflect that truth - i.e. Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales, where the mc has a crush on a guy, but it's definitely a sideline to the main plot, which is about her confusing relationship with her best friend.

Tameka said...

I love this post. I was boyfriend-less throughout high school and always felt like there was something wrong with me back then. I wish I would have had the confidence to come out of my shell and at least attempt to date because I ended up marrying the first boy who asked which subsequently lead to divorce not too long after. I wish I could go back and give my 15 year old self a bit of the confidence I have now as a 30ish year old woman, because now I don't really date but it's because I'm too busy being awesome to worry about it. ;-)

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