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The Pact MAG
We sat around a wobbly, cast-iron table outside Starbucks around 9:30 one night the summer that I was 14. Emma, Karen, Cathy, and I had just been to a movie we had since decided was a waste of $4.50 and two hours of our lives.
Cathy was sipping her blackberry green tea frappuccino and flipping her Razr open and closed, hoping she had missed an incoming text from Jared, her current object of affection. She sighed and put the phone back in her huge bag. “Bathroom,” she said, sliding her chair out and proceeding inside.
Emma stirred her light vanilla bean something-or-other she’d ordered because it didn’t taste like coffee. She twirled her straw around the small hole in the supposedly spill-proof top, wondering how long it would be until her parents picked us up. A faint humming started in her purse. After a few “Mmhmms” and a couple “Yeah, okays,” she hung up and announced, “They’ll be here in like 15 minutes.”
Karen hadn’t ordered anything. She people-watched. Seemingly consumed by an older man slowly, awkwardly mounting his bicycle, her expression held both confusion and pity. The man took a few long looks at us before pedaling off.
“Are the guys meeting us tonight?” Karen asked Emma. We were 14 – boys were rarely far from our minds. My ears perked up.
“I don’t think so,” Emma answered, and that was that.
Then, there was me, a bit disappointed since I had straightened my hair for an hour and was not even going to see anyone, witnessing these oh-so-ordinary events take place. I was drained from watching a boring movie in an uncomfortable seat. And I had bought a bottle of water instead of coffee.
I don’t remember who started the conversation, but somehow we stumbled upon the topic of “experience,” which morphed into how we all wanted to meet guys this summer and, to be blunt, make out with them.
I was spending practically the entire month of July with Cathy at her summer house on Cape Cod. There, I was hoping I would find a cute, mature, mild-mannered boy to hold my attention. Cathy promised I’d have my pick of at least three.
Karen and Emma were also leaving for a good chunk of the summer. At their destinations, like Cathy and I, they hoped to be confident, forward, and a bit lucky. That is, if they could duck their parents for a bit, since this was before any of us had licenses.
After we discussed our upcoming opportunities to gain “experience,” we came up with a wonderful idea: The Pact. The Pact was a promise to ourselves and each other. We each vowed to make out with a guy while away over the summer. We were 14 – this was big.
Looking back, I can’t think of a more stupid idea. Basically, we were agreeing to throw ourselves at any boy who came along, which I now know would have led only to humiliation.
The entire time we discussed The Pact, I remember silently panicking: Well, of course I have to do it, I can’t be the only one who says “No, thanks.” If they can do it, so can I, right? Right?!
Besides fearing embarrassing myself in front of a boy, not to mention my friends, I was freaking out about pressuring myself to do something I probably wasn’t ready for. We were all experiencing a bit more freedom that summer. Unfortunately, the thought of going new places with minimal parental supervision became a little too romanticized in our minds. The new teenage logic was “If we’re old enough to do this, we’re old enough to do that,” and so on. It was almost as if we were daring each other, feeding off the audacity of one idea, which led to another and another until we wound up with this contest.
Who did we think we were kidding? Those newly discovered teenage hormones had taken a firm hold of our hair and dragged us along way too fast, yet none of us had the confidence to dig in our heels and refuse. Instead, we complied, and though we were silently kicking and screaming, waging internal wars with ourselves, we didn’t show it.
Soon, we separated for the summer. I looked for guys. I struck up conversations with a few. But I’m very old-fashioned, and I was just too uncomfortable to be as forward as I had promised my friends. That promise, I rationalized, didn’t really count because I had been under the intoxicating influence of adrenaline and expectation.
Then, during tennis lessons that Cathy’s mother had generously signed us up for, I met a boy. Cathy already knew him and was “working on” one of his friends. It was as if our paths had been laid out for us. I was slightly scared but excited too. I thought, This might actually happen!
Cathy announced one afternoon that there was going to be a bonfire that evening, which she made sound like the event of the year. I eagerly agreed to go. And the guys we were interested in would be there too.
After the excitement of arriving dissipated, my mark decided he wanted to take a walk with me. Alone. And everyone knows what that means.
What’s wrong with me? My mind screamed as we walked slowly down the beach. It was the perfect situation. He was well-mannered, intelligent, a bit older, and very cute, and I felt like ripping my hair out I was so annoyed with myself. There must have been a thousand awkward pauses, but all of it added up to a lot of nothing.
On our return route to the fire, I stole a glance at him. I realized that if I was a different person, this night would have been a walk in the park, and this guy next to me would now have a smug look plastered on his face instead of the nervous what-did-I-do-wrong look that he kept shooting at me.
However, the sad part was that this realization only made me want to go sit in a corner and cry. I couldn’t be a bigger dork, I thought.
I returned to Florida the exact same person I was when I left two weeks earlier. This thought alone was enough to make my stomach drop. I hadn’t completed The Pact. What would my friends think? Trying not to think about it only made me think about it more, which made me increasingly nauseous. When Emma called about getting together for a movie since we were all back, I wanted to pretend I already had plans. But I didn’t, because everyone was going, and I still wanted to be part of “everyone.”
At around 9:30 that night, we were sitting at the same Starbucks, with the same drinks, at the same table. I knew what was coming – the discussion of The Pact.
Who went through with it? My heart thudded. Maybe no one. Maybe they all had chickened out too. I desperately hoped so – I didn’t want to be the only loser. What if everyone had done it except me?
As it turned out, none of us had mustered the courage to attempt anything close to what we had so confidently promised. I was relieved that I wasn’t the only lame one in our circle. And I was thankful that I hadn’t actually pushed myself to do it. I knew if I had, I would have regretted it. We all were smiling, but there was something uncomfortable hanging in the air – we knew how stupid we had been devising The Pact in the first place. We weren’t ready; it was as simple as that.
I began to realize what peer pressure really is. Who knows where The Pact could have led. What if we had all returned with success stories? What crazy idea would we have come up with next? Would anyone have had the gumption to say “Stop”? A month ago, I would have agreed to anything my friends proposed without hesitation. But after The Pact, I realized that they had no more of a clue what they were doing than I did.
After that, I started making decisions for myself, based on what I believed was right or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate. What if I had come back from Cape Cod and been the only one who had “succeeded”? I would have felt embarrassed, ashamed, betrayed by my friends, and disgusted with myself.
Ben Franklin would have a field day with this story. “Trust thyself and another shall not betray thee,” he said. I wish I had known that before I spent one of the most stressful months of my life ignoring my instincts and letting others lead me astray.