On July 30, 2009, a guy I had the biggest crush on called me "intimidating."
I know this because I have the exact moment documented in my journal. I was 15 at the time, and I imagine that my rushed, sloppy teenage handwriting for this particular entry reflects my urgency to comprehend the situation -- and my first genuine realization of how difficult it is to be a woman.
The culprit of the name-calling was a high school junior, who I'll call Patrick. I met Patrick at a party when I was a sophomore. We sat next to each other on a couch and talked for a long time about his trip to Greece, my adolescent eyes sparkling with infatuation.
For the next year or so, Patrick and I talked on Facebook Messenger semi-regularly. We went on a date to Starbucks. We watched “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” and made out at his house. These things were huge for a slightly conservative and neurotic 15-year-old and only intensified my feelings for him.
The main ways we bonded were through conversations about philosophy, the meaning of life and the disingenuous nature of everyone around us. I'd never really met someone with his kind of intellectually stimulating, inquisitive brain, and I loved it. The best part was he, too, seemed to admire me for my intellect and for what I contributed to our conversations.
He thought I was smart and introspective, and I thought the same of him. It was wonderful.
After chatting and hanging out for a while, I figured, like any teenager would, the next step for Patrick and I was a relationship. But as quickly as Patrick came into my life and wowed me with his thoughts, he vanished; for some reason, he started talking to me less and less, and soon, he fell off the face of the earth entirely.
Until July 30, when he texted me out of the blue, his name blinking wildly and unexpectedly on my LG Chocolate cell phone.
I'd already known from Facebook stalking he was on vacation in Europe, so I wondered why he felt the need to text me from a place that would charge him actual money to text. I'd also known, also from Facebook stalking, he was with some new girl, making me wonder even more why he reached out.
Well, it turned out his purpose for texting me was to explain why he suddenly became so distant several months prior.
The main event text came quickly, almost confessionally, like he was trying to spit it out before he changed his mind.
"In all honesty, I was intimidated by you," he texted.
Intimidated? I blinked at my phone. How could I possibly be intimidating?
He continued: "I built walls... I saw you as a threat."
A threat? What am I, a terrorist?
I had no idea what he meant by any of that. Nobody had ever used those words to describe me before, and if they did, my lanky frame, fear of everything and somewhat bashful personality would have made them think twice. But since we both seemed to have moved on by this point anyway, talking about it was pointless, so I changed the subject and asked how his relationship with his new girlfriend was.
That's when I realized what "intimidated" and "a threat" actually meant.
"Eh, it's alright," he wrote. "She's less of a threat. I know it sounds horrible, but whatever."
Less of a threat?
My curiosity got the best of me. I had to discover what she had less of that I had more of, so I went to his Facebook page, found her profile and poked around.
And the drastic differences between the two of us slapped me in the face.
Based on her statuses, the captions on her photographs and the annoying way she'd repeat letters in words whenever she posted on his wall, she was a complete ditz. She was three years older than he was and attended community college. She was blonde, took duck-face selfies while wearing heavy makeup and didn't know the difference between all the "yours." Suddenly, I remembered a friend of mine who'd met her told me she came across as, well, dumb.
It was in that moment I realized what she had less of: intelligence.
Now, I'm not condemning community college, nor am I condemning a little grammatical slip-up on social media. But when the major foundation upon which you bonded with a person involved a love of academia, a passion for intellectually stimulating conversations and a rejection of outward vapidness, you can't help but feel betrayed when that person dates someone so obviously not into any of those things.
To be honest, though, I didn't care about her as a person, so the actual fact that she was unintelligent was not the important part here. What was important was she was seen as "less of a threat" because of it.
I was insulted mostly by the connotation of what she brought to the table versus the connotation of what I did: If she was less of a threat because she wasn't smart, I was more a threat because I was.
In elementary school, middle school and high school, being smart and wanting to be smart and to be around smart people had been such a fundamental part of who I was. I loved going to school and being a student and satisfying my inquisitive nature. I'd always thrived off deep conversations and enjoyed learning about subjects that challenged me. And that... was bad?
When you're a 15-year-old girl who's still working on forming her identity, the last thing you want is a quality for which you feel immense pride and that has defined you your whole life to be seen as undesirable by a guy you like. That my intelligence was "intimidating" to a guy I had a massive crush on made me question why I valued my intellect at all in the first place.
If intelligence intimidated guys, did that mean it was bad for girls to be smart? Should I have pretended I was stupider than I was in order to impress him? Would using the wrong "your" have been cuter or more appealing?
I was completely taken aback. I liked his intelligence, so why didn't he like mine? And why did his comment made me reassess the qualities I liked the most about myself?
In hindsight, I know the whole thing shouldn't have affected me the way it did. After all, plenty of people admire me for being smart and strong-minded, and those who don't aren't people whose approval I care about anyway. But the negative stigma of being a strong, intelligent woman is embedded within my psyche.
To Patrick, my quest for knowledge and his quest for knowledge conveyed entirely different meanings, so much so that he somehow felt threatened by mine.
I can't just blame Patrick for that, though: Unfortunately, we still live in a world in which positive qualities like those can too easily be seen as negative on a woman. And until women get the same opportunities to be strong that men do, setbacks like these will happen more often than not. It's pretty unfair for all females, including, and especially, 15-year-olds.
My conversation with Patrick ended with both of us saying we should talk again soon, but obviously that didn't happen. And if it did somehow happen and I forgot, the LG Chocolate phone in which the conversation would have been documented is probably rotting in some dumpster, never to be seen ever again. Also never to be seen again, thankfully, is any shame I've ever felt regarding any aspect of who I am.
That's the beauty of growing up: You start to give way less of a sh*t about what people -- and society -- think about how you should behave. Admittedly, that's something I'm still working on.
Perhaps I overanalyzed this whole thing. Perhaps it just came down to Patrick having an ego that was way too big for his own good. Perhaps I thought too deeply into the meaning of "intimidating" -- but, hey, I wouldn't be my intellectually curious self if I didn't.