So This Is Love?
The Author of "Girl Land" Explores Generational Shifts in Dating
- Caitlin Flanagan, Photo by Andrew Zinn
Before I became a writer, I taught middle and high school. I started when I was 25, and in my first job, I was very often mistaken for a student, something that—from my current perspective as a 55-year-old woman—should have been flattering, but I was so young then that it always upset me. Just as the teenagers in my classes wanted to be seen as older and more grown up, so did I.
I loved everything about teaching: having my own classroom, teaching books I loved, working with colleagues who taught me how to do good work. But most of all, I loved the kids. They were in the middle of the great process of adolescence: forging an identity for themselves that was separate from the one their parents had crafted for them. Because at the beginning of my career I was so close in age to them, my students' social lives and preoccupations were essentially what mine had been at their age. Just as it had been in my time, romance was always in the air. Kids were always falling in love, pairing off, becoming boyfriend and girlfriend and, thus, being the envy of everyone else.
Being part of a couple—an emotionally committed, romantically exclusive couple—used to be one of the great objectives of high schoolers. Most kids, boys as well as girls, yearned for it, and most of them, at one point or another, managed to achieve it. I was always interested to see which kids had paired off together. Sometimes I'd think, "Perfect match!" Other times I'd think, “Her with him? What are they thinking?" It was exactly the way that boys and girls had interacted when I was in high school, and I loved watching it unfold from my new vantage as village elder.