“The big mistake that men make is that when they turn 13 or 14 all of a
sudden they believe they like women. Actually, they’re just horny.”
– Cartoonist Jules Feiffer
While waiting for a commuter train, I noticed a strange phenomenon on the platform. A teenage couple nearby had a curious relationship. As the girl wandered around the platform, the boy followed her step by step with a loopy expression on his face. Clearly this guy was hooked, figuratively speaking – and almost literally, as he appeared to be on an invisible leash. I wondered if this was the sort of situation that gave rise to the term “puppy love.”
I couldn’t help but flash back to my teenage years, even though my environment had inoculated me against such behavior.
At age 12, just as I was starting to notice girls, I was sent to an all-male prep school. In a way, I could see it coming. One of my elementary school teachers had my number: “What Douglas does, he does very well. He just doesn’t do very much.” Sorry, teach, but the school’s agenda was not mine.
“Military school!” had been a recurring threat, though I was never sure if it was empty or not. I guess prep school was something of a compromise.
From day one in eighth grade (known as II Form in prep school lingo) through graduation, I didn’t know any girls. Oh, I knew they still existed. Like Latvians, Lithuanians, and Laplanders, they were out there, but they were not part of my world. My world consisted of a long daily commute, chapel, classrooms, study hall, required sports, and lots of homework – even a summer reading list.
When I describe my environment as all-male, the term applies not just to the students but to the teachers (known as masters) and administration. The lone exception was in the front office where the headmaster had a thirtyish secretary, who looked way hotter than she was simply because she was the only person in the building without male genitalia.
I remember one particularly comic episode during an assembly when a group of exchange students from nearby schools came to make a presentation. A distinct murmur rippled through the audience when it was revealed that one of the students was a Swedish bombshell. When she stood up in front of an auditorium full of horny teenage boys and introduced herself as Miss Baad (pronounced “bod”), you can imagine the reaction.
Nevertheless, if it’s academic achievement you value in an educational institution, single-sex schools rule. As a bonus, lack of opportunity to socialize with the opposite sex reduces the possibility of STDs and teenage pregnancies.
If the American peasants paying school taxes ever realized how superior single-sex education is to coeducation, they’d be beating down the doors at the next school board meeting and demanding it. Not that the courts would ever sanction it – and you know there would be a court challenge if a school district ever offered sex-segregated education. Remember what the Supreme Court said about separate but equal!
Of course, the argument for the status quo is that coed schooling is superior because the real world has both males and females and the educational institutions must reflect that. Since adolescence is when young people first start to socialize with the opposite sex in a meaningful way, junior high and high school are usually their first leks (arenas for mating behavior).
Developmental psychologists know that human beings have critical periods for learning certain behaviors. The Wikipedia definition of “critical period” is as good as any I’ve seen:
A critical period is a maturational stage in the lifespan of an organism during which the nervous system is especially sensitive to certain environmental stimuli. If the organism for some reason does not receive the appropriate stimulus during this “critical period” to learn a given skill or trait, it may be difficult, ultimately less successful, or even impossible to develop some functions later in life.
Learning a language is a prime example of a critical period. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn another language later in life, but it won’t be as easy. The same goes for opposite-sex relationships.
Junior high and high school are where most people learn to speak “dating.” You can learn this “language” later in life (just check out all those dating advice books in the Self-Help section of your local Barnes & Noble), but you will be playing catch-up, and your decreasingly plastic brain won’t absorb the material as easily.
So what happens when you discover you have a libido but you don’t learn to speak dating during the critical period?
You learn to live with it.
Initially, this is a depressing prospect, but the payoff comes later. If you learn to do without during a time of your life when erections arise spontaneously (even in study hall!), you can easily do so when you get older. Also, as you grow older you look around at your more “advanced” peers who are married, married with children, single fathers, divorced, and/or remarried. These are men who gave in to their sexual desires. Almost without exception, their status is not enviable.
Your desires for food and water are worth heeding; if you deny them, you will die. But you can ignore your sex drive and survive. For the teenage boy who has been in serial relationships from high school forward, this is difficult. It’s always more deflating to possess something and lose it than to never possess it at all.
For a number of reasons, I pretty much remained behind the curve, socially speaking, from college onwards. I eventually learned to speak dating but at a pidgin level. I dated sporadically and on rare occasions even had sex. But it wasn’t a defining theme in my life. Clearly, it wasn’t worth knocking myself out for.
Clint Eastwood was once quoted as saying, “Sex is a small part of life…99.9 percent of your life is spent doing other things.” Granted, this comes from a guy who was a chick magnet even before he became a celebrity, but the point is worth pondering. Considering how little time is spent on sex, why is so much time and effort spent procuring it? The Clint Eastwoods of this world regularly have women offering themselves up. The non-Clint Eastwoods of this world have to go out and sell themselves to women. At what point does something become more trouble than it’s worth?
Let’s say you have a desire for your favorite local craft beer. So you go to the fridge and get one; at worst, you might have to make a trip to the market for a bomber, a six-pack, or a case, or go to the brewery itself for a growler refill. But suppose you find yourself in Europe where your favorite brew is not available. Oh, you can still get it – you can call home, find someone to buy a case for you, have it sent over, pay shipping costs, and maybe some sort of import tax, and then wait for it. Is the desire for your favorite brew strong enough to make it worth that extra effort and expense? If so, then you’ve really got it bad.
In pondering that teenage boy on the train platform, I wonder what his future holds. Puppies, of course, are born with their eyes closed. Eventually, their eyes open, but the eyes of a man under the spell of puppy love may not open till it’s too late. Does puppy love predispose a man to becoming a pussy hound?
Given the fact that sexual satisfaction is a bit like a drug high, you can see how much easier it is to get hooked when you’re young and impressionable. After all, drug dealers don’t hand out free samples to middle-aged adults. “Get ’em while they’re young” is a longstanding maxim in the world of marketing.
Well, if you’d like to safeguard your son by enrolling him at an all-male school, you can forget about my alma mater. Seven years after I graduated (and almost two centuries after the school’s founding), they started admitting girls. The Headmaster is now known as the Head of School. I guess anything with the word “master” in is too intimidating to females of tender years. Then again, they may be looking to the day when a female will be in charge and the term Headmaster won’t fit. Checking the school web site, I noted that the Assistant Head of School was a woman reminiscent of the humorless principal (played by B-movie queen Mary Woronov) in Rock and Roll High School.
When I was an adolescent, an all-male educational environment was not anathema. In those pre-feminist days, even mothers could see the benefits.
But that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.