Walking down to the beach one sunny vacation day I watched Phoebe swing her arm around my husband's shoulder, double-stepping to keep up with his 6-foot frame. Phoebe is 10, the daughter of a very good friend of mine, and she has a crush on my husband. She is teasing him, trying to talk him into sharing his huge cinnamon roll with her, which he says he won't because it's his birthday.
When I was about Phoebe's age I had a crush on a man named Terry Hollar, who was the lifeguard at the swimming pool where I spent every daylight moment in the summer. He was married, though young, and I don't know who found him first -- me or my dad, but eventually my dad hired him as a furniture salesman. I also don't remember if he was particularly handsome or not, but he was sweet to me, and a man, and he took me seriously. He used to spend hours sitting by the side of the pool talking to me. With his finger looped through his whistle string, he'd twirl it back and forth, flipping the whistle from side to side. He would send me to the snack bar to get a drink for him, and I did it, even though the guys at the counter teased me for it. "They won't give you a hard time if you tell them it's for me. They know you're my girl."
I used to complain about going, just to hear him say this. Once I even pressed him, "I can't be your girl. You're married!"
"Awww," he said, seemingly disappointed I had brought it up. "You'd be my girl if I weren't."
Unlike a lot of the grown-ups around me, he talked to me as if I interested him. I always loved him for this. When my dad put him on the road selling furniture, I didn't see him for a long time. The next time I ran into him I was much older, maybe 15 or 16. My dad was with a large group of salesmen and he said, "Maurine, you remember Terry Hollar, don't you?"
"Of course she remembers me," Terry said, and winked. I was embarrassed to be reminded of my 10-year-old self, but even so, I was pleased that he remembered me especially.
Even greater than the crush I had on Terry Hollar was one I had on my uncle. He was wonderful to me when I was growing up. Uncle Donnie married late in life, so I had plenty of time to feel that I was special to him. He piloted planes and boats in his spare time, and was a wheeling, dealing stockbroker when he managed to land in town long enough. Uncle Donnie even took the time to write me letters, since he lived in the eastern part of the state. He'd send me Polaroids of stuffed animals in elaborate settings: eating snowflakes (this was laundry detergent), or driving a yacht through a terrific storm (Uncle Donnie had a large collection of model boats).
Before he married, my uncle had buckets of girlfriends, but it never occurred to me to be jealous of them. On the contrary, I loved them all, named my teddy bears and my Barbies after them, and when I was older, tried on their strawberry-flavored lip gloss in the bathroom. My uncle's affections weren't lost on me. Despite his busy life, he liked me, he took time for me, he thought about me even when I wasn't there.
What better thing can a man give to a girl? If he thinks she is worthwhile, interesting and funny, then she comes to expect that from men in the future. And I think that expectation is key to successful love relationships. So often, I feel that women who have certain expectations attract those men who will meet them. When I was older and dating, in high school and in college, I saw my friends put up with behavior I never would have tolerated -- men who ridiculed them, or were careless with their feelings. I believe it is the great examples I had in life -- from my dad, of course, who laid the initial groundwork, but also from my uncle and from my youthful crushes. These men reinforced what my dad had been saying all along: that I was both a person and a female, interesting and attractive and worthwhile.
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Later that day at the beach with Phoebe, I tell all the children that they can use my husband's sweat shirt for part of the fort they are building. When we are packing up to leave I notice Phoebe pick up his sweat shirt, hold it to her face for a moment, and then tie it around her waist. She brings it to me only at the end of our vacation, at the end of the week. She tosses it on a chair and says, nonchalantly, "My mother said to bring this back to you. It was at our house."
I would never, ever tell her the things I notice, just as I have never pointed them out to my husband. Crushes are so often something we shouldn't even talk about, because that ineffable feeling, that someone likes you, and you like that someone, is so hard to pin down. It's almost better enjoyed without naming it, without discussing it, even though the things we give to one another with our harmless crushes are so worthwhile.