I like Amy Poehler a lot. I like that she is smart before anything else, and funny after that. I like her Ask Amy series of advice vlogs for girls, and I think most of her answers are charming and helpful. In a recent vlog, she answered a question from a 15 year old girl, who wanted to know how to get boys to notice her. The girl said she had tried everything–being just friends, and trying to be attractive–and it wasn’t working. Amy’s advice was “stop trying.” I would like to expound on that thought.
Teenagers are funny, special creatures with the enthusiasm, hopefulness and energy of small children in the bodies of adults. They have the capacity to think and reason like adults, but are awash with brain chemicals that make it biologically impossible to behave like them. They are caught in between worlds, where the only people who can truly understand them are their equally as biologically whacked out peers. The best adults can do is empathize and try to remember how it felt.
Do you remember 15? Ugh. You’re too young to drive, too old to want to be with your parents on a Saturday night, but you might still secretly want a snuggle with your mom. What your peers think of you means a lot. I had the fortune of having changed schools so many times that I was somewhat inoculated against the full-force concern of how I was regarded. I was used to being regarded as an outsider–interesting at best, an interloper at worst. And, I never figured I was going to be anywhere long enough for it to matter. So, aside from (or maybe because of) that devastating year in 6th grade, the other kids were never my biggest problem.
Still, I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be noticed. And most of all, I wanted to be liked and noticed by boys. I remember that really well. Really, really well.
So here’s what I would tell 15 year old me:
- Little Bad-Haired Lane, better than half of what you are feeling is hormonal and it is 100% normal. It is good and healthy that you want boys* to like you. You aren’t going to be able to stop that feeling or desire because you aren’t consciously making it happen. Chemicals are doing this to you. It is a biological imperative. Nature is driving your impulses so that you will want to procreate and propagate the species.
- Before we go any further, I want to be sure that you understand that Biological Imperative, and Good/Healthy, and Normal are not license to bareback every boy who offers to take you behind the bike racks. Those boys are dealing with similar biological imperatives, and, like you do not have the impulse control or long-term thinking ability required to deal with the results of unprotected or risky sexual behaviors. I highly recommend that you hold off on any activity that could result in a baby until you are financially prepared to deal with those consequences, i.e., you have a full-time job with maternity leave. Do whatever else you want (taking appropriate precaution to avoid the Herp and the Derp), but avoid any sperm to egg contact until you can pay for your own zygote. Yes, my brace-faced darling, we will have this part of the conversation every time we talk about anything remotely romantic.
- All right. We have out of the way that you are normal for feeling desperate for this attention, and that it isn’t a great idea to get pregnant right now. What’s next? You want boys to like you, but don’t know how to make them. Well, here is a sad truth: You cannot make anyone like you. We’ve covered before how that doesn’t mean you aren’t worthwhile, but you are a teenager with cheese in your brain so you might want a refresher. Letting boys get physical with you won’t make them like YOU. It will make them like your willingness to get physical. Changing your looks won’t make a boy like YOU. It might make them like how you look, but that isn’t the same thing as who you are.
- TV, books and movies might have given you the idea that if you could just tweak something about your appearance, you could conceivably get a boy to pay attention to your looks long enough to get to know the real you, and fall in love. This is a lie. Boys at your age do not have attention spans appropriate to this ruse. I just want to be sure you understand this, Four-Eyed Lane, so that you won’t miss out on lectures because you are afraid Jeff will see you with your glasses on, and forget that he was falling in love with the color of your eyes.
- People–all people–are attracted to confidence and passion. Find something you are good at and love doing, and do it. You will attract boys and girls because everyone wants to be around someone who is active and happy about it. You will attract boys and girls who also love to do what you are doing, so you’ll have something in common other than Genus, which is particularly helpful in making any kind of relationship last longer than week. Bonus: You’ll be doing something you love, and that will make you happy, and you won’t feel that same desperation of need. Doing things you like changes your brain chemistry, and helps balance out all those chemicals that are making you want to make out with that guy you don’t even like behind the stage curtain at the school play, just because he’s given you the time of day. So, my little Drama Geek, keep acting!
- Treat boys like you want to be treated. Don’t treat them like Pokemon. They are not there for you to catch. I realize that at your age, Confuzzled Lane, you want boys to want to chase you. You want to be the Daphne to their Apollo–but remember how that went for Daphne. Remember how those chases turned out for EVERY woman in Greek mythology. Yes, it is thrilling to be desired, but then what? You are fifteen. “Then what” is you go home and do your homework and snarl at your mother because she won’t let you stay out all night. Or go out period because it is a weekday.
- Finally, if you want someone like to like you, do things that are likable. I don’t mean flash your panties or give out free cupcakes. I mean find ways to make a difference in the world. Get involved helping people who are helpless. Get involved visiting seniors at the local nursing home. Get involved with a soup kitchen. Get involved as a volunteer at the local hospital. Find a way to make yourself useful. Just like in #5, this will attract people to you because everyone loves a helper. Bonus: You’ll feel good about yourself because helping feels amazing. And, you’ll gain some perspective on your own issues. Fifteen-year-old Lane, you don’t know this yet because you are right now in the middle of all your volunteer activities, but I can tell you from almost 30 years down the road, you are building yourself a strong interior infrastructure, and your Elder Self appreciates the heart you have for others. It’s one of your best features. Just ask anyone who loves you.
I’m sure Amy would say this in a funnier, shorter way, but that’s what I would tell me. It’s okay to want. It’s okay to need. There is no magic bullet–it takes time and effort to achieve anything you desire. But the best ways to bring it all home to you are to get out and be who you are, and help people with what you have. The most attractive things in the world are confidence and compassion, and when you build those into your life with balance, the most wonderful people want to be around you.
*That is not to say that it is not good and/or healthy for anyone else to want their same gender to like them. I’m hetero, so that’s what is good and healthy for me. You get on with your bad self if you like something else! Just remember that whatever your something else is, it needs to be human, consenting, and age appropriate according to the law.