Hannah Weintraub is a 17-year-old recent high school graduate and one of Rewire‘s youth voices.
As with most things in our modern world, confessing one’s love during young adulthood has received a technological makeover. Harnessing social media, former silent romantics are able to use Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook to send shout-outs anonymously to crushes at their school, or to the followers of a certain blog. While the posts can be cute, sappy, and oddly entertaining—though sometimes veering into lewd harassment—I do wonder why young adults must hide behind anonymous forums to tell each other how they feel.
A recent post on Harvard Crushes—the school’s unofficial “crush aggregator” on Facebook—shyly proclaimed, “I wanted to tell you this before you graduated, but it looks like I don’t have the nerve. Seeing you smile makes my day. … If you see this, and you know who it is, please make the first move.”
A young heart can feel so much reservation.
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Of course this meekness can come from a fear of being rejected or from signals that someone just isn’t that into you. But, on another level, some of this shyness may be a result of our culture’s repression of youth sexuality.
On Letters to Crushes, Tumblr’s inevitable addition to the anonymous Valentine genre, there are countless letters from the Romeo or Juliet who painfully pines for his or her crush, unnoticed and almost always unloved.
In many ways, Western culture sends teens mixed messages on how they should be (or if they should be) acting on their inevitable sexual desires. Our music and movies seem to encourage all types of sexual behavior, but our government and schools tend to have a fit when teens do anything beyond holding hands.
It is with this attitude that teens are encouraged not to think about sex or are considered not mature enough for appropriate contraception, and that sexual thoughts can become loaded with embarrassment or disgrace, particularly for young women. Our culture has a tendency to shame young women for acting on their sexual needs and wants by calling women ridiculing names, like “slut,” or placing ridiculously high values on virginity.
As a result, young women can be pushed into the narrative of a damsel in distress waiting for a prince charming to ask for her hand. “Thou shalt not ask a boy out,” the rule seems to go; straight women should only accept or deny a man’s proposition and simply wait until he decides to ask. Perhaps this frustration with waiting is why Letters to Crushes is dominated by many stories of women quietly trying to get the attention of a love interest.
Teens—and young women especially—have yet to become part of a nationally recognized sexual liberation. A recent episode of Fox’s The Mindy Project explored this idea when a young woman on the show had to prove she loved her boyfriend in what others considered a mature and real way before her gynecologist would allow her to be on the pill. Even if the show is a parody of life, it reflects the absurdly high standards we place on teen romance and teen sexuality in order for it to be “real.”
While some online declarations of love are sweet and sappy confessions of blue eyes being like the deepest depths of the ocean, many declarations can come off as a bit less couth—even veering into harassment. Recently on Terp Crushes, the University of Maryland’s unofficial “crush aggregator,” an anonymous poster declared, “[Name] I will hold your dick any day any time.” These sites—Terp Crushes, in particular—can sometimes function as online sidewalks filled with the raunchiest type of street harassment, all while displaying people’s names in lewd messages.
Even so, sites aggregating expressions of crushes have gained cult followings, because they can fill a young adult’s craving for fleeting excitement and potential gossip. But these professions of possible love connections also are exciting because they finally give young adults a safe outlet to express their feelings. There are hardly any other spaces that allow young adults to exclaim their love so comfortably without fear of being condescended to or belittled. Still, with teens’ feelings denied outward legitimacy, it’s no wonder they are banished to just 140 characters on Twitter.