Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Extreme Embarrassment


I was waiting in the bakery a couple of mornings ago, and admiring the rather cute young man in the queue ahead of me. As Bindi will attest this we what we women of a certain age will do – a little bit of speculative looking now and again, nothing overt and certainly never with any intentions attached. Just a little bit of looking and a little bit of admiring. What attracted me was his height, his slender physique and his attire – jeans, Converse sneakers, a jacket with the hood of sweatshirt hanging out of the top of it. What kept my attention was the large art block he was carrying along with his satchel. “Hmmm, the artistic type,” I thought, “I bet the girls like him.”

Long ago, as a schoolgirl, I tended to nurse crushes on the artistic types, but only ever managed to go out with the butch macho ones. I seemed to believe in the equation blonde hair + button nose = boring, sporty boyfriend. My friends all went out with the artists and the actors and the ones with interesting gay brothers, but not me, never. So anyway, from the back, this boy in the bakery looked just like the type I might have had a crush on twenty years ago, but not actually manage to go out with. I was convincing myself that he was very, very popular with the girls.

Then, he turned around. Face full of acne, poor soul. Just covered in huge, aching pustles. “Okay,” I thought, “he’s not popular with the girls now, but he will be soon when all that acne’s cleared up. They are going to be chasing him and offering to pose for his art studies.”

He walked past me to leave the bakery. I flicked my glance away, and as I did so, I heard a resounding crash. He’d walked straight into the one of the closed glass doors of the bakery. No-one in the bakery said a word. He made a wounded kind of “oof” sound. I was reaching out to ask if he was okay, but he ducked quickly through the open section of the door as fast as he could, flung himself on his bike and rode off, putting distance between himself and the scene of humiliation.

“Hmm,” I thought, “I don’t think any girls will be chasing him until he’s got rid of his embarrassing habit of walking into glass doors.”

Do you remember the shame? The acute embarrassment of being 13 or 14 or 17? How you could sometimes imitate a grown-up, but how the image was exhausting to maintain and eventually you’d slam a door or dissolve in tears or phone a friend and rubbish someone just to feel better?

I remember acute and unspecific wants and needs that never seemed to ever be fulfilled no matter how many hours I spent on the phone, or how long I danced, or read books, or ate biscuits, or chatted up boys, or lay in the sun, or swam in pools. I never knew what it was I actually wanted, just something, and usually the something my immediate situation was manifestly not providing. When I was with my friends, I wanted to be with my boring, sporty boyfriend; when I was with him, I missed my friends. When I was at home with my family, I desperately wanted to be somewhere else; when I managed to be somewhere else, I missed my home and my family. I felt stuck, trapped, bored, frustrated. I yearned for something to happen, and when it did, I yearned for something different.

When I was 17, I broke up with my boring, sporty boyfriend because I had fallen in love. I convinced myself that this was the real thing, a grown-up emotion. The object of my love was, get this, a character in a play called Crystal Clear – not the actor playing the part, who was a beefy Bible-thumper, but the actual character. I felt very literary. It lasted a few months, but when the boring one came back to town, I took up with him again, out of sheer ennui. Clearly, having a relationship with a literary figure was not very satisfying.

One of the comforts of getting older is better getting to know one’s own wants and needs. I’m much better at reading myself and knowing whether it’s a little nap or a brisk walk or an energising coffee or a luxurious bath I need right now. I seldom yearn to be somewhere else, but enjoy being in the moment of wherever I am at the time. One of the pleasures of being a grown-up is that if I am ever in a situation that is truly uncomfortable I have the means and the sense to get myself out of it. I still fall in love with characters in books, but luckily for my family, I don’t feel the need to break up with them in order to nurse my passion. I no longer have a boring, macho boyfriend because, dear readers, I married one of the arty ones.

And he’s very good about not walking into doors.


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

19 thoughts on “Extreme Embarrassment

  1. What a great description of the peculiar angst of being a teenager. I was always far to shy to have a boyfriend of either sort in my teens, but those unspecified wants that always involved something else, somewhere else were just the same and yearning is the exact word for them.

  2. This is something I’ve just started to notice – this becoming satisfied and capable of enjoying the moment. Just last week I realized I was actually becoming the person I’d wanted to be and it felt…strange. Strange and good. I certainly wouldn’t choose to go back!

  3. Oh, thank you Charlotte, I had such a good laugh at your description of falling in love with a fictitious character! Fortunately, or unfortunately, I went on and had an affair or two with a few actors who were playing fictitious characters and I can tell you, love is all in the mind and heart and certainly not in the (self-) illusion presented on stage. Consider yourself lucky and if you have a feeling of having missed out, I’m sure your imagination can come up with wilder fantasies.

  4. Being a GIRL teenager is almost worse on some level….all those things to get good at, that you’d still muck up…

    I still walk into doors myself…

  5. Great description, Charlotte! 🙂

  6. You’ve reminded me of the enormous crush I had in my early twenties on Elizabeth Barret Browning. Go figure. I’d go and stand under the window of where her house used to be in Wimpole Street. I even read Aurora Leigh from beginning to end. Still love Sonnets from the Portugese, mind.

  7. Hi Charlotte, I do remember the yearning. I wonder if remembering will help us understand our own children when they hit teenager-hood?

    Also, you’re quite right about knowing oneself better with age. I have learnt that some moments can just be for me. I used to feel the need to tell someone, or wish I could share every moment, but these days I’m quite happy to be with my children and experience precious moments selfishly.

    However, life is still exciting. I don’t know everything about myself. Currently I’m experiencing a renewed interest in men. I think it might have something to do with the contrast between being either pregnant or breast feeding for 8 years straight, but I never thought I’d be this way ever again, and its a surprise and its fun! Hello world!

  8. Wah, Artistic Bakery Boy, I sympathise with him from across the world! That was me once (except, ahem, female). I was always the one who would walk into glass doors. When I was sixteen I managed to put my foot into a plastic shopping basket as I was leaving a shop. The basket happened to be in one of those wheeled frames and I went wheeling off down the line of check-outs while shoppers stared at me in astonishment. That was Embarassing! Remember when Camilla Parker Bowles walked into that window in the US a few years ago? I never liked her much before then but after that I became a Camilla fan. I could seriously relate.

    Wasn’t being a teenager awful? I remember being trapped in that mire of restlessness and confusion. Heh, I too fell in love with fictional characters, except I was slightly less literary. I fancied Aramis from the cartoon “Dogtanian”. This was a version of The Three Musketeers, where the main characters, “The Three Muskethounds” were all dogs…

  9. I remember being very very shy, so that I never wanted to go on dates because the thought of having someone come over to my house to pick me up under the watchful eyes of my parents felt far too mortifying. Of course, I never went on any dates, but still.

    I think I have a crush right now on Mr. Darcy, but I think you knew that!

  10. I have a friend who is also in love with a fictional character–he’s the protagonist of the novel she is writing. She longs to have the adventures he’s having, is envious of his lover, thinks of gifts she’d like to give him. Ah, the pain of unrequited, fictional love….

  11. Yes — I remember! And I feel for my boys, knowing what lies ahead. Ahhh, the agony for them. Hopefully, stories like this one, and our own, will help them. A sense of humor is so important.

  12. Unfortunately, at age 43, I’m still the one walking into glass doors. However, when I do, I’m much more likely just to laugh and continue on and much less likely to spend two days under the covers, swearing I will never, EVER go back to the place where it happened.

  13. I was another of the clumsy, shy teenagers. There is one incident that still manages to make me blush, twenty years later. I don’t wear skirts that might get caught in underwear any more. I especially don’t wear them when there will be hundreds of my peers around. And I always do a thorough check of my attire before I leave the cubicle. I don’t know that I’d handle it any better today than I did then.

    But I do handle the yearnings of those years better. As a teenager, I didn’t have the experience and self-knowledge to direct the yearning or even to be able to take that step backwards to look at them objectively when required.

  14. I’m with Emily – I’m still walking into doors (certainly would if anyone attractive eyed me up) and wondering when I’m going to grow up and start to fit my life. But it’s true it doesn’t quite have the same edge it did at 13. I do care slightly less what people think now. Oh who am I trying to kid? I lied, I still care.

  15. wow … deep insights … that’s the bit I had been missing recently … 6 years of pregnancy / breastfeeding combined with sleepless nights & pelvic floor issues and I am a teenager again (in mind, unfortunately not in body 😉 … time to rediscover my inner woman!! Thanks, Charlotte!

  16. Pingback: Looking and Leering « Charlotte’s Web

  17. LOL! Oh that’s priceless. I am also so with you on the speculative looking – I am married, not dead!! And in a way being married makes it all so much easier – you can look, you can even flirt, but ultimately you know you aren’t going home with the guy in question, so it really doesn’t matter that he has abs of steel but the conversational abilities of a hamster.

    And I do so remember the angsty longing of being a teenager. I didn’t have a boyfriend till my second year of varsity but I had crushes (totally, utterly unrequited) on everything that moved & had a Y chromosome. And I remember the family driving home from the movies and being totally wrapped up in whatever film I’d just seen, imagining myself in the lead role and trying to imagine how my life would turn out – yearning for glamour and excitement (and boyfriends!!). I saw 9 1/2 weeks long before I’d ever kissed a guy and it ignited in me the idea that I wanted to be somebody’s obsession.

    At varsity I remember seeing a guy in my English class and being totally mesmerised. He was dark and brooding and dangerous and he had a scar on his cheek – every mother’s nightmare and every teenager’s dream! And suddenly he was in love with me, writing poetry (bad, bad poetry!) for me, calling me a dozen times a day, selling his possessions to get money to buy me gifts. The scar, as it turned out, was from a nasty family altercation – and there were more on his wrists from where he’d tried to commit suicide.

    I think this was the first time I had an inkling of “be careful what you wish for”!!

    These days, like you, I have largely sorted out what makes me happy (short of winning the lottery!) and I am more contented than I have ever been. But I do sometimes miss that intense longing!

  18. Great post and replies…….

    This is what I like about women, honesty and sharing feelings!

    May God bless you all!

  19. “I felt stuck, trapped, bored, frustrated. I yearned for something to happen, and when it did, I yearned for something different.”–Unfortunately, I am now still having the same proplem although I m no longer a teenager. Sign…

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