I’m probably one of the worst people in the world to give out dating advice but the 5-year-old version of myself had serious game. In kindergarten, I had a number of flirtations and one steady boyfriend. In case you’re wondering what dating looked like in Miss Everhart’s morning class, it basically meant that during the daily dance party you danced facing each other instead of in the middle of the sugar-rushed mob. Sometimes you held hands. That was it. But still, it was a relationship. My first boyfriend’s name was Tony. I picked him to be my boyfriend because he was cute, nice, polite to his elders, and made me laugh more than any other boy in the class. These were things I valued in boys as a little girl and are strangely things I value now as well.
One day when I was 5, my teenaged sister and her friends were griping about boys and jokingly asked me for advice. I evidently impressed them so much as a 5-year-old love guru that they remembered everything I said and still use it to embarrass me at family functions. This is the advice that five year old me gave to my sisters and it’s advice that I’m now trying to take as a 20-something adult.
First, you’ve got to say hello.
What I meant when I was 5: You have to say hello. (I still remember one of my sister’s friends face palming herself when I said this out loud.)
What this means now: You have to say hello. For years I’ve somehow thought that the way to get a guy to notice that I liked him was to never speak in his presence and stare at him in long, awkward intervals. This might have worked for Ariel in The Little Mermaid but it doesn’t work in the real world. If you want to get to know a guy, you have to introduce yourself. The more normal the introduction is, the less of a goober you seem and the more like an attractive, cool, confident lady you’ll be. It is so obvious and yet sometimes so hard to do this. It has to be done, though.
You meet boys on the bus.
What I meant when I was five: If you meet a boy on a bus, you get him away from class and away from his family and friends so that you get 12-20 minutes of his full and undivided attention.
What it means now: There are two meanings. One, public places like parks, restaurants and even buses are great spots to meet a new group of guys you wouldn’t normally run into. Two, the best flirting is done in an environment where all he has to focus on is you. If you try to flirt with someone while they’re studying or working, you might be distracting them from their work. If you try to flirt when they’re watching a game at a bar, they’re going to be distracted by everything else. The school bus made it easy to pick a boy to sit next to and have his attention for a while. If you’re hanging out in a large group, ask a guy to walk you to the subway or hang back away from the group. You want to make sure all his focus is on you because you deserve it. Otherwise, how are you supposed to get any flirting done?
You’ve got to twirl your skirt like this! (Imagine a four year old turning her torso back and forth so her skirt billows around her.)
What it meant when I was five: I really like this purple corduroy jumper. I like how I look in this purple corduroy jumper. I must show all boys how much I like this purple corduroy jumper because they will obviously like it, too!
What it means now: Be confident in your appearance. 5-year-old me had not yet been bombarded with fashion magazines that told me what I should and should not wear. I simply wore what I liked and I liked purple corduroy jumpers. In fact, corduroy jumpers were kind of my signature look between the ages of 4 and 6. Was it actually cool? No. Did I look good? About as good as a klutzy little girl can look. The important thing was that I believed I looked good. The weird skirt twirl I did was definitely a kindergarten mating dance but I wasn’t selling what I looked like on the outside. I was selling how good I felt on the inside. Boys were attracted to that.
Talk to them about Ninja Turtles.
What it meant when I was five: I liked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I knew all the boys in my class liked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I knew that if I talked to a boy I liked about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles then we would have something to talk about.
What it means now: Find a common interest and use it as an ice breaker. It can be sports, politics, Babylon 5, kayaking, drinking, eating buffalo wings or even just general apathy about the world around you. There’s got to be a reason you think you’ll click with this guy. Sure, there’s baseline lust but a guy typically gives off some kind of clue in his wardrobe or demeanor that you might have something in common. I’ve found the weirder this connection is, the better. You look awesome for being able to reveal that you also love Premiere League Football or Doctor Who and then he immediately feels more comfortable being himself. It’s a win-win.
You’ve got to laugh at all his jokes even if they’re not funny.
What I meant when I was five: Boys are always trying to be funny. Sometimes they totally are and it’s fun and sometimes you just have to literally humor them because they get hurt if they think you don’t think they’re funny.
What it means now: This last one makes my heart sink as a feminist and female comic but there is an element of truth in it. That element of truth is not as icky as you might think. I think human beings in general are afraid of being themselves around people they like. We get nervous and act weird. If you laugh at his jokes, you’re signaling that you find him interesting. You’re also letting him know he doesn’t have to feel afraid to be a goofball around you. If, on the other hand, you can’t stand his sense of humor and fake laughing at all his terrible jokes is torture, then you shouldn’t date him.
I think the bottom line is that when I was in kindergarten, I had no reason not to believe in myself. When I think about why I don’t go after guys I like now, it’s usually a combination of insecurity and confusion. I misread signals. I let rejection get to me. I believe that I don’t deserve the guy I like. I get confused by whether or not I want something serious or light and whether or not he’s on the same page. The kindergarten version of myself didn’t let anything society told her about love get in her way. She wanted to dance and flirt with a boy, so she did. If a boy didn’t want to dance and flirt back, she wasn’t upset. She just found someone else who did want to do those things with her. Of course, there was no sex in kindergarten. Arguably, there was no real love, either. It was a simpler time but I think the simplest truths are often the biggest ones.