I nervously packed my bags for my weekend trip to Portland. Should I pack heels? What about a dress? I need a hot dress. Maybe I should straighten my hair? My mom always said I looked better with straight hair. If I keep it curly, maybe I should wash my hair tonight so my curls look extra nice for the trip.
I was headed to Portland for the first time ever to cover a women’s soccer game for a news outlet. I had also decided to turn it into a girls’ trip with a friend from L.A. when, in a momentous, fateful kind of way, an opportunity presented itself.
I would be connecting with an old friend who lived in Portland. This old friend, to be exact, was my eighth grade crush.
This was somebody who had witnessed every awkward phase that followed me from kindergarten through middle school. We’ll call him Austin.
Rumor had it that, when we were kids, Austin had a crush on me, too. (His best friend told my best friend — you know? The usual means of communication in middle school.) Austin also happened to be one of my cousin’s closest friends. While I hadn’t seen Austin in 10 years, I would occasionally hear tales of his adult life from that same cousin whenever I visited.
A few days before my trip, my cousin shared Austin’s number with me, and I sent a nervous-yet-bold text asking for the best places to see in Portland. Austin responded graciously, and we planned to meet up for lunch.
I ended up spending every day of my trip with Austin. I still felt enamored with him, and was hoping for something more than friendship that weekend.
When I’d known him as a kid, he was as immature and cocky as he was handsome and endearing. To my lovelorn inner child’s dismay, I soon realized that Austin hadn’t really changed — and that was both good and bad.
Between the long talks, laughter, jokes, and insults we exchanged, I realized it wasn’t so much Austin who I had admired all these years, but the idea of him.
Everyone gets older, but not everyone grows up: I’d romanticized who I wanted Austin to be. He was still the good-looking, funny, sweet guy I remembered — but he was aware of all these things: his good looks, his charm. The guy that every girl liked in middle school now sat across from me at a restaurant, openly checking out other women and asking me to be his wing-woman.
As Austin scanned the bar for attractive ladies, I began to question whether I was enough.
What about me? I wondered. Am I not good enough? Why don’t you see me? Why not me?
The nervousness. The shaky hands. The fast heart beat. That feeling of being less than in his presence. It all came back.
I stopped, gathered my thoughts, and began to counteract the insecurities trying to surface.
My personal struggle that weekend wasn’t about Austin at all. It was an internal battle within myself — would I allow the popular boy to unearth me the way he did when I was a kid?
But here’s the thing: I am no longer that meek, shy girl from middle school. She has transformed into a woman with scars from heartbreak, with wounds that have healed over time. She has wisdom lines on her brow from the mistakes she’s made. She is a 20-something with miles under her belt from all the states where she has lived and the countries she has visited. She has laugh lines on her face thanks to friends who have become her family. She’s grown muscle after years of supporting others. She has learned to enjoy the moment.
Although parts of my younger self make up the mosaic of the woman I am now, that little girl grew up.
And growing up means doing the work to learn, to change, to better yourself. I am a woman who knows who she is, who knows her value. No guy — not even the hot middle school jock I cried over as a pre-teen — gets to challenge that knowledge.
Reconnecting with Austin also showed me that trying to force someone from your past into your present doesn’t work. You can’t go back to those days — you might be able to revisit it momentarily or for a weekend trip to Portland, but you can’t stay there. You aren’t meant to. Austin and I got older. We never had the ~grand love affair~ I’d imagined, and I really believe it was for the best.
My blast from the past brought laughter, moments of self-doubt, and — most importantly — a revelation that my present-day self is good enough.
On our last day in Portland, Austin dropped my friend and me off at the airport, and we haven’t talked since. It’s okay to grow up and not look back.