Lessons from an Aging High School Cheerleader

A perversely interesting article in the Daily Mail about the frustrations of attractive, middle-aged women struggling to date prompted some reflection on why I was ecstatically, almost deliriously happy when I finally slipped the engagement ring onto the finger of my future wife in late December, 1986.

After more than a decade of dating, first, as an awkward teenager, then as college student and, finally, and worst of all, as a single guy working my first job in a college town, I was finally through with all it – all those years of anguish, frustration, bitterness, self-recrimination and, yes, even self-loathing. 

The article not only prompted memories of those painful years but also of a truly revealing conversation I had a few years ago with an attractive middle-aged woman who had been a cheerleader at her local small-town Alabama high school.|

Needless to say, for a small-town kid, especially a geek like me, cheerleaders constituted the Holy Grail of dating. 

I knew intuitively where the conversation would lead. From puberty, all the way through high school, she confessed being attracted only to one type of guy. She struggled to come up with the right description.

I quickly filled the breach.

“Do you mean ‘bad boys?'” I asked. 

 “Yes, precisely!” she replied, her aging but petite features becoming animated, mental gears ginning up below that platinum blonde hair-dye. 

I couldn’t repress a smile. I had offered a delicate substitute for the label I had improvised decades earlier for this male archetype: “whoop ass.”

I knew quite a lot of them growing up.

In fact, whenever I’m reminded of this testosterone-throttled quintessence, I’m invariably taken back to a scene in the 1987 movie Broadcast News, when the teen-aged Aaron Altmann, played by Albert Brooks, is thrased by three such bad boys.

“Go, ahead, Stephen, take your last licks,” Altmann proclaims. “What I’m gonna say can never been erased – it’ll scar you for ever!  You’ll never make more than $19,000 a year!”

“Nineteen-thousand dollars? Not bad!” one of them, walking away from the pummeling, giddily exclaims, failing to account for long-term inflation – a perceptive piece of screenwriting, but that’s another story.

Back to the aging cheerleader…

She went into this long self-reflection about about how she was always attracted to boad boy types, adding that she couldn’t understand why she never found “geeks” (like me) attractive – the ones who “went on to college, built successful careers, were polished, and knew and talked about interesting things.”

Then, ending it with a hint of resignation, she sighed and observed, “But, you know, if I had life to do over again, I’d do the same thing.”

I quickly formulated a response, one that, from my perspective as a high-school geek was heartfelt and reflected years of pent-up frustration.

“Yes, I’m sure you would.”

Granted, not all women are alike – not by any stretch of the imagination. But in most small-town Southern high schools like the one I grew up in, the whoop-ass archetype constituted the paragon of manhood for most girls, especially those we considered at the time as “blue-chip girls.”

 That’s why my first reaction to reading this article was knee-jerk.

“These women have spent a lifetime chasing whoop-asses and now they’ve finally settled down and all the decent men are gone. Great! Karma truly is a bitch!” I thought to myself.

 Then the thought occurred to me: I’m shamelessly stereotyping an entire sex. And certainly outside of my small-town Appalachian bubble, this was by no means normative line of thinking.

 Even so, I found it a rather interesting read. The moments of self-reflection and self-pitying that followed provided me with a small measure of catharsis after a passage of almost two generations.

But then, this geek, this rather unrepentant geek, has has come a long way from awkward adolescence and early adulthood.

I’m proud, immensely proud, of that fact.

And one thing of which I’m certain:  I’m thankful, damned thankful, to be married and out of the dating game, hopefully for the rest of my life.

In fact, I hope my wife outlives me, if only to ensure that I am never tempted to return to dating. 

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About Jim Langcuster

A Southern late-Baby Boomer whose post-retirement focus is on building a post-racial, post-Confederate Southern regional identity. If the election of 2016 underscored one thing, it is that this country is intractably divided and that radical devolution of power to localities and states is the only way to save the American Union.
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6 Responses to Lessons from an Aging High School Cheerleader

  1. Peg Boyles says:

    Aha! Your adolescent anguish shines through. Your words represent it well. But consider your own ideal at the time: “Needless to say…cheerleaders [‘blue chip girls’] constituted the Holy Grail of dating.”
    It really cut both ways. Many of your less-pulchritudinous/voluptuous female classmates, who later “went on to college, built successful careers, were polished, and knew and talked about interesting things” experienced similar “anguish, frustration, bitterness, self-recrimination and, yes, even self-loathing.”
    That’s all.

    • Peg Boyles says:

      I forgot to add that I can barely imagine the longing, anguish, frustration, bitterness, self-recrimination and, self-loathing of our gay and transgender classmates.

    • Jim Langcuster says:

      But there were very few of those types in my adolescent time and place. I wish I had known someone like you in high school.

      • Peg Boyles says:

        I think we would have been friends! I was the only girl in my physics class & hung out with what passed for geeks in the day (I’m older than you & was in high school a decade away from computers, and 2 decades away from “geeks.”). I fell for my first boyfriend because he could play Mozart on the clarinet, and I’d never heard anything so beautiful. He also played guitar and had a gig playing/singing folks songs in a little dive at one of Vermont’s ski resorts no far from where we grew up. His was the only Jewish family in town (his dad was my dentist), and the only Jewish person I’d ever met. I sang in the Congregational choir for something like 8 years & went to “church camp” as a kid, but thankfully, never learned anything there but love for all my fellow humans, compassion for those less blessed, and the importance of hard work and self reliance.

        Lord knows why he fell for me. I never learned to pouf my hair into a beehive or apply eye makeup, because I was so nearsighted.

        I was also on the HS rifle team (NRA member for 4 years & crack shot. One of the prime recreational events for young adolescent males in my town: shooting rats at the town dump on Saturdays.) AND A CHEERLEADER, too. Fancy that! Oddly, the only “sports” open to girls in my day.

        Lots of relatives in the dairy-farming business, so I got along well with the farm kids. It was a mill town, so most of us were pretty low-income.

        I spent a lot of time wallowing in self-pity in the 60s, for not having had access to advanced literature, languages, “culture,” science courses… But I hated the pretentiousness & abstractions of academia (still do) & dropped out of grad school (went back 30 years later), and yes, became a hippie food producer, writer…and, as you know a social & economic-justice warrior.

        Oh my. Enough for now.

      • Jim Langcuster says:

        Such an interesting story, Peg. I really have such a deep admiration for brilliance and resilience – and that applies to you and the Jewish young man you fell for in high school.

        I have always admired how the Jewa carried this creative genius to every corner of the world, excelling despite the misunderstanding and animus they unintentionally engendered by their mere presence.

        Incidentally, there were very, very few like you in my rural high school.

        Incidentally, I watched Peggy Sue Got Married a few days after writing this – brilliant commentary on this very phenomenon.

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