I didn’t understand the feeling someone experienced when they “liked” someone when I was younger, and I still don’t understand it now. The “like” I’m talking about is the, “Sally Jean likes Tommy”, type of like, puppy love. I distinctly remember several instances where I would say I liked boys just because I felt like I should, for some reason it would make sense for me to like certain boys, and my friends would be thrilled when I said anything about boys at all when I was younger, so positive reinforcement created a cycle of me “liking” these boys I knew I would never date. I would never end up dating these boys in middle school because I actually never really liked them at all, only created the illusion for myself and others, and also because I was a strange child. I was independent to the highest degree, and I’m going to be straight up, I had the dressing ability of a 6 year old boy, so I’m sure you can imagine the severe lack of anything feminine about my outward appearance. If I was talking to a guy, it was the most platonic interaction between a guy and girl you could probably imagine, not necessarily because of me, but because I had no idea how to flirt back then and show that I liked them, and also because not many guys wanted to flirt with the embodiment of androgyny (that was for humor, not pity).
As I started to mature, female body processes spiked my hormones, and my body changed subsequently. I started to grow into more of a person that someone would look at and say, “I am positive that is a girl”, rather than, “I am positive that is some gender of person”. I started to develop actual taste in clothes, actually brush my hair, and wear things that were associated with girls like dresses and skirts (which I would have sworn would never be on my body pre 12 years old). Yet the idea of “liking” someone still remained foreign.
There were boys I felt like I should be interested in, but only few would reciprocate the feelings, and I would always find some reason not to date them. Looking back, I realize that I didn’t date too often because of the insecurity rooted in myself from all of the years of purely platonic relations with guys, and also because the first boy I ever dated was actually one of the worst people I possibly could have. He was clingy, he cheated, we could barely even uphold conversation because of the lack of common interest. I was in the ninth grade and felt trapped in a relationship that I easily could have gotten out of, it was absolutely dumb in every way. But the point is that I really thought that I liked that boy, I mean, he played drums, I played drums, he had muscles, that was good, right? Girls are supposed to like big muscles! My rationalization for entering the relationship was incredibly asinine, even for 9th grade Oona. It was an experience that I don’t regret because of what it taught me, but I do look back on it with a good bit of distaste. I’m sure every boy who pursued me after this first boyfriend did not appreciate him very much because he made me into an excruciatingly selective dater that made lusting after Oona MacDougall an experience similar to beating your head against a brick wall.
My non-understanding of “like” that created the cycle of my own rumor mill for others’ benefit, turned into me completely quitting pretending to like guys due to a burgeoning sense of independence and a general ‘no fucks given’ attitude I decided to adopt. I became friends with as many people as I could in high school. Once people got past the fact that I wasn’t borne out of the typical mold that a girl usually fits into, they realized I had a decent sense of humor. As each year of high school progressed, more and more people liked me in the way that friends do, but the general interest from boys was still very low. There were few that attempted to brave the desolate land that was my love life, but I pushed them away because I could always find something wrong, I could always find a reason not to “like” them.
There was only one boy that I dated after the drummer, and he was someone who had pursued me for longer than I want to mention because I led him through what I imagine was a very aggravating cat and mouse game before I dated him, with the cat being very exasperated and confused and the mouse throwing out her cheese then stealing it back at the very last second. We tried a long distance relationship with him at College of Charleston and me at Clemson, which lasted a grand total of about 3 weeks before I realized that I didn’t have feelings for him past being a friend. I initially thought that my decision to date the boy wasn’t about “liking” or not “liking” him, it was about me looking into myself and finding out that he did not match what I felt like I needed from someone that I was going to build such a strong bond with. Then I thought about my assumption.
That’s exactly what attempting to “like” someone is. The mature version of “liking” is trying to rationalize loving someone with a preconceived idea of who you should love. That isn’t how love works. The reason why I couldn’t have a relationship with that boy was because I only felt platonic love towards him, I did not feel like I could connect with him in the deepest part of my being, and there was nothing I could do about that. One of the beautiful but frustrating things about love is that it is infallibly unpredictable, and to find it you have to put yourself in a vulnerable state, you have to let it take you, rather than feeling like you must be the seeker.
What I most failed to realize for quite a while was that you can’t justify love, but love justifies existence. I lived for so long not realizing the importance of loving, and over thinking whenever the possibility of it arose. But I now live a life where love is a prominent force, and quite honestly (and to be quite cliché), life has more meaning when you love others, and you work to make them feel loved.
Through all of my experiences that I’ve lived through so far, I realized that I despise the word like. I like granola. I like bananas. Like is not a word that should be used to suggest the feeling of a higher level of connection with someone. Like is bland, I’ll use it to describe how I feel about people that I feel very shallow connection with. But with people that I truly mesh with, I love. I crave to experience both platonic love and a love that reaches further than an emotional and mental connection, but I assure you, I will never attempt to “like” anyone ever again.