Fairly Spiritual: Recalling an eighth-grade love triangle

In eighth grade I fell in love with two Stephanies. Which really isn’t saying much, since in the early ’80s, one out of every five girls was named Stephanie.

A week before the school dance, word reached me that both Stephanies had indicated to close friends that they might possible want to “go with” me. This was confirmed by further intel from other gossip ambassadors. For the first and last time of my life, I was thoroughly entangled in a love triangle.

In my day, innocence was still hanging around the school yard. Consequently, if someone said they wanted “to go with you” it meant you held hands and kissed between classes. It also meant at least three slow dances.

To be honest, it wasn’t really a dance. You just grabbed your partner’s waist and rocked side to side like you were wearing a body cast. Most importantly, you kept six to 12 inches between your hormonally charged bodies. At least when the chaperones were looking.

I’m an emotionally charged person. The eighth-grade version of me was a big old ball of emotional chaos. As a result, every relational entanglement became grand theater. My heart could only fathom two possibilities: ecstatic joy or heartbroken despair. Middle ground was the blur you passed as you plummeted into emotional despondence.

With this in mind, it was crucial that I choose the right Stephanie. Stephanie S. and Stephanie M. both had many amazing qualities. I’m withholding last names to preserve the integrity of my version.

After much deliberation, I decided I would ask Stephanie S. to go with me. The night of the dance went just as expected. During the first slow song, I left my position against the wall, took Stephanie S. by the hand, and headed for the dance floor.

The pot head DJ was playing Stairway to Heaven, which is over eight minutes long, with many tempo shifts. Regardless, we forced the song into submission, and slow danced all 482 seconds. By song’s end, I was experiencing a rather aggressive kiss from my new “steady.”

Unfortunately, young love is fleeting. After a long and tumultuous two-month romance, Stephanie S. and I parted ways. We made a verbal treaty that neither of us was breaking up with the other. Rather, we were mutually deciding upon the course of friendship. At the time, this seemed like a mature course of action.

Until the next day when I saw her holding hands with Travis from band class. Travis, from band class! She dumped me for Travis from band class! I made it through this day of betrayal feigning indifference, but by night’s end I sat in my room crying.

I stomped on the half-deflated mylar balloon she had given me two weeks prior. Unable to pop it with my heel, I stabbed it with a knife.

To make matters worse, Stephanie M. had not waited for my relationship with Stephanie S. to falter. Instead, Stephanie M. had moved on to another beau, who was also named Doug. This was more than a coincidence; it was a tragic blow to my ego.

Stephanie M. went steady with the other Doug for something like 14 years. As far as I know, they’re married.

The sad conclusion to this love triangle tragedy came about a year later. For some reason Stephanie M. invited me to her birthday party at the Les Gove Park rental hall. My only memory of the birthday celebration was watching her and the other Doug dance to a power love ballad by the rock group Journey.

I walked out the double doors into the cold and lonely night. If only I had picked the right Stephanie.

I’m amazed at the power of middle school. I don’t remember decades of my life. But I remember eighth grade. Sometimes, when I hear a Journey song on the radio, I start tearing up. No matter how mature I’ve become, my teenage boy emotion gets the best of me.

The need to be accepted, loved and wanted is a powerful desire. I thank God that he made humans so irrationally complex, that our emotions and intellect are inseparably woven together. Most importantly, I’m thankful that my wife understands and loves the emotionally charged, love sick boy in me.

Doug Bursch hosts “The Fairly Spiritual Show” at 6 p.m. Saturdays on KGNW 820 AM. He also pastors Evergreen Foursquare Church. Evergreen meets at 10 a.m. Sundays at the Riverside High School Theater. He can be reached at www.fairlyspiritual.org or doug@fairlyspiritual.org.