Five years of college. That’s how long it took. A rejection-filled freshman year provided the foundation, two years of random hookups taught me the necessary skills and a long-term relationship cemented my understanding. What could I be talking about? Only women, of course.

At 13, when I had my first crush, I began giving myself pep talks before bed.

“Andrew,” I’d announce loudly to the 13-year-old version of myself and my room full of stuffed animals, “tomorrow, you’re going to walk up to Joanne and say she looks beautiful. Then during lunch, you’re going to give her that Goo Goo Dolls CD that you bought for her and ask if you can eat together.”

It turned out that Joanne was a huge bitch and a slut. Actually she was neither, but after I saw guy after guy approach her during lunch without CDs and still sit beside her, it made me feel better to think that she would have rejected me anyway.

In eighth grade, it was Lindsay. She wasn’t the most attractive girl or the most popular, but she was the first girl ever to flirt with me. During the eighth-grade class trip, Lindsay and I met by the soda machines. We both knew what was going to happen and, even though I was excited, I was also secretly dreading it.

“Hey Andrew,” she said sweetly to me as she moved closer. In my head, I heard my brain screaming, “Abort!” which I fought to ignore. She closed her eyes and moved her head toward mine. I felt her lips against mine and it was different than I imagined it would be. The kiss lasted for no more than a second, but already my view of women was changing. I had kissed a girl and I wanted to do it again. My excitement trumped my nervousness.

Ninth grade passed, and with it a more hands-on understanding of the female anatomy. Meanwhile, in the summer before tenth grade, many of my friends were becoming quite good “baseball players.” One friend of mine had recently reached “third base,” and another had not only gotten “home,” but had filmed himself doing it. Entering tenth grade, I was content with frequent trips to “second base,” but that was soon to change.

It was a month into tenth grade and the Sadie Hawkins dance was just around the corner. At that point in my life, I had yet to ask a girl out, to a movie or even just to study with me.

Needless to say, I was happy that the first dance of the year didn’t require me to break away from this trend. The notion that there was a girl in my class who actually thought about me the way I so often did about girls was one of the most comforting concepts I had ever considered.

Finally, a week before the dance, I received my proposal. “Hey Andrew, I have a question to ask you,” she began in a tone that sounded slightly rehearsed. “I know we haven’t really talked since your Bar Mitzvah,” she continued before pausing and looking down. In reality, we hadn’t really talked during my Bar Mitzvah either.

“So what’s up?” I asked her casually, attempting to break the awkward silence. She looked up at me, her eyes catching mine, and finally said, “Will you go to the Sadie Hawkins dance with me?

“Of course!” I blurted out with a little too much enthusiasm. She smiled upon hearing this and only then did I begin to notice how cute Dara was. A week later, while I was lying beside Dara at a party after the dance, I saw that same smile again. Before we parted that night, we made plans to hang out at her house the following evening and she made it a point of telling me that her parents wouldn’t be home.

“That sounds great!” I answered casually, but in the pit of my stomach, I felt a nervous tension starting to develop.

After my mom dropped me off at her house, Dara came out to greet me. She grabbed my hand excitedly and led me down to her basement. I felt the pressure in my stomach growing. She then popped the movie “Go” into her VCR, sat down beside me and began stroking my back gently. This movie was the first time that I had seen Claire Danes in an acting role since the show “My So-Called Life,” so when the movie began, I was excited to be watching it. But upon feeling Dara’s fingertips dancing on my lower back, the waves of anxiety returned with a fury. Suddenly, I felt Dara’s hand moving toward my chest and then downward to a place that no girl’s hand had ever been before. The pressure in my stomach became too great and I jumped to my feet.

“My stomach is killing me,” I said nervously. Dara made a cute puppy dog face and, rising to her feet, began to walk toward me.

“Awww, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll go grab you some Pepto Bismal.” I nodded in response as she turned away and began running up the stairs. Meanwhile, I was starting to actually feel sick. I couldn’t handle the anxiety frantically pulsating throughout my body. At that moment, I resolved to get the hell out of Dara’s house.

I waited until she was out of sight and moved swiftly to the basement window. I swung my body through the opening and closed it behind me, sprinting d toward the main street.

That entire night, I restlessly tossed and turned with fearful anticipation of my inevitable encounter with Dara the following school day. How would she respond to being run out on and having her phone calls screened? Judging by the voicemail she left earlier that night, I assumed that she wouldn’t respond very positively. I began to consider various scenarios regarding how the next day’s confrontation would unfold. For every scene that I’d construct in my head, I tried to think of how I could appease her anger in that given scenario.

Maybe I’d write her a letter or, better yet, a poem. Maybe I’d ask her to come to my house so she knew I was still interested in her. By the time the bus pulled into school the next morning, I had a response for every foreseeable outcome. Walking down the hallway toward my homeroom class, I saw her. She looked upset and she was heading in my direction. And how did I choose to resolve the situation? By never talking to her again.

In the years that followed, my anxiety about girls succumbed to hormones but, even amidst these random acts of passion, I never was the provoceur. Not surprisingly, my introduction to college life was a rude awakening for me, as I found out during Orientation week that it took more than leaving your door open and having a futon to get a girl.

Soon into the semester, it also occurred to me that even though the amount of available girls in college was vastly greater than those in high school, the competition for these girls was greater, as well, because, whereas only freshman girls are willing to hook up with freshman guys, almost every guy in the world would hook up with a freshman female college student.

I may have been the one guy in the world who had a harder time hooking up with a girl in college than I did in high school. And my continual reluctance to initiate interactions with girls and make a move only augmented my dilemma.

By the time sophomore year rolled around, a combination of loneliness and sexual frustration forced me into action. I started to pregame, go to more frat parties and put on an act. To the new girls I met, I was cocky, slightly rude, overly confident – the type of guy that younger college girls love. And it worked! My alternate persona facilitated many one-night stands and random hookups, but never anything long-term. After I hooked up with a girl, I was afraid to let the girl get to know me. If she did, she might begin to see me for the sweeter, more polite, shy kid I really was, and then she’d reject me. So for the rest of my sophomore and part of my junior year, I rode this alternate personality out until it made me feel dead inside.

Around this time, I began to long for more meaningful interactions with girls who I liked. I wanted to meet a girl who would accept me and like me for who I truly was. That anxious pressure returned to the pit of my stomach and, in an ironic twist, demanded that the shy and sensitive Andrew begin to approach girls and attempt to woo them.

A week later, I stood nervous

ly on the steps of Wilder, peering toward the grassy hill beneath Danforth. At the foot of this hill was a girl whom I had secretly liked for some time. I took a deep breath and began walking toward her. She saw me approaching and sat up to greet me.

“Hi,” I said, kneeling beside her.

“Hi yourself,” she said coyly.

“I got you something,” I continued. I reached into my pocket, pulled out a CD and said, “I hope you like the Goo Goo Dolls.”

Schwartz is a Take Five Scholar.

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