Why must I be-e a teen-A-ger in love? by
(303 Stories)

Prompted By Teenager in Love

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Every time I have seen the phrase “teenager in love” – starting with the first time this prompt appeared in Retrospect two years ago – I have read it as teen-A-ger, with the accent on the second syllable, rather than TEEN-ager, the usual pronunciation, with the accent on the first syllable. In contrast, if the word “teenager” appears and is not followed by “in love,” I of course accent the first syllable. The reason for this deviation in pronunciation is the unforgettable song by Dion and the Belmonts.

Wikipedia tells me the song was released in March 1959, which is very surprising to me. I was seven-and-a-half years old at that time, not even close to being a teenager and certainly not in love. I suppose I first heard it because my older sisters listened to popular music on the radio and sometimes bought 45s that they played at home. But this song must have had great staying power, because I’m sure I was still hearing it on the radio when I was in my teens.

As a teenager I was always in love with someone. First it was Karl, whom I wrote about in Sadie Hawkins Dance. The next year there was a boy with red hair named Steve. He was a senior when I was a sophomore, and we played bridge together but that was all, except in my fantasies. There were others whose names I can’t even remember any more. I would walk past the locker of the love object du jour, hoping to bump into him. I would doodle his name in the margins of my notebooks. Sometimes (oh horror of horrors) I would write Mrs. with his name, or even worse, Suzy with his last name. Seems crazy now, but I think that was commonplace back then.

As the lyrics of the song say, one day I felt happy and the next day I felt sad. It all depended on whether I managed to bump into him when I walked past his locker, and whether he smiled at me. Even in college, where there weren’t lockers any more, there was still the fine art of figuring out how to bump into the love object, in the dining hall, or outside a class, or just walking through the Yard. Or better yet, getting invited to the same parties, and hoping he would notice me there. And while suffering through all of this, I was indeed always asking the stars up above “why must I be-e a teen-A-ger in love?”

So glad those days are long past!

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: been there


  1. Risa Nye says:

    I loved the “accidental” on purpose way you (and didn’t we all?) managed to bump into the love object by the locker, in the dining hall or outside a class. So much planning went into those innocent meetings! Yes, also glad those days are long past!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    What I particularly loved about this story, Suzy, was that you did not focus on one particular boy or relationship, but the whole phenomenon of being a teenager and certainly not in love, but in full “”crush” mode. In love with the idea of love, I guess. And openly acknowledging not just the angst, but all the little things that were attendant to it: doodling on notebooks, walking past lockers, going to the right parties, etc. It is particularly reassuring to a guy to know that we weren’t the only gender who acted this way, or who dared to think that girls — a/k/a goddesses — might as well. So thank you muchly for both the insight and the honesty.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, I, too, loved music from that era. I think my brother and I watched American Band Stand. I was singing two Shelley Fabares songs to a college buddy named John the other day (“Johnny Angel” and “Johnny Get Angry, Johnny get mad, give me the biggest lecture I’ve ever had, I want a brave man, I want a cave man, Johnny show me that you care, really care for me”). I, too, was in and out of love all the time (until college, when it became more serious), but always yearning for that certain someone, and songs certainly drove that fantasy. Frankie Avalon (even before the Beach Blanket movies) was a big one for me. I still have some of his 45s and saw him perform at a big venue in Bermuda in about 1979. He was still magnetic. I’m right there with you.

    • Suzy says:

      “Johnny Angel” was the perfect song for a lovestruck teen. You could substitute the name of your crush, whoever he was, and it had lyrics like “but he doesn’t even know that I-I-I exist.” That was my life! But “Johnny Get Angry” is something else entirely. I don’t remember ever hearing it back then, but I listened to it this morning with my jaw hanging open. “I want a cave man” and “let me know that you’re the boss” – OMG! Frightening! Did we really think that way???

  4. John Zussman says:

    I loved hearing about the adolescent ways you fantasized about your “love object du jour,” and your horror now that you thought that way then. In a 1994 book called Where the Girls Are, Susan J. Douglas postulated that songs from the ’60s, especially by girl groups, encapsulated the teen girl’s dilemma and planted the seeds of feminism. “Somehow,” she says, “millions of girls went from singing ‘I Want to Be Bobby’s Girl’ to chanting ‘I am Woman (Hear Me Roar).’”

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, John. I will look for that book. By the time of “I Am Woman” we were in college, of course, and I was going to consciousness-raising groups, so I’m not sure it was the songs that planted the seeds of feminism, seems more like the reverse. But I am interested to see what Susan Douglas says.

      • John Zussman says:

        I’m sure you’ll find it fascinating. She says that, in songs like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” and “Sweet Talking Guy,” the singers (and songwriters) could expose the double-bind about sexuality that young women of that day found themselves in, and promote the “absolute necessity of female collusion in the face of thoughtless or mystifying behavior by boys.” Good stuff.

  5. I’d say “You Don’t Own Me,” put out the right message for young women, but Lesley Gore wrote it in 1964 as the tide began to turn. Most of the earlier stuff was horrendous. I loved your lurking. I think we did that too, guys, and I wrote my crushes’ names in elaborate notebook doodles. Great recollection, Suzy!

    • Suzy says:

      “You Don’t Own Me” was a wonderful song, and I remember loving it when it came out, and belting it along with Lesley, but I think it was an anomaly. It was seven more years until “I Am Woman,” and I’m not sure there were any feminist songs on the charts in between.

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