When I was in high school, filled to the brink with testosterone, I had great problems engaging any girls whatsoever. While some would blame my dress code at the time, there would be strange reactions or comments that made me wonder. I later mentioned this to my best friend, who made the following observation: "It seems that someone is purposely sabotaging you by talking behind your back."
After a lot of thought on this, I hypothesized that this was a social ripple effect from the time before high school.
Very early on in school, we were divided between guys and girls. Incidentally, I had a red backpack, so some of the guys insisted that I was a girl and pushed me over to the girls. To start off with, I did my best to stand my ground. Through repetition, and obviously with the addition of the cooties, I took to heart a misconception early on, automatically linking contact with girls and being bullied. While this typically should not be a problem for your average Joe, the intensity and frequency (several times a day, every day for years) of this turned it into a problem.
Basically, anything that could be used as a reason to bully me would be used. So I avoided at any cost to reveal anything that would expand the bullies' options for bullying. And so, I learned to shut myself up.
There was one incident, where the two main bullies pushed me to ask a girl if she wanted to be with me, to which she said yes. In reality, I was happy to hear this, because I really liked her. A lot. Unfortunately, the next step was to tell her that I was only kidding. Which in reality I wasn't. And I wished I did not "have" to "call it off". I felt terrible doing it, and it's an incident that followed me far into adulthood. (Much later, I wrote a letter, apologizing, to which I never received a response, and I don't expect one. So in the sense of self healing, at least I did my part. But that's not what this story is about.)
This one incident was so intense that from then on, I didn't believe any girl who said they wanted to go out with me. I closed myself up and made up thousands of excuses why I didn't believe them, why I couldn't, and so on. In reality, I had one crush after the other, and I would never admit it for as long as I was in that environment.
So after compulsory school, half of the people disappear into other schools or work, bullies seemingly disappeared, there were plenty of new people who had no idea about my past, and as we have learned is typical among teens - I started to take risks. On the occasion that I might actually get a positive response one day, the same girl might have turned completely around the next. Something was going on, and I could not put my finger on it. Eventually, the 100% turn down rate was quite devastating to the little self esteem I had.
Early bullying turned me into an introvert who, as we noticed, made me avoid expressing my attraction to girls. By doing so, those around me would see me as someone who was not attracted to girls, i.e. gay. When I approached someone who didn't know who I was, they might at first be interested, asked around about who I am, only to learn about a guy who is perceived as gay. Before the end of the day, the exchange of smiles were replaced with them responding with a frown.
I returned to the well established pattern that anything positive said about me was dismissed as an attempt to tease me. In my mind, I had no value to society. I had suicidal thoughts. And my teachers told my parents that I was the happiest person in class, always smiling.
Long term confirmation
I eventually left for "the big world". I was not in touch with anyone for ten years. Through an actual friend, I learned about the back stabbing still going on behind my back - stories about things that couldn't possibly have happened, since I was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean at the time it supposedly happened. And I started to wonder, what is wrong with these people who have a need to do me harm even 13-16 years after I had seen them?
Shortly after, I hit the wall, passed a kidney stone, spent a week in hospital, was diagnosed with hypertension. So I slowly recovered, I found a new job 1600 km away and stayed there for the next five years. Best move ever. The community I moved to built me up again, and I started to rebuild the spine I lost in primary school.
Again I returned home, for completely different reasons. Strange things still happened out of the blue, the typical red tape moves that occur when someone has decided they don't like me. So the other night, I was challenged with the following question: "Seeing who you are and what you do, you're helping people known or unknown, unselfishly, you do not carry prejudice against them; how is it that you still experience these things, as though you're still a bully victim?"
Simply, because around here, the place I grew up, the place where the bullying started, people still remember their own interpretation of the person I was and use that as their basis for interacting with me. Without realizing it, they are unsuspecting participants of a bullying project that should have ended 23 years ago.
The major difference between then and now: The ever evolving Me.
The difference will become: The ever evolving Us.
Let's focus on that.