Do you remember when your transition into adulthood began? Do you remember a sense of self-awareness or crossing some kind of threshold into childhoods end?
I have a few moments I remember but one that is notable happened when I was sixteen. Sitting on a hill with my friend overlooking a sunset one Sunday afternoon, I mulled over the year at school. It had been a decent year, but I wanted more. It occurred to me that I had control over what happened to me. My life needed to be better and I could make it better. I had to be treated differently and I wanted those around me to notice. To be honest some of my ideas that day were terrible, but they were based on popular media at the time. I wanted to have my own dramatic makeover story. I didn’t know it then, but this stemmed from deep insecurity and identity issues.
During that time and since, I’ve watched a lot of coming of age movies and read just as many fiction books on it. I have a complicated relationship with coming of age movies. On the one hand, I enjoy these stories, I LOVE these stories they are so fun to watch, but then a perfectly good movie is tarnished by a moment and I get annoyed. Let me explain. A lot of these movies start off focusing on an interesting aspect of a girl’s life like a death in the family, or a mother-daughter relationship and then switch to only focusing around a young woman’s sexuality or new experience. Often the young protagonist’s coming of age story is tied to her losing her virginity. That’s when you’ll hear me yelling at the screen. “Don’t do it! He doesn’t love you!” I throw my head back in frustration as I watch as another girl bites the dust- so to speak. I know it’s the reality for some. I get it, and sometimes it’s an important part of the plot. But I wonder if writers think this is the only type of loss of innocence there is in a coming of age story. A quick fix to a complicated story-girl growing up-make her have sex. Is this the status quo now? A subtle form of brainwashing? The “everyone else is doing it” mentality? We keep getting subjected to another teen girl being rushed through this important experience for our entertainment. It’s either overly awkward or all the awkwardness is hidden and it’s too perfect to be realistic. But most of these movies and shows don’t spend enough time on the aftermath. There is no self-reckoning or reflection on the ramifications of choices, no time spent on the potentially ravaged heart.
I made a conscious decision when I was young to not have sex until I was married. Back then it seemed the TV shows and movies I was watching normalized marriage before sex. I wonder about girls who have made this commitment now. Do they feel like they are weird or don’t belong? Is the strength of their decision mocked by media? Where do they fit in and are there more of them then we realize? Are they overshadowed by these types of stories expecting their own deflowering experience before they are emotionally ready? Has anyone told them they have a choice? Do they feel like perpetual children or like they are missing something? I have a lot of questions. Maybe they see themselves in the story until their paths diverge and they wonder if that means they are on the wrong path?
And what about the girls that have had sex. How are they doing and reflecting? Are they able to wield the weight of their new experience? Was it a big deal for them or something to be brushed over? Have they truly come of age now, or is more needed then just having sex? What is the depth of their satisfaction or sadness, is there a jarring sense of loss? Do they have someone mature with whom to process their feelings? There never seems to be enough moments in the movies to answer these questions. Next week I’ll finish my thoughts on this.
What’s your coming of age story? And have you ever seen it reflected in a movie or TV show?