On the way home today I tried to remember when I started thinking about "going with" a girl. The wiseacre in me always asked "where are you going?" but I seem to recall that the notion of having an actual relationship with a girl started creeping into my head in the sixth grade. That's not to say that the idea of "girlfriend" hadn't been swimming around in there for some years prior to that, but it was sixth grade when the politics of romance became real for me.
I was fortunate to grow up with some very good friends who happened to be girls, and one in particular became the object, initially of my other friends obnoxious taunting. "David and Heidi, sitting in a tree..." I told them to shut up, but part of me was very smug about the attention. This was during the second, third and fourth grades. By the time we all reached the fifth grade, sitting in a tree with someone started to seem mildly appealing. Maybe not the K-I-S-S-I-N-G, but definitely the sitting in the tree.
Fifth and sixth grade was when the threats of mashing lips started to disappear. Focused attention from a girl seemed like a really great idea - not that any one of us boys would admit it to each other. When we spoke to one another, we all agreed that girls were certainly harbingers of cooties and much worse, but I know most of us on the cusp of puberty were simultaneously thrilled and terrified by the opposite sex.
Oh, and that word: Sex. You might as well whack a twelve year old boy in the face with a poorly strung tennis racket if you want to stun him more than saying that word in polite conversation. The existence of another gender was frightening enough, but comprehending their relation to our own was beyond us. What would a twelve year old boy do with a twelve year old girl, given half a chance and a dark basement with parents out for the night? We had all heard that certain girls would let you see or touch or would in turn look at or touch your - or we all were pretty sure that it was true, because why would somebody lie about that, after all?
The only reason to "go with" someone was to give everyone else the perception that you knew what the heck you were doing when it came to the opposite sex (there it is again, tee-hee). There was some hand-holding. There was some making out for the truly advanced, but "going with someone" meant one thing primarily: You had to talk to that person endlessly about "going with" them. All other conversations ceased to have any relevance. If your girlfriend's hair was on fire, you might want to ask her how that would affect her interest in continuing to "go with" you, and if you were to help put out the flames, would it mean that you were still "going together?"
The other most important feature of "going with" anyone is the incessant need for reassurance from your friends and her friends that the two of you really, really like each other. You might pass a note in class to one of her friends. You might have one of your friends ask one of her friends at recess. Under no circumstances should you have this interaction directly between yourself and the object of your affections. The closest you are allowed to come is when the inevitable breakup occurs. "I thought you liked me," you can feel free to opine. How could this have all gone so wrong?
You were twelve.