Everything I Learnt About Love and Relationships from Books

Volume 1: The Primary School Years

When I was small, my whole week would be spent looking forward to the weekend. Not because I hated school – I’m a massive nerd – but because the weekend meant I got to hang out with my favourite people. Every Friday, my Nan would walk down and pick me up from school and our weekly routine would begin: painting, knitting and crafting in front of CBBC; tea of burger and twice-cooked chips in a questionably safe pan of oil on a gas stove; bath with empty ice cream tubs to play with and then hot chocolate under blankets. In those moments, I felt safe and loved and wanted.

Saturday mornings brought with them my dad’s weekly visit, which is where my story begins. My dad, ever keen to further my academic pursuits, took me to the library. (I should highlight at this stage that Wroxham Library is on stilts – a fact that my husband still enthusiastically points out to our children every single time we drive past it.) Here, I would load up on books, guaranteed hours of escapism to tide me over to our next visit.

Looking back, I’m not entirely sure what my dad was looking at. I vaguely remember him showing me maps in the front of the Sharpe books but not a lot else. I was too busy on my one-girl mission to read every single book about hip young women of the world, always members of clubs, learning about life and BOYS! Gasp! Now the burning question is: what did I learn on these missions?

1. Having a boyfriend makes you the cool one of the group

Yes, from a young age we are socially conditioned to believe that having a boyfriend is the only goal worth striving for. Stevie in The Saddle Club series is the most awesome member of the founding three members, all due to the enigmatic Phil, her boyfriend from a few towns over. He has a horse that spooks easily! Edgy! We then have Stacey from The Baby-Sitters Club. Clearly, it’s not the fact that she’s from New York that makes her interesting. Her boyfriend, Robert Brewster, makes her choose him over the Club. So much for girl code when you don’t pick your weird financial sideline that is organised on a landline extension in someone else’s bedroom once a week. As for the Wakefield twins in Sweet Valley High, well, they both had boyfriends.

These characters are all twelve years old and have steady boyfriends straight out of a game of Dream Phone. Where in the hell was I going to find a Brad or a Todd in my primary school of 54 pupils? 

2. You need to be blonde to have a boyfriend

True story! Stacey: blonde. Stevie: dark blonde. Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield: luminescent blonde. I’m pretty sure it’s this fact that led me to make some questionable bleaching choices during university.

3. Every group needs a bossy one, a clever one and a quirky one

So we move onto friendships and the personality tropes that make a successful group. Without fail, there has to be a ‘bossy’ one. In The Baby-Sitters Club it’s Kristy, founding member and all-round organiser with a big mouth (that’s how she’s described). There would always be that moment in the library when I’d realise I had read all of the titles on the shelf except a Kristy-based story so I was stuck with her. In hindsight, I don’t know why I went along with hating her. That girl ran a club, kept on top of her schoolwork, parented her many younger siblings AND coached her own softball team. She was the original boss bitch just taking care of business. In The Saddle Club it was Carole, who wasn’t especially likeable, so we will move right along…

The nerds speak for themselves. Lisa, Mary Anne and Elizabeth, you are the cool ones in my eyes and so much more than handy tutors when needed.

Finally, there’s the ‘quirky’ ones or ‘the characters I always wanted to be’. Claudia Kishi from The Baby-Sitters Club can be held entirely responsible for every bad outfit choice I made at school. She draws, paints, sculpts, makes jewellery, lives on junk food and is the best-dressed person at Stoneybrook Middle School. Ultimate goals right there! I would stand in the library and flick to the first chapter of each book to read the line or two about what Claudia was wearing and then makes notes in my Fun Fax. Oversized tee-shirts and an arm full of bangles, you say?

The defining moment for me was one particularly damaging day in Year 5. We had some ex-students in for work experience, who happened to be twins with long, blonde hair. They were 15. They had boyfriends. This was tantamount to celebrity! Everyone was crowded around, trying to act cool and get their attention. I thought I’d hang back and get my friend to go over and ask if the twins liked me. Their response: oh, is she the bossy one?

FML. I was the Kristy of the group.

4. Makeovers are integral to success

You’ve got to love a makeover montage, am I right? Mary Anne in The Baby-Sitters Club is a brunette and a nerd but she bags a boyfriend who looks like her favourite actor after the events of Mary Anne’s Makeover. Miracles do happen!

This belief is what leads to crying for two solid years over a bad haircut. 

5. Friendship is important

These girls need each other and have got each other’s backs. They have their fair share of falling out but friendship always wins. That’s what’s important.

Wow, the late 80s and early 90s were a minefield.

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