MY still single friend and one time colleague Dilla, who has remained 39 since the year 2004, has always said that the phrase ‘‘opposites attract’’ was overused, clichéd and only applied to horse-shoe magnets in the school science laboratory.
She wasn’t very pleased therefore when our other friend Lynn mused about the budding romance between two of her Form Five students.
The girl, a straight A’s student in the first pure sciences class had been romantically linked with a notorious boy from one of the end classes.
“Not only does he have a discipline record that could fill an entire school block, his academic grades are way below average. In fact he has a failing mark in almost every subject in the recent trials.
“It was only recently,” continued Lynn in a lower tone, “that I came to find out he could hardly read or write ... they are so different the two of them … nothing in common at all. One so smart and high-achieving and the other … well you know… it has to be the case of unlike poles attract.”
“Ha,” said Dilla haughtily. “That has nothing to do with poles or opposites. Nothing at all. In fact this ‘phenomenon’ you are describing is most common... it is all about instinct.
“The woman’s natural instinct is to mother the errant, wayward child, take him under her wing and put him back on the right track.
“An innate, inborn instinct you may say. This womanly need to be the redeemer, the one to rescue a man who is in danger of self-destruction or on a downward spiral to doom.
“They’ve got a name for it actually but it’s too complicated. Such relationships have been known to work too ... but don’t ask me for the statistics. Not my cup of tea though,” she sniffed and dug deep into her handbag for her powder compact.
“I prefer to be taken charge of … hopefully by someone smarter than me,”she broke off with a little self-conscious giggle.
I remembered the long crush Dilla had had on Johan Alwi, the tall lanky captain of the neighbouring boys’ school hockey team when we were school mates way back in the 1970’s.
Everyone in school knew how hung up she had been on Johan and how his name turned up in every English essay she wrote, even when the topic had been ‘My country, Malaysia’.
The hushed excitement whenever his name was mentioned among the group had nothing to do with mothering or rescuing.
In fact, if anyone had needed rescuing, it was Dilla who had gone around for a whole year in a daze after Johan had asked her to hold his hockey stick while he adjusted his shoe laces just before an inter-school game one evening.
The infatuation ended only 20 years later after she saw his cheerful pot-bellied photograph in a magazine advertising products for men’s health and marital harmony.
“I couldn’t understand it at first,” continued Lynn. “I mean, there are so many boys in my own Form 5A class, hard-working, studious and intelligent, high-achievers, most likely-to-succeed types ... why does she have to go for a boy fron an end class?” She gave a little shudder.
“Are you referring to those pasty-faced nerd-type mama’s boys in your 5A?” asked Dilla, who was the class teacher of one of the end ‘K’ classes herself, a fact that Lynn had overlooked.
“That pale, sickly looking bunch who never turn up for sports practice or volunteer to help during any school ‘gotong-royong’ activities. The ones who can walk past the stooped form of a near-retirement teacher walking up four flights of stairs with three bags in one hand and never even stop to offer assistance.
“The same ‘high-achieving’ boys who ran out of the classroom last Monday before recess when a baby cockroach crept out of the waste paper basket? Well … little wonder then that your girls are looking for real men from the other end!”
“Well…” started Lynn regretfully. The brilliance surrounding her potential rocket scientists was gradually dimming.
“I suppose all that competition for scoring A pluses can make them a little self-absorbed at times.. but anyway, I am still going to have a word with my girl about this. Nip the whole thing in the bud. She should be concentrating on her studies now and not be involved in all this boyfriend-girlfriend stuff. Otherwise, I’m going to call her parents.”
“And so ends the hopeful awakenings of first love,” said Dilla.
“Which is probably for the best anyway. These kids are just too young to get emotionally involved.”
“That’s not what you said in 1977 at the end of S.W.A.L.K.” I reminded her. “You walked out of the cinema and vowed that the love you had for Johan Alwi was ‘pure and everlasting’ ... your very words.”
“What a long memory you have,” said Dilla drily. “And all for the wrong things.”
While teachers in Malaysian schools generally disapprove of romantic boy-girl relationships between their students, they also realise that it is a natural phase of adolescent development.
The years of secondary schooling is probably the period when students become most aware of their own developing sexuality and begin to regard students of the opposite sex as more than just someone who sits behind them in class or group members in a class project.
Teachers are also aware that most of the time these teenage “crushes” or infatuations are just temporary, unless there is serious emotional or physical involvement. Of late however, the rise of teenage pregnancies and reports of sexual activity among adolescents have made teachers more vigilant and be constantly watchful for “couples” among students.
School counsellors also address the issue of these boy-girl relationship problems in special seminars or one-to-one counselling sessions.
Getting back to the “good girl-bad boy” issue, I remembered that just like Lynn, I had encountered this situation among my own students several times. My other friend Jill had a theory on this when I mentioned it to her.
“It is all the fault of the movies,” she said, in a tone of deep conviction.
“Ever watched a movie, where young, beautiful and sophisticated professional falls in love with the village idiot because of his sincere and pure heart not to mention his skills at beating up the thugs who try to outrage the maiden’s modesty.
“Two hours, five songs and four commercial breaks later, he reappears in a slick jacket and tie after being sent for an education abroad. Most importantly he speaks only English now. The lovers then get married with the blessings of the whole village.”
When I thought about it I realised that Jill perhaps had a point there. Perhaps Lynn was right in warning her students about the dangers of getting carried away by emotions and idealistic visions based on fantasy.
But then again as Dilla says, you never know. There are people who married their school sweethearts and are still happily married after 20 years.
Still, we don’t really know if it was a romance that flourished despite being in classes at either end. Who’s going to tell, and after all these years, what does it matter anyway?
TheStar, Sunday November 21, 2010