Friday's child;Features and arts

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
Reva Klein on the ecstasy of love at 14 and the agony of receiving advice from your gang

Joe loves Jess. Jess loves Joe, or at least she does sometimes. Other times, she can't stand the sight or sound of him and lets him know it, big time. When that happens, Joe's best mates Tim and Tom take it upon themselves to become emissaries of lurve, pressing poor Joe's case to Jess and, in the process, distancing the girl yet further from the occasional object of her affection.

Being 14 and smitten involves more agonies than ecstasies. Lots more. One minute Jess is nice to Joe, sitting with him and his frequently prattish mates at lunchtime, and inviting the lot of them over to watch videos and devour vast quantities of takeaway pizzas with her and her gangette on Saturday nights. She's even held his hand and endured a few embarrassing kisses.

Then, before Joe's had time to consider the magnitude of these acts, she's blanking him and her friends have taken to glaring at him venomously, as if he's committed some unspeakable act. In fact, the only act he's guilty of is being himself, which has its moments. Being 14, Jess's tolerance levels of laddish behaviour, no matter how cute the lad's smile, are rather low. As low, in fact, as the hapless Joe's ability to withstand these blows to his fragile ego.

The truth is, neither of them knows what to do or how they feel. But then, this is just the first of many embarrassing dress rehearsals.

While Jess can talk through her contradictory feelings with her friends and older sister, Joe seeks counsel from Tim and Tom, the unwise men of Year 10. It's a disastrous move. While neither of these advisers has had any experience with "women", that doesn't stop them taking on the mantle of experts in the twists and turns of romance. They have watched a lot of soaps, after all.

So they work out a strategy to win back Jess's heart for their mate. Their plan is to appeal to her "empafy", and, without disclosing too much to their heartsick buddy, go and tell Jess how wretched she's made Joe feel. By saying things like "Why you so mean to him, man?" and "You should see him, he's gutted", they figure they can arouse her better instincts. What they arouse instead is her wish for them to disappear as quickly as possible, which she communicates to them in no uncertain terms.

"Love," wrote the 17th century dramatist Aphra Benn, "ceases to be a pleasure when it ceases to be a secret." She's got a point. We all know what happens to love when too many people get involved. Just look at poor Romeo and Juliet. Though no one would put Jess and Joe in the same category as the impetuous romantics of Verona, they are similarly immature and in the spotlight of their friends' attentions. And when those emotionally cack-handed friends are eager to help their buddies out, the whole sorry mess is bound to get even sorrier and messier.

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