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"The Waiting" is a song by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, off of their fourth studio album, Hard Promises, in 1981. Like most of Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's discography, it did well on the pop charts, great on the rock charts, and became a staple of classic rock radio for decades to come. Like many Tom Petty songs, it is a mid-tempo song with a romantic theme. Tom Petty was in general a very good song writer, but unlike some of his peers and influences (such as Bob Dylan), he was straightforward in his song writing. This is a medium tempo classic rock song about romance, and despite the great emotion Petty puts into it, the song is what it appears to be on the surface.

This is one of the songs that probably messed me up as a kid. Driving around listening to classic rock constantly as a preteen and early teen, its attitude of yearning and hope became one of the ways I would look at my developing feelings of romance. Riding down the freeway, wind whipping by, its chirpy message of promises to come coinciding, I thought with my adolescent hope that I would figure things out. Finally fitting in, communicating easily, and romantic engagement, indeed, seemed to be just around the corner. The song likens romantic connection to a slow process of revelation "Every day you see one more card", "every day you gain one more yard"... the process of romantic connection was likened to a game. And not just any game, a tricky and laborsome game, like an RPG that you level grind for. Or some type of complicated graduate level course that requires many prerequisites.

This was a bad message for several reasons. As other people have argued, teaching boys that women are complicated games to be won through mastery of mysterious strategies and dogged patience. "Next in line" might exist in all sorts of places, but not in romance. You can not win through patience. In fact, "winning" isn't even a thing that applies here. Because as bad as the message might be for women, it was also bad for me. I started thinking that nothing would ever come naturally or easily, that every attempt for me to be acknowledged or appreciated as a person would be a tedious struggle to prove myself, and that no one would ever decide to just like me without any bullshit. And all through my adolescence, I asked myself what the next step would be. And by "adolescence", I meant well into my adulthood.

Not that we can really blame that on Mister Petty and collaborators. Young men in their 20s writing rock song for LA bars and clubs can't really imagine every possible developmental misdirect it might give to adolescents, over a decade later, filtered through endless repeats on classic rock radio. I can't, after all, blame my misconceptions on classic rock. Romantic yearning and hope are totally normal emotions, and the song communicates them as well as any other. The trick is knowing the difference between the radio and real life.

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