On one level, Schulz is completely right. We don’t need to see the Little Red-Haired Girl to understand Charlie Brown’s feelings for her. Peanuts is sometimes dinged for being too depressing, but when I was a kid around Charlie Brown’s age, it never felt that way to me. Peanuts felt like it was channeling emotions I felt deeply, but didn’t have the maturity or experience to unpack myself yet. When it came to the Little Red-Haired Girl, Charlie Brown’s wild mix of terror and euphoria mirrored my own yo-yo of feelings whenever a crush was around — and for an inexperienced child, that recognition made me feel a little less awkward and alone.

When I began writing this story, this is where I thought my feelings on the subject ended. But the more I’ve read and thought about the Little Red-Haired Girl’s arc in Peanuts, the more I’ve come to feel that there is something deeply sad — and even a little emotionally stunted — about Schulz’s dogged and lifelong infatuation with Johnson, which extended decades after she ceased to play any meaningful role in his life.

It was only when I started to grow up that I learned that sheepishly admiring a girl from afar wasn’t just self-defeating — it was totally disconnected from who that girl actually was. Charlie Brown, frozen at the same age for decades of daily comic strips, never learned that lesson.