I entered Dateland without a talk. Not
only did my mother not understand the unrestricted nature of the 70s, she
barely understood dating in her own buttoned-up 50s. And my father, well,
obviously fathers don’t do those girl talks; although, it seems to me that
their insights into the minds of teen boys would probably be the most
worthwhile thing to hear. So I was completely unprepared the first time a kiss
became a grind and a contest of wills far more than a testament to romance.
“Mom! Guess what?” My daughter’s deep
brown doe-shaped eyes and effervescent smile were, for a change,
passionately-pleased to see me and so very close to my face that I breathed in
her excitement and in a rush I breathed out my response.
“He asked you out.”
“To Homecoming.” Her scream came out as
an overwhelmed whisper. Even though she had told me that she was no longer
interested in this boy and there had been no talk about Homecoming, there could
be nothing else that could have brought that degree of passion to my generally
staid young lady, now a senior in high school.
I could barely sleep that night. I was
so excited for her. Her first high school date. A date with a boy she has liked
for more than a year, but both of them too shy, up to the low-key, “Want to go
to Homecoming?” to do more than daydream. At first I channeled myself as her.
What will she wear? Will he drive or will she? Will they go to dinner first?
What will they talk about? Will they be too shy and sit in silence? But
sometime in the night I awoke as a protective father, sweeping all thoughts of
romance and first kisses, tongue or no tongue, aside. “No more than a peck
good-night. Don’t rush anything. Don’t let him touch you—anywhere.” Was I
having a father’s thoughts since her father isn’t around? Or did I realize that
it is my responsibility to prepare her for dating as I had prepared her for
playdates and kindergarten.
How do you prepare your daughter for
the thrill of love and lust and not burden her with your own insecurities? I
want to protect my sixteen-year-old daughter from letting her insecurities wall
her up into a cocoon of protectionism that would stifle her development as a
loved and loving young woman.
My older daughter, now 21, was so
distant in her teens with the pain and bitterness of our divorce that I was
unable to do “the talk” with her, other than to repeatedly warn her never to
let a man—anyone—talk to her the way her father talked to me. So when she
called me, six months after moving to LA to attend college, that she was in San
Francisco for a few days with her boyfriend, who I had never heard about, all I
could say was, “I hope you’re using protection. You don’t want to get pregnant
or STDs.” To which she responded, “I know, Mom,” as if we were continuing a
conversation that we had been having since she reached puberty.
My own fear as a teen was that someone
would discover what I perceived as my physical abnormalities and so I reverted
into prudishness. And even when I rounded second base, and no words of shock or
disgust were uttered for my innie nipples, I was still embarrassed for my
overwhelming body faults. I certainly didn’t look like the women in the Playboy
magazines my brother had shoved under his bed, as I assumed everyone looked.
A healthy sense of my physical sense
could have prepared me for the overwhelmingly-physical nature of dating. My
parents subscribed to the child-rearing philosophy of “praise spoils a child,”
so you neither praise for internal qualities nor for external ones. In that
scenario, the only way to create a healthy sense of self is through years of
trial and error. At 51 I do believe that I am finally accepting of my thunder
thighs and gently rolling tummy, and my now drooping breasts.
For years I have been telling my
daughter how beautiful she is, because she is. I don’t want her self-esteem be
tied to what a man says to her. No, I want her to value herself and build her
own realistic self-assessment. Of course, this has been in concert with talking
about her intelligence and her sweetness. It seems just as hazardous to ignore
a child’s physicality as it is to over-emphasize it. This way of raising her
seems to have worked. She will shyly smile, say “Thank you,” and then look down
when given a compliment. She can wear yoga pants or sweatpants, a body-hugging
dress or one of my worn-out size L sweatshirts and look equally herself. Comfy
in her skin seems to have been accomplished. What else do I need to give to her
so that she is prepared to hold onto herself and fall in love at the same time?
The night before the Homecoming date we
had a five-minute mini-lecture in the kitchen. Surprisingly, she didn’t resent
my speaking to her, and the kitchen turned out to be the perfect location since
it wasn’t a solemn sit-down in the rarely-used living room, rather it was a
casual chat in the one room where we meet most often.
I had hoped to mentally write and
rehearse my speech on my way home from work, but no ideas or phrases came to
mind. It was disappointing; I had thought a steady stream of ideas would come.
But they didn’t. So I ended up doing what I generally do: wing it. And, I must
admit, what came out of my mouth was far more insightful than anything that
casually popped into my head since last week when I knew I would need to have
this talk, and even since I had daughters who reached their teens and the
inevitability of this talk, with someone, became apparent.
“I need to talk to you about dating.”
She rolled her eyes and her eyebrows went up, but she didn’t resist; rather,
she looked at me as an athlete looks to a coach. “As a general rule, and I’m
not saying this against boys, it’s just the way it is, they will always want to
do more than you will want and it’s up to you to push his hand away or say ‘No.’”
That felt so true and so unknown before I said it that I surprised myself with
“Mom,” was all she said because she was
I continued, still not knowing what
would come out until it did, but pleased with the accumulated wisdom of
39-years of boy-girl interactions. “It doesn’t matter if he pays for dinner or
what he buys you, your body is your own and you decide what you want to do. No
one deserves anything just because he paid for a meal. Your body is yours.”
“Don’t let anyone try to pressure you
into doing something that you’re not comfortable with. Only do what you are
comfortable doing. Move his hand,” and I moved my hand over the lower and then
the upper girl parts, “and say, ‘No,’ otherwise he’ll continue.” She looked
embarrassed. This might have been too much for a girl who hadn’t been
confronted with a kiss yet, but if I couldn’t be blunt now, when would I be?
“And if you’re ever in a situation where you’re uncomfortable, call me. Thank
goodness for cellphones.” I wasn’t sure if I should go there, but I gave her a
watered-down version of my scary date story. “One time I was in this guy’s
apartment, somewhere in Buffalo, I wanted to leave but I didn’t know where I
was and I was afraid. Afraid to leave and afraid to stay. I ended up staying.
If I had a cellphone, I could have called a taxi to take me to the airport
rather than wait until the morning for him to take me. It was scary. I don’t
want you to be in that situation.”
Those doe eyes of hers were finally
reflecting some compassion for me. “Okay.”
“I mean it. You don’t have to do
anything that you don’t want to do.” Was there anything more to say?
We stayed in the kitchen for another
couple of minutes talking about the logistics of the next night’s Homecoming
and then she went into her room.
I followed her to say one last thing.
On her bed was one of her best friends.
“Did you hear our conversation?” I was
annoyed, not that she possibly heard what I said, but that our poignant
mother-daughter moment hadn’t just been between the two of us.
She shook her head.
“So I had ‘the talk’ with her while you
“I wish my mom would talk to me,” was
That made me feel less bad about having
lost the absolute intimacy of the moment. In my mother-to-all / teacher voice,
I reiterated, “Your body is your own, that’s the most important thing to know.”
With that, I left them, hoping that my daughter would be my surrogate to her
friend and add some more of my wisdom. I was particularly pleased with my
realization that men will not stop unless you stop them.
I did what I could do; now it is up to
her, and to the men in her life to respect her and her protective mechanisms,
as every woman deserves to be respected and heeded.
I wonder what the boy’s father said to
him. I hope that he told him to respect my daughter by not seeing her body as a
baseball diamond, and that he told his son that the key to happiness with a
woman, at 16 or 50, is not based on what you can get or how you’re feeling, but
on how you make her feel.