My 14-year-old daughter has lots of questions about love these days. Not about the birds and the bees though, since we’ve covered all that. The information that she wants to know now is slightly more complicated.
She often says she wishes she had somebody to love. It’s no longer good enough for her to just love me or her dad or our dog, Stella. She wants the real thing. She’s afraid any potential dates would think she was weird and that she’ll never find anybody to fall in love with her. There’s nothing wrong with my beautiful girl who I bet will have her choice of suitors as she gets older. However, she doesn’t want to wait. She wants to be in love right now!
I’ve given her some well-placed advice that I’ve learned over the years, some of it the hard way. I’m currently on my third marriage. Maybe that doesn’t make me an expert. Maybe it’s actually quite the opposite. I’ve made plenty of mistakes since the age of 15 when I started dating.
The fact that I’ve been married three times makes for a lot of embarrassing jokes in my family. I’ve been divorced twice, and both times I believe it was the absolute right thing to do. Still, I sometimes wonder whether I’m the wrong person to dole out advice on relationships.
I remember a time in my young life when I thought having a boyfriend would solve all my problems. Even though I was shy around boys, I couldn’t wait for one of them to ask me out. I suppose I could have asked somebody, but I was too terrified to speak to any of them. My first actual boyfriend in tenth grade was the captain of the soccer team at school. He was incredibly popular, much more so than me. I didn’t know him well before he asked me out, but I decided that girls probably never said no to him because of his social stature. In my mind, it would have been a mistake to turn him down.
That certainly wasn’t an ideal relationship and definitely not love. How could I love someone, kiss them, or anything else when I barely knew the guy. I let him take the lead of where we went, when we kissed, and who we talked to at school. I’d avoid him on weekends because he always wanted to go to house parties. I was terrified of getting him anywhere near a bed, which I knew I’d say yes to no matter if I wasn’t ready. I almost felt relief when we broke up like I’d been playing a part for my classmates and doing it badly.
I caution my daughter to slow down when she starts talking about romantic relationships. She says she wants somebody to cuddle who isn’t her mom or her dog. I tell her to be careful and not pick the first person who comes along just so she won’t be lonely. I speak from experience because it’s what happened with my second husband. I had terrible self-esteem after my first divorce, and there he was love-bombing me and making me feel like the most special person in the world. I ate it up with a spoon. Once he thought he had me, he stopped feeding me with compliments, and his abuse of seven years began.
Of course, I don’t give my daughter the gory details about my past relationships. I do tell her that if somebody is extra nice to you, it’s important to notice how they talk to everyone around them. Are they rude when dealing with waiters and shop clerks? How do they treat animals? Do you feel like they are always frustrated just beneath the surfaces of their smiles? Using your gut instinct is really important at this stage, so if there are any red flags, they are worth investigating further.
I asked my daughter to make sure whoever she dates cares about her well-being and is not just giving her empty compliments. Does the person seem empathetic or completely self-focused? I reminded her that someone who wants to be with her would move heaven and earth to get there. She shouldn’t have to constantly worry about where she stands in a relationship. She deserves kindness and honesty and so much more.
During this pandemic, my girl started somewhat of a relationship with a friend of hers over the phone. They weren’t dating in person, which I was glad about because her new love interest seemed troubled. A few weeks later, this person rudely dumped my daughter with hurtful words and broke her heart. I made sure I was there for her afterward but tried not to pry too much. Mainly, I just let her talk about how she felt. We watched movies and ate ice cream as one does during a breakup, and before long she was back to her usual self.
Even though it was just a phone relationship, my daughter felt rejected and was hurt badly. She put her whole heart and soul into this person who wasn’t who they said they were. It’s happened to the best of us, even me, which is what I told her.
I don’t know if my daughter ever listens to my advice, but I mostly want her to know she’s worth something. She deserves better than a relationship where her partner is fickle and a name-caller. She doesn’t have to just accept bad treatment. The power is in her hands as far as what she wants to do, but I worry she’ll become swallowed up if she doesn’t stand up for herself. All I can do is continue to plant those seeds, hoping that I can stop her from making as many mistakes as I have.
I want so much to protect her from ever being hurt, but I know she has to find her own way. I’ll be there every time she stumbles.