Their health book didn’t specifically say, “Go out to a favorite Mexican restaurant and talk this over with your parents,” but that’s what we did anyway.
Bookgirl and Gamerboy had reached the section in their health book that talked about relationships — both friendship and girl-boy. DJ thought it would be a good idea to discuss it in person, to open up the conversation about our own experiences and our dating standards for the family.
But as we explained over fresh tortilla chips and salsa… DJ and I are really fuzzy on what our “dating standards” are.
He grew up in a church that had practiced “courtship” for several generations. Most of the young people in the church attended a Bible school for three years, during which they didn’t start any romantic relationships. After that, if a guy was interested in a girl, he got in touch with one of the ministers (in older generations) or her parents (in younger generations) for permission to start a relationship. In most cases, the couple already knew they wanted to be together; for a lot of people, the process worked pretty well. DJ was fine not dating through his teens and young 20s. He was friends with girls and hung out with groups of friends. His mother occasionally dragged him into conversations about who he liked and who he might marry when he was older. Message: Romance is wonderful. Wait for it.
I grew up pretty mainstream American… as mainstream as Southern Baptist in the Deep South is, anyway. It was the general assumption that I could start dating at age sixteen, like my older siblings. My friends in school started “going with” boyfriends and girlfriends as early as fifth grade. I never did, though. I enjoyed a succession of crushes, but early on realized that I wasn’t really looking for a boyfriend; I wanted a guy friend to pal around with. I saved my romance for my elaborate and overheated daydreams.
When I was fourteen, though, my culture shifted dramatically. We got into a homeschooling program that most of us now identify as a cult. Along with other heavily authoritarian teachings, it was big on a certain brand of “courtship.” It looked a lot like what DJ had grown up with, but with a very significant difference: under this courtship system, it wasn’t enough to delay a relationship until you were ready to be serious. You had to keep your emotions “pure.” No crushes, no flirting, no enjoying one particular person’s company. This idea was a toxic mix with my natural embarrassment at talking about boys and romance with my parents. Message: Romance is dangerous and possibly bad. Put it off as long as you can.
And now we’ve got a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old. How do we communicate our feelings them? That we’re glad we didn’t date as teens, that we thoroughly enjoy being each other’s first and last romance. But that it’s good and natural to like someone in particular — even love him or her. But it’s best not to try to act on it until you’re mature and ready to handle it. But it’s not like we’re going to forbid you from talking to the person you like. But we’re pretty sure we don’t want you going out on exclusive dates… Somebody pass the chips and salsa, please.
We spent an hour together in that little restaurant booth. We told them about our experience and some friends’ experiences. We said that if they really liked somebody, we would be happy to invite him or her over for visits. We assured them that whatever they did, we would still love them… but, just as a general rule, please don’t have sex before marriage, and that’s the only time we’re going to mention sex tonight.
And we concluded by admitting that we would all have to figure it out together. “We’re still in charge,” we said. “So what we say goes for now. But we won’t come down with a decision quickly. We won’t make you obey just because. We want to talk and understand and keep things open.”
So in one evening, we took care of all the kids’ relationship problems! If only. We sure do understand the appeal of a systematized romantic formula; but we also know that life is much too complicated for guarantees.
What I think we did was create a good memory — one to hold onto when things get rocky as our children navigate the complicated path to adulthood.
The chips and salsa were really good, too.