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September 22, 2015
Before I actually had a daughter, I imagined that I’d be pretty cool with the whole dating thing. You know, a tiny bit formal perhaps—ask the young man (or the young lady) a few probing but non-threatening questions; remind both my daughter and her date about the curfew; and, refrain from kissing my daughter goodbye. (There was a girl I dated in high school whose father always kissed her goodbye before she left on a date with me. I couldn’t shake the idea that he was somehow threatening me with that kiss, and it made the rest of the night, at least for me, uncomfortably awkward. I’m guessing that was his point.)
But now I have two daughters. And, when they were younger, I changed my tune a bit. I am aware that this change of heart is a time-honored cliché, but I am powerless to resist these feelings no matter how hackneyed they seem. I imagined the first young man ringing the doorbell. I imagined greeting him, and, for the sake of menace, I would have practiced all day how to smoke just one cigarette. That way, after we’d shake hands, I’d let the smoke slowly drift out of my nostrils. Then I’d smile, and tell him that I expect my daughter home by, oh, I dunno, maybe 8pm?
Look. I’m 5’6.” I’m gonna need props to be intimidating…
But I didn’t plan on what I’m told is more likely to happen: that my daughter will someday receive a text that says (romantically) something like, “Yo, you busy? Wanna hang out?”
That’s so unfair! It circumvents entirely the tradition of dads who have practiced their whole married lives the scaring-of-the-boyfriend intervention since the birth of their daughters. It’s like we went to practice every day from the time our daughters were born, but never get to play the game.
Let me first set the record straight—I’m not going to blow smoke out of my nose. My oldest daughter (the one of dating age), has not received, to my knowledge, any such texts.
But still, I suppose this lengthy prelude speaks to the anxiety that parents may feel as they try to make sense of a world where dating has increasingly become a “thing people don’t do.” (Those were the words of one of my teen patients a few years back.)
Here are some ideas to play with. According to a piece in The Wall Street Journal in 2007:
So, here we are again, we graying and aging parents, trying to raise our kids in the shiny present tense through the now antiquated rules of our hard-earned past.
Except that those rules probably aren’t as antiquated as they may seem. As we noted above, both boys and girls would like a bit more romance. There’s certainly no shortage of romantic comedies, after all. And, interestingly, Hollywood doesn’t market to what we DON’T want when it comes to relationships. Hollywood tends to favor either cautionary tales or examples of how we’d like things to be. For example, the movies that have explicitly dealt with the concept of “friends with benefits” have almost exclusively portrayed courtship—even when the couple of interest doesn’t end up together. We could rattle off these movies, but that’s the subject of another post. For now, we’d like to offer some talking points. These will inevitably yield blushing and protests if you should choose to discuss these with your children, but then again, don’t you yourself remember blushing through one of these talks, and then later realizing the wisdom of what your parents had to say?
Although it may seem that your kids aren’t dating, you should know that they are still engaging in social relationships for which the old rules apply. Therefore, you can and should be part of this process. After all, how are they going to know what to teach their kids?