Watching my nineteen-year-old daughter begin to navigate the college dating world (deep breaths) has reminded me how often I fall short as a mother, because I just realized this week that I have yet to impart all of my hard-won wisdom about dating and courtship and marriage (she’s my oldest, so I’m a little clueless sometimes). Sure, I’ve shared tidbits of advice along the way, but most of that advice could be summarized in eight words: “Don’t get married until you’re at least twenty-five,” which I realize is completely useless and probably counterproductive. So the last few days, as I’ve been thinking about how to counsel my daughter, I’ve been reminiscing about my own dating experiences and cataloging the boys I liked/loved on my way to marriage—and thanking my lucky stars that I didn’t marry them. For my daughter, then, here’s a partial list of my near-misses:
Ralph: My first real love. We met when I was seventeen and he was eighteen, dated most of my senior year and the summer before his mission. He took me to my senior prom; we went on picnics and went swimming and hiked in the Sequoias, kissed in a field of wildflowers. One night, after spending the day in Yosemite, we drove home down the dark mountain, holding hands and listening to ELO. A few weeks later he told me he loved me while we were sitting on a blanket in the park, memorizing the first discussion and watching the stars appear. I thought I would marry him, even though he was a little short, so I waited for him while he served his mission in Chile, busying myself with taking marriage prep and child education classes at BYU. When he got back, I had to start wearing flats again and noticed myself hunching over like a Neanderthal. Had he been that short before his mission? I didn’t feel a spark when we kissed (had there been a spark before?), we ran out of things to talk about on our dates, and he seemed a little too, well, passive. But I’d waited for him! I developed insomnia, drove my poor roommate crazy by pacing the floor of our bedroom every night for weeks until I finally broke up with him. Then I slept like a baby.
Adam: The first boy I dated at BYU after my mission and the first (and only) “popular” boy I dated. He was from Southern California, had an alcoholic mother who had acted in B movies, and he wanted to be a movie producer. He bowled me over with his sexiness and self-assurance and quirky sense of humor, took me for motorcycle rides out to the Provo airport and kissed like a pro. But he teased me about having straight A’s, about having lived in a nerdy apartment complex before my mission. I felt gauche and insecure around him, and I actually berated myself for having a scholarship, for being bookish and smart, for not being sophisticated enough. When he took me to a Howard Jones concert and flirted with the other girls in our group, it only made me want him more. Of course he broke up with me and it broke my heart, but thank goodness he did. Still, it took me several months to like being me again.
Michael: My token sensitive, tortured intellectual/narcissist. We were in the masters program at BYU together, and I didn’t know any girl—including the eighteen-year-olds in the freshman English classes he taught—who didn’t throw themselves at him, despite the fact that he was rather scrawny and had a receding hair line. What is it about brilliant, brooding, angst-filled men? He told me he didn’t go to church because he respected the sacramental emblems so much that he couldn’t abide inane sacrament meeting talks, and I actually respected his “integrity.” He once took me to his family’s estate in Salt Lake, and as we waded through the weed-choked gardens and the grown-over tennis court and the crumbling pool house, he told me about his family’s catastrophic financial ruin, about uncles who’d swindled each other’s fortunes and slept with each other’s wives, about his father’s tragic early death. It was right out of a Faulkner novel. I was completely smitten, even as Michael let me trip through weeds and hobble over rocks in my brand new shoes and snapped branches in my face as he walked in front of me. When he left to begin a PhD program, he told me I was the girl he should have dated at BYU, and I actually drove up to Salt Lake in a blinding snow storm to see him once, because he asked me to come. We were still writing to each other when I met my husband—who luckily pulled me away from that dysfunctional vortex.
Knowing what I do now about relationships and marriage and how gritty and hard life can be, I marvel at my naïve, romantic, clueless teen and twenty-something self. Is it any wonder, then, that I worry about my daughter as she traverses the dating terrain? And yet, I ended up with a good, kind, steady, loving mate. I’m hoping—and praying—she will, too. And in the meantime I need to give her some advice.
Tell me about the boyfriends you’re glad you didn’t marry and why. What advice would you give your daughter about courtship and marriage, knowing what you do now?