Dating. My girls are eight and five. Dating feels about as close as, I don’t know, a free trip to Italy. I know, I know – it goes so fast. I honest to goodness believe all of you more seasoned mama’s when you tell me, but at the moment I have given hardly a thought to my girls walking out the door on the arm of a boy. I can, however, tell you what I believe my own parents did well. I met my husband, Josh, when I was fourteen. We began dating when we were sixteen. I broke his heart. He broke mine. And when we were twenty-one, we walked down the aisle and said, “Yes,” to forever. He is still my man, and he still takes my breath away – not everyday – but it happens. When it comes down to it, we are best friends, and we are entirely committed to our relationship.
So, how did we get here? How did we survive high school dating, not have sex before marriage, and end up having a reasonably healthy marriage? Here are my thoughts on the matter in no particular order:
- “Friends first” is actually a spectacular rule of thumb. Of our group of ten to fifteen-ish high school friends, six of us married each other, had babies, and are still together today. The trick to this, I think, is that we cared about each other before we went all schmoozy-face for on another. We laughed together, annoyed each other, and played hard – as friends. So – as much as possible – encourage your girls’ friendships with boys. This helps them understand how to relate to boys in a normal and healthy way. Have safe parties at your house, let them take over your living room, your pool house, whatever – being sure to make only VERY important rules and then enforce those rules strictly and with humor. In short, make your home a safe place for your girls and their friends to host boys who are their friends.
- He takes the family pictures. Josh and I dated on and off for six years before we married. This means that he came to a lot of family functions with me, but he was never, ever allowed to be in family pictures until we got engaged. I’m serious. And honestly, although this rule felt awkward to me, it also felt right. As I consider why this mattered so much, I think it communicated a deep value and respect for marriage. When you are in the picture, you are in for life. Also, from a practical standpoint, you don’t have any family pics with your favorite Aunt Bessie and that boy you dated for three months. So, until you commit to being bound together forever, he takes the picture while you smile with your sibs.
- She knows she is a big deal. My sister and I both married boys who, at one point in our dating relationships, we had to give the boot because we weren’t down with how they were treating us. It was a heartbreaking and brave thing to do. These were good men who we legit loved, but they were not treating us the way we had been taught to expect to be treated. My parents didn’t give us lots of speeches about the way boys should treat us. They just modeled it in their treatment of us and each other. My Daddy always carried our bags in and out of the house. He listened until his ears bled while I talked about nothing important at all. My mama told us we were beautiful and special pretty much every day. We laughed together. They valued us as human beings and taught us to value one another – not based on performance but based on love. So, we knew when a boy wasn’t treating us the way we should be treated. It’s the old, “If you’re trying to be really good at spotting counterfeits, only ever look at the real stuff,” trick.
- He is welcome in your home but he does not have free reign. Josh was not allowed in my room. Ever. In fact, I can only think of about three times he ever came in my room in high school, and that was because my parents were out briefly and we snuck back for a peek. Seriously. That’s it. One of my favorite stories, though, happened during one of our late night, long phone calls. Josh called far past the appropriate time (this was back when we all shared one land line and the red light on the phone in my parents room would light up when someone called, even though I had carefully turned off every ringer so as to prevent my parents knowing when the boyfriend called. Ah, the good ole’ days), and my dad picked up. He said, “Josh, I believe it’s a little too late for you to be calling.” To which Josh promptly replied, “Yes, sir,” and hung up the phone. The important part about this story is that he was welcomed and comfortable in our home the very next day. My parents enforced rules but they were gracious, too.
- They’re allowed to be into each other. I was aware of my parents concerns about me seriously dating a boy at the very mature age of sixteen, but they let me gush about him anyway. They let me go on dates with him and invite him over to our house. I knew they really and truly liked my boyfriend and that they wanted to see me happy. I got mono shortly after Josh and I started dating and was out of school and all the fun things for a month. It could have totally freaked my parents out that Josh wanted to come over and watch TV while I slept on his shoulder or his lap. Honestly, it probably did! But they let him anyway – not every night, but some nights. They assigned value to my feelings, and therefore secured my trust. So, even when their rules were “ruining my life,” I, with only a few exceptions, respected them.
The moral of my story is this: be a safe place for your girls, value and champion marriage, and love her the way you want her to be loved by her husband someday. I honestly think all of the dating rules will pale in comparison to the effect those three items will have on her relationships.
Now, if one of you could send this to me in ten(ish) years when I am freaking right out about my long-legged beauty going out on her first date, that’d be great.