“I didn’t get to marry Aidan today,” my daughter told me as I picked her up from school.
Having heard this before, I said, “Sweetie, does Aiden want to marry you?”
“He says he doesn’t,” she said.
I seized the opportunity for a much-needed life lesson. “Well, Sweetie, if he’s just not that into you, you should let him go and find somebody who is. “
“But I love him!” she said.
“But Honey, if he doesn’t love you and you keep loving him, you’ll get hurt,” I said.
My daughter is four years old. At first, I thought, Why are we having this conversation now? Then I thought, Man, I wish someone would have had this conversation with me at her age!
Because you know what? I used to roll just like she does. One huge crush started in junior high and continued through high school. Gino was cute – brown hair and eyes, nice smile, big Roman nose. After two years of obsessing over him, I had one of my friends ask him if he liked me. (Seriously, after two years, if he hadn’t already asked me out, I should have known.) He told her he didn’t.
There’s a reason they call them crushes. I cried, sobbing in the girls’ bathroom at school while my girlfriend tried to comfort me. I cried when I got home, and for another two days. I didn’t know what to do. The last two years of my young life were devoted to liking this guy. (And girls put too much importance on that crap, but that’s another story.) After three days of crying, instead of cutting and running, I vowed to come back stronger. I kept liking him, and redoubled my efforts to get him to like me. I liked him for another year. I don’t have to tell you how it ended. Eventually I recovered and found someone else to obsess over.
But what would have happened if I’d had good relationship advice to begin with? Would I have been able to get over him the first time? Would I have strung myself along for so long before finding out?
I didn’t get much in the way of relationship advice from my mom. The sum total of what she told me about men was that before you get married, you put on “The Act” in front of guys – laughing at their jokes, looking perfect, gazing at them with adoring eyes – then once you get married, you drop “The Act.” That kind of advice didn’t work for me in junior high – or high school – or college or beyond. Fortunately, I have a hard time being anything but sincere, so I never did put on “The Act.”
But I didn’t learn from experience, either. When I was 20, I fell head over heels for the bassist in my friend’s band. He was not conventionally good looking, but there was something so sexy about him. All the girls said it. Another Italian –long brown hair, brown eyes, full lips. By that time I was bold enough to call and ask him out. Well, not exactly out. We hung out as friends and split a six pack in my car, and he accepted my invitation to hang out with some of my other friends. But that was as far as it ever got.
I eventually left New York for college in Florida, but I didn’t stop liking him. I didn’t obsess anymore – I’d learned something, at least – but I did write to him (the horror!) and tried to see him when I’d come home. And I did, a few times, with a group, or I’d see his band when he was playing our local nightclub. That’s as far as it ever got. Years later, after my divorce, I heard his current band was coming to town and I went to see them, but the club told us they had cancelled. I had this idea that I’d see him again because we were fated to be together, but that experience was a pretty clear indicator that we weren’t.
But what would have happened if I’d had a good foundation for relationships? Would I have continued to like this guy? Would I still have been hopeful so many years later? Considering my emotionally unavailable dad as part of the picture, I’m sure I still would have had some serious issues with men, but maybe they’d have more to do with men who’d have actually dated me.
If someone had planted the seed early, maybe I would have been able to cut and run when a guy didn’t like me. Maybe I’d have picked guys who were more likely to date me. I’ll never know, but I can try to lay a good foundation for my daughter’s romantic life. Maybe she won’t stop liking Aiden yet, but I’m betting that the seed I’ve planted will grow, and she’ll be able to look elsewhere for love. If it doesn’t work, I know the issue will come up again and I’ll have another chance to teach her about good relationships. Maybe getting her this early will save her before it’s too late.