Sunday, January 31, 2016

The First Beau

Of course I knew this time would come.

As Earbaby moved through high school, and she would talk about some of her friends dating, I would ask her from time to time if there was anyone she was interested in.

No, she would often reply, all the boys I know are so foolish and immature. No one you're interested in? No one who is interesting, would be the answer. But junior year was a little bit different. EB has always had a pretty good sense of self. She has always been self-assured and unself-conscious around male friends in a way her mother was not at that age. I was of course comfortable with those classmates I had known since elementary school, but the ones I met in high school were mysterious creatures, especially those I found interesting.

I've always tried to keep the lines of communication open, even while trying to respect her privacy. No snooping through her emails or texts (as if I could actually even pry that phone out of her hands anyway), or even putting locator or other spy-on-your-teen apps or software on her phone or computer. I have to trust her. I didn't appreciate my mother snooping through my diary (thank God for those little locks) or letters and even though I've been dying of curiosity sometimes, I have allowed her the dignity of her life lived without a helicopter.

But by the time she was halfway through her 16th year, I knew she would soon be dating. She's both smart and pretty, a fact that I can claim no credit or even vanity for since she looks more like her dad than her mom. And sometimes friends would joke about (or she would casually mention) store clerks or fellow train riders who would try and engage her in conversation. Most times they would be met with an eye roll.

But the day she mentioned that some of the members of another school's football team were cute (and she said it to me!), I thought, this is the year she finds someone interesting.

And so, I had to grow up.

Parents of daughters have different fears than parents of sons. We all worry about reckless behavior from teenagers who are still our babies, even as they become adults in training. But with all the news stories of daughters being hurt by boys at parties, boys in cars, boys in packs, we as parents have to take deep cleansing breaths and remember that all teenage boys aren't rapists. In fact, almost all are not. But those aren't the ones we hear about, we only hear and read about the ones who feed our fears.

EB has a great group of male friends. Sometimes they hang out together. They seem to be all straight-arrow kids, no underage drinking or getting high (yes, those kids actually exist, you cynics) and EB wouldn't waste her time with any other kind of kid. "They're literally like my brothers," she assures me. And I know if she's with this merry band of brothers whose nickname for themselves is a food item, she's safe. She will go and hang out with them, argue and laugh with them, shop and eat with them and roll her eyes at them. "They are so foolish, but I love them," she says.

They've been to the house, they are silly, nice kids who are always respectful and polite to her parents. I had forgotten that teenage boys can be as goofy and giggly as girls. And that they're all still kids.

So this is where we were when a new name started appearing in her conversations. He goes to a different school, is a senior this year, and they met at a party. The first outing was a double-date with her best friend.

And slowly his name started coming up more and more, information fed bit by bit like doling out bread bits to pigeons. EB didn't want to say much, she seemed self-conscious about liking someone. Or maybe about realizing that someone liked her. It took a while before we learned how they met and what her friends thought of him (the food group friends really like him, which is of great comfort to me). I knew she really liked him when he came to pick her up and I told her he had to come in and meet us (you're taking out my daughter? I want to be able to at least pick you out of a lineup). "Don't be weird, don't be weird," she begged us as he parked the car and came in. And for the 10 seconds we introduced ourselves and told them to have a good time, apparently her dad and I managed not to thoroughly humiliate her.

Now she can admit to herself and us that she is in a relationship. They talk and/or text probably daily, but not obsessively. He has a job after school and on weekends, and she dances at three studios and babysits part time. She still sees some of her friends independent of him.

But this change in relationship status is not without its bumps.

She now has to figure out how to navigate the girl drama of friends whose noses seem a little out of joint that she has someone else in her life and isn't at their beck and call. After months of going out every weekend at some party (any party!) or dinner or something, now she is a bit more discerning with her time. Parties have lost some of their luster, and not because of the boyfriend. But the girls are putting that out there. I reminded her when we talked about their change in attitude, that these friends often depended on her for their ride. None of the other parents were picking up, dropping off, making sure everyone got home safely the way her dad and I did. I believe her expanding her social life put a crimp in their guaranteed livery service. My husband and I always wanted to make sure EB got home safely, the friends were the collateral beneficiaries.

Relationships, old ones, new ones, are ever-changing. There are no fixed marks for Earbaby this year.

Are we worried? No more than we should be. For years I've talked about relationships with EB. You don't stay where you're not comfortable, if you're not being treated well, leave, you have the right to dignity and respect. These rules apply in every relationship, whether romantic or platonic.

It's a new phase in the life of my daughter. She's growing up.

I hope I'm ready for this.

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