I mentioned in a previous post that I had been thinking about what to tell my son about dating and sex and love recently (besides ‘use condoms no matter what,’ ‘ask permission,’ and ‘be kind’). I mean, I’ve actually thought about it since he came home in 3rd grade with a crush on his teacher, and we’ve been very committed to building the foundations for good relationships and…eventually…sex. But I’ve been thinking about some important wisdom I want to pass on to him. This is what I’ve got so far.
I grew up in a time when people actually dated. Two people, going out somewhere together, spending time getting to know each other. I know that the generations coming up behind me brought us the ‘group’ date, where there was a clutch of kids who hung out together and some paired off from time to time. But that’s not the same as dating. And neither is Tinder.
I’m going to tell him to date. To practice asking a person out (and being both accepted and denied). To figure out who pays and how that works with each person. To learn the logistics of how to find fun things to do and how to compromise on what is chosen. To know, from the first few moments, that the date is going to suck and then remain polite and friendly and get out of it quickly. To learn to let someone down when the feeling is not mutual and to accept it when he’s not someone’s cup of tea, either. To enjoy the infatuation stage (because it’s so fun!); to learn to fly and laugh and do silly, stupid stuff in that stage, because it’s good to lose your mind in love sometimes.
But also to practice taking one step at a time. Especially when he first starts out. To go out. To get sweaty palms when you first hold hands. To get all awkward with the first kiss. To learn who the other person is, and let them learn you. To wait…a while…until they have sex. Because sex is an entirely different ball game (sorry) and there is no going back to ‘holding hands’ once you cross the line into sex. From the side of life I’m on, it’s important to have steps between ‘hello’ and ‘I’d like to sleep with you.’ Those steps keep your heart safe, your mind less confused, and your energy less entwined should things fall apart. And, god knows, dating and being a teenager are fucking confusing enough.
Sex is energy exchange.
I grew up in a fairly religious household and I was told to wait until I was married to have sex. I obviously didn’t, but one thing I recognize as being part of this rule is that sex is important because it is an energy exchange. Tantra is very clear about this- when we engage in sex, we are connecting to some of the most intense (sometimes hidden) energy of the person we’re with. And that can be great, but it can also be a mess. (I spoke about this some in this post– beware, it is about rape.)
I want my son to know that whoever he sleeps with will leave some of their energy with him. Even if it’s just a little. Even if he barely remembers sleeping with them. Some part of them will stay with him. And therefore to choose his lovers wisely. This is not to say that everything has to be deep- sometimes a good one-night stand or a quick fuck can be a fantastic energy exchange. But just to understand that some part of it will stick with him. And to think about that before getting it on.
It’s good to have your heart broken at least once.
Because, my god, does it give you compassion for people. Whether it’s unrequited love or a full-on break up from a much loved relationship, we all need to do it. We need to feel the pain of having our heart smashed to smithereens and learn how to heal from it. That is probably the most important piece- for him to learn how he handles a break-up and to learn to take care of himself when it happens. Whether that’s a bit of depression (more than 2 weeks and you need to see the doctor, okay?), or a fuck ton of Doritos and Netflix, I don’t care. But he needs to learn this.
Also, a good break-up can help us learn how to be better at loving and relating the next time around. I will do my damnedest to help him figure out what went wrong, take responsibility for his part in it, and learn to do better next time. But only after the Doritos and the sad songs and the weeks in sweat pants.
Learn from good men.
My son has a very good role model in his father. A man who communicates and grows and listens and isn’t afraid of his own needs or soft side. I am grateful for this. My son also has other types of men who he admires and respects. I know he will learn good things from them about relationships (of all kinds).
But I’m also going to point him towards people like Jayson Gaddis and Bryan Reeves, who know their shit when it comes to being in long-term relationships, how to fight well, and how to learn and grow in relationships. I will tell my son that the most important things he can do and learn for romantic relationships is communication and personal growth. Because men who don’t grow will get left behind in love. I believe the men in his life will also show him how to be courageous in relationship, which is also important.
If it’s wishy-washy, let it go.
If there is a relationship where my son gets together, breaks up, and rinse, repeat x 10, I will tell him what I know as a minister: these relationships never do well in the long run; let it go. I’ve performed marriages for a fair amount of people, and the ones who decided to get married because they’d been engaged and broken up 3 times already or because they needed to ‘fish or cut bait’ don’t end up married for long. It almost never works out in a healthy, happy way. There is a subtle but hugely important difference between someone who wants you and someone who just doesn’t like the feeling of your absence.
So I will tell my son to let her go. To go through not only the break up, but also the understanding that someday she may invite him to her wedding, and he will have to revisit this shit all over again. Or that she may call him in five years, a different person, and he’ll have to go through all the receipts from the fist time and say no with a heavy heart. I will hold him and help him as he goes through the birthing of himself out of that relationship (because there is a lot of crying and gnashing of teeth and ‘I don’t know which way to turn’- I’ve been there) because that’s how it goes. The heart is a house with many rooms, and some we have to leave unwillingly (this is how we develop strength). Because wishy-washy is not what works; knowing and choosing is.
When you know, choose her.
The men I know who are happiest in their marriages had two things happen when they chose their mate: 1- they ‘knew’ sometime within the first few weeks or months that ‘s/he was the one’ and 2- they chose their mate, clearly and purposefully. My husband says he ‘knew’ because he felt so good around me, he felt lifted up and supported and seen. We had our rocky spots, but he knew he wanted to choose me, and he did. One other man I know said his wife smelled right to him. Whether that’s biology and pheromones or just a hint of cinnamon because she’s a cook, I don’t know. But he ‘knew’ and he picked her.
The other item is so important I cannot tell you. Some men choose their partners based on practicality or ‘shoulds’ (‘I should choose her, she’s so smart and pretty and x, y, z’), but those relationships tend to go sour after a while. I think it’s because they aren’t choosing the other person from their gut or from their own truth or knowing or deepest desire; they are choosing from some outside metric and that’s no good. The men who have chosen a woman from something they sense inside themselves (it’s sometimes as simple as a clear, deep ‘I want to be with HER’), those are the relationships that last. And I think it’s because when a guy chooses, he sticks to that commitment. (I could be wrong, but that’s my experience.)
I will tell my son to listen to his own knowing. And when he finds the one who smells right or makes him feel the best or whatever, when he knows, to pick her. And to do it over and over again.
True love changes.
True love is when the type of love Person 1 gives most easily is exactly the type of love Person 2 is craving *and* when the type of love Person 2 gives most easily is the type of love Person 1 is craving. It is a heady fucking combo and it feels like safety and flying all at once because it’s so easy to give and it feels so good to get exactly what you want. And if he should find that, I will tell him to hold on to it and do the work of a lifetime so that it doesn’t leave him.
How we give and receive love changes with age and healing (if we do our work!), which is why communication and personal growth are so important. But the couple who can honestly discuss what’s going on for each of them, even when it hurts them or the other person, is the couple that will last. Going through the growth together is what counts. Certainly, it may not last. Humans are made to have 2-3 long-term relationships over the course of their life. But if he can communicate and grow and seek to grow together, he can be proud of what happens, even if that is the dissolution of the relationship.
I will tell him I know this because it is the work his father and I have done for 22 years now. We fell into this kind of love- true love- but we also became best friends and decided to do the work (sometimes the really fucking hard, painful work) of staying together and growing together. We always want the best for each other, and that is what has made it work for us. Our happiness is somewhat linked to the other’s happiness (it’s a healthy dose of co-dependency, not the hurtful kind) and we take the other person’s needs and dreams seriously. And we have also had three fights where we almost got divorced and handful of other fights where one or the both of us figured out we needed therapy (because the root of our problem was not ‘us’ but our personal past or trauma). Sometimes keeping the couple alive means healing individual wounds. I will tell my son this.
Be yourself and find the one who loves that.
There are ideas (and memes) floating around that say we have to love ourselves before someone else can love us or that we have to somehow get over all our shit before we can be good in a relationship. These ideas are both bollocks. Because while a decent level of self-respect and self-esteem are pretty key, being in relationship is going to bring up a person’s shit and there is no way around that and no way to preempt it with therapy or self growth. There just isn’t. Relationship is its own cauldron and you have to let the fire of it change you (hopefully into something more refined).
There are hard things I am going to have to let my son learn on his own. He will learn boundaries by not having good ones, which is okay as long as he has a good community safety net to help him. He will learn to not play games by playing and getting tired of it. He will have to learn that being honest with himself and his partner is paramount by fucking that up, too.
Jayson Gaddis taught me that life and relationships are a struggle between wanting to be ourselves and wanting to be loved. And we sometimes hide pieces of ourselves so that we can be loved. So I will tell my son: find someone you can be as much of yourself with as possible, find someone who will listen to and love the truth of you. Provide the same in return. Stay communicating and honest about who you are and who you are becoming so that you can have both a strong sense of yourself and feel loved.
::: ::: ::: :::
I’m sure this isn’t all I’ll have to tell him. And certainly these lessons will come as they come- some at 14, some at 24. But I want him to learn these things earlier than I did so he can have a better chance at longer love.
What wisdom do you have for the young-and-in-love?
Joanna :: xoxo