Dating Tip #1: Be Selfish (A Guest Post)

I remember a conversation I had with one of my daughters once, one of those discussions that outlasts the ride home so you sit in the driveway for an hour, finishing up shoulder to shoulder and gazing out in the same direction. We had somehow navigated to the topic of dating and the someday reality of choosing (waywayway in the future) someone to marry. But I was clumsy and bumbling about expressing my thoughts that day and I don't think either of us left the car feeling very understood.

Maybe you'll understand why, then, when I read a recent post by Meg Conley I cheered in recognition. (Have you discovered Meg in Progress? If not, you are in for a treat. If yes, you know exactly what I'm talking about.). These were the words I meant to say that day in the driveway, granting absolute permission--issuing both an invitation and a license, really--to be selfish in choosing someone to date and (someday, eventually) marry. I'll read this to my kids at the right moment; maybe you will find these words helpful, too. Meg's graciously agreed to let me repost her piece here today:

I was talking to a good friend the other day about the pitfalls of dating.

There was a boy. He wasn’t that nice and he wasn’t that mean. He talked like he cared and acted like he didn’t. When she walked into a room he would make his way to her eventually. They had dated and then didn’t and then dated again. At the moment, they were back to didn’t.

We laughed our way through the ridiculousness of the conversation until she wasn’t smiling anymore,

“I don’t know. I want more. But is that awful? Setting my standards too high? Being too selfish?”

And then the laughter left me, too. I wanted to hit out at the people, places, situations and inner dialogues that have convinced so many of my sisters that “wanting more” is an unforgivable act of self-centric thinking. As if somehow the pursuit of a life partner is an act of charity and to take our hopes, hurts and desires into account betrays the nature of the enterprise.

I can remember spouting off the same misgivings and gentle questions. Anxious and sure my worth depended on the eyes and evaluations of others. Thank the Heavens for parents that slapped the words out of my mouth almost before the left it. (Well, it wasn’t a literal slapping. More of a rhetorical beating. Really, I admire their restraint.)

They’d throw their hands in the air and talk emphatically. Didn’t I know that choosing my husband, the man I would make my life with, was the most selfish decision of my life? That it was one of the last times that I could sit as a single entity and decide to get exactly what I wanted without the interference of pledge or the obligation of a shared life, shared children, shared disappointments, shared hopes? Be selfish, they cried. Seek for the best. Make yourself what you want and don’t bend for a man that can’t appreciate the god given, mortal mess you are. Find a man to partner, not a boy to parent. Walk away if it gets too hard, too hurtful, too disappointing. Right now, you don’t owe anyone a damn thing. Not a week, not a month and certainly not your whole ever loving life. You don’t owe anyone anything. You only owe it to yourself to find what you want. You get to have what you want. Meggi, what do you want?

It seemed so counter-intuitive. I remember arguing with my dad over it once. At the time, I was dating a boy that made it seem like sacrifice of self was really the sacrament of love. And I believed him. How, I cried to my good dad, how can marriage – the most self-less of institutions – begin with my most selfish decision? Didn’t he know the heart hurt sacrifice of self had to begin beforehand? Didn’t that make the most sense? The good man looked almost disappointed in me. He and my mom had raised me for twenty years and these were the questions I still pondered. I have to admit, it didn’t say much for my learning abilities.

He said my name once,

Megs…

and then cleared the tears out of eyes and throat with a wipe and a cough.

…you are selfish in choosing a mate because once you commit yourself to a person you’ve decided to never be truly selfish again. Sure, at times you will take time for yourself and splurge and do all the fun stuff we do when we say we are being selfish. But you will never again be able to live your life with only thoughts for yourself, not really. And that is a beautiful thing. If you and your husband are living your marriage correctly you will always be thinking of, working for and loving one another. The selflessness of marriage is the kind that lifts each party up to a place they could not have reached alone. It is not a sacrifice of self. It is a clarification of self. Marriage should make you more of who you are. It should refine you. Both of you. Anything less than that isn’t worth your time.

I think at that point I grumbled something about him always having to be right. He laughed and then was serious again.

Listen, it is important to remember that you are not just being discerning, and yes, even selfish, for yourself. You are being selfish for the children that will eventually come into the marriage. Is this the person that will help your sons and daughters understand their place in the world? Can you both create a sanctuary of love and learning for them? Maybe you aren’t at a place where you can see you deserve that, but surely you know your children deserve it. I hope your mom and I gave that to you kids and I hope you do the same for your own.

It was an eye opening conversation. For years, my parents told me I had great worth and deserved more happiness than my inward thinking heart could fathom. I didn’t ever believe them. But that day when my dad talked about my daughter, I knew, I just knew, that unknown girl was worth the price of a star and then some. I knew she deserved the kind of joy that could crack the universe in two. And somehow, knowing that about her helped me understand it about myself. I had to give her what she deserved and the only way to do that was to get exactly what I deserved.

So I broke up with that boy. I stopped asking those questions and started asking others. Who was I? What did I want? How could I create my own happiness? And I started living the life I hoped my daughter would lead. One with query and laughter and legs that moved me from moment to moment to moment. Until, somewhere in between a good book and a little grand adventure, I found, and was found, by the kind of man that made me want to be selfish one last, glorious time.

We’re not perfect. I can’t even see perfect from the place we reside. We fight and misunderstand. We hurt and are hurt. We work and sweat and love and kiss and start over again. It’s messy and hard and there are days when I can’t wait for the morning. But I can appreciate his God given self amidst all his mortal mess and he can appreciate me and mine. And sometimes, when the light of our lives is just right, I can see us lifting one another to that gold lit place.

Sisters, stop asking if your standards are too high, if you want too much, if you are being too selfish.

Figure out what you want. Don’t settle for anything or anyone less. And then, once you and that worthy man find one another, work, love and pray for each other as if your heart and souls depend on it.

I hope you do it for yourself. I know you’ll do it for your daughter.

You both deserve it.

Hey guess what? You are completely complete even without “Mr. Right”. Read here and here.


Meg Conley is a writer that specializes in topics of womanhood, motherhood, childhood...basically all the 'hoods. Her blog, Meg in Progress, is quickly becoming a nationally recognized platform for women’s issues and day to day inspiration [and it's also where this post originally appeared]. She speaks at conferences about the glorious state of womanhood and is lucky enough to hang out on TV, HuffPost Live and Sirius XM radio routinely. When she isn't being honest about being a girl, she can often be found holed up in the bathroom sneakily eating left over Easter candy while hiding from her children. 

 

Much ado about dating

“Well?" Ron said finally, looking up at Harry. "How was it?"
Harry considered it for a moment. "Wet," he said truthfully."
Ron made a noise that might have indicated jubilation or disgust, it was hard to tell.
"Because she was crying," Harry continued heavily.
"Oh," said Ron, his smile faded slightly. "Are you that bad at kissing?"
"Dunno," said Harry, who hadn't considered this, and immediately felt rather worried. "Maybe I am.” 
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Do you remember this scene? When Harry kissed Cho? Man, I love those books.

For me, young love is tender and nostalgic unless it involves my kids, when it instantly transforms into something seriously uncomfortable, like an itchy wool sweater I can't wait to rip off. I try to be cool and nonchalant. I think back on my own high school dating experience (which was, for the most part, great). And still, I feel this compelling urge to retrieve and display the proverbial shotgun. I know this is weird. I'm weird. And freaky.

Recently, Rebecca has started dating. Our family rule is that you have to be 16 in order to date, and she turned sweet 16 way back in September. Her recent spurt of dating, however, has caused us to have lots of discussions about dating and guidelines and just what, exactly, dating should and shouldn't be. I want her dating experience to be fun and carefree and a means of forming friendships with boys. I want her to get to know lots of different people, so that eventually, a long, long, LONG way down the road, she'll have a good idea of the kind of person she'd like to marry. Baby steps to serious relationships.

Neither Sterling nor I want her involved in a serious relationship at 16, so we have encouraged (by which I mean required) her to group date -- double, triple, whatever. But here's the rub, culturally, traditional "dating" is not a big thing round these parts. As a result, she and her date often have a hard time drumming up dating compadres. Part of the problem is that the teens we know don't seem to want to devote money or time to someone they don't "like" like. I think they should go out as friends -- go bowling, go to a trampoline place, go put-put golfing. See a concert.  Watch an Indie movie. Plan a scavenger hunt. It's not a lifetime commitment or symbol of undying devotion. It's a fun night. A DATE. For heaven's sakes. Bless their hearts.

I'm working on drumming up some group dating business in my daughter's corner of the world. Who's with me? Can we start a movement? And what should we call it? Adults Advocating Group Dating (AAGD). Or Dating Can Be Fun (DCBF). Or Go on a Date -- It Won't Kill You (GOAD - IWKY). 

Any ideas on how to encourage casual dating?

 

 

 

Dating. Oh my.

Becca&Mom web.jpg

Here's one thing I've realized since my older girls have left home: they did a fair amount of parenting/nurturing. In their absence, there is no friendly sister upstairs to console, consult, or pal around with Becca. In fact, this enormous resource of wisdom, help, commiseration, and friendship is suddenly very far away. And I'm feeling rather pressured to fill the void -- I mean someone has to. 

Point in case: Becca was asked out on a "date" of sorts last weekend. I won't go into details here, but rest assured that once I caught wind of the details I was all "No. No way. No chance. No how." Had her sisters been around they would have easily recognized this was not a plan I would endorse. But since their wise words were thousands of miles away, I had to give a little dating talk of my own. I remembered a story I heard in church many moons ago that I thought might get my point across, and I share it here with you. (I believe this is a Boyd K. Packer story.) 

I told Rebecca to imagine that she had worked for a long time to save up enough money to buy a new car. In fact, she had saved money from numerous summer jobs and babysitting gigs and hours of backyard weed-pulling. For birthdays and Christmases there had been no presents, only a request to add to her car fund. And after many years of hard work and sacrifice, she finally had enough. She marched down to the car dealership and bought a beautiful, shiny, red convertible (in my mind it's a Mini Cooper). She loved that car and took careful care of her new prize. One night, as she was leaving with friends, she realized that her car was too small for the group and ran back inside, handing me the keys. 

"Mom, we are taking a friend's car instead. Could you move this into the garage for me?" 

"Sure, no problem." 

But later that night when she arrived home, she found the garage empty. She quickly became concerned and rushed inside to ask me about her car. 

"Oh. A nice boy stopped by and asked if he could borrow it." 

Becca immediately unleashed a torrent of questions, "WHO? Why? Where was he going? When will he bring it back?" 

"Oh," I replied. "I don't remember his name, but he's been over once or twice before. He just really needed a car, and he seemed super honest and nice." 

And, of course, because real-life Becca is a wise and thoughtful girl, she began to put two and two together. She's a far greater treasure, I told her, than any old convertible. And when she goes out with a boy, he needs to be someone trustworthy. Someone with a plan and excellent intentions. We need to know where she is going, and when she will be back. And sometimes, for less overt reasons (to her), we may be reticent to send our treasure into uncertain adventures. 

But then I also reassured her, as with her sisters before her, that this was a period of training. And soon enough she'd be at college, completely free to make her own decisions and to date whomever she saw fit. Right now though, I have a mere two and half years to teach her the ways of dating, and honoring, and being true to herself. You know, all those elements necessary to being a good person and a productive citizen. Such a grave responsibility requires a certain degree of bossiness on my part and gracious receptiveness on hers.  So let's work together here folks!

Honestly, I'm feeling really good about the whole thing. Of course, the raw material is excellent. 


What about dating in your family? Any dos or don'ts to share? 

[Note: Becca is newly 16, and in our family 16 is the magic dating age -- although we encourage group dating until our kids are out of high school. And we make prospective dates submit to polygraph testing. ]

Just kidding about the polygraph part. Sort of. 

A fresh perspective: When the boyfriend comes to visit

I feel like I have some serious dish for you today. Pour yourself a cold Diet Coke and pull up a chair because this is going to be some good (and rarely shared) info.

If you have just joined us, I'll give you a quick update for context. Jordan, my oldest, recently returned from her freshman year at BYU.  While at BYU, she got herself a boyfriend, who we (Sterling and I) had never met because BYU is 1500 miles away. Jordan will be serving a mission for our church for 18 months in Lyon, France and The Boyfriend will be on a mission in Brazil. So, Jordan and The Boyfriend cooked up a trip to Houston to meet the family before she leaves for her mission. I quietly encouraged the trip because I'm extremely curious about The Boyfriend. The Boyfriend arrived on a Friday and stayed through Wednesday. 

The Boyfriend and my baby.

The Boyfriend and my baby.

You might be wondering how that whole 'meet-and-greet' went. I had hoped to write a post about "When The Boyfriend Comes to Visit," but, EVEN BETTER, the boyfriend wrote about the visit from his point of view. 

Can I get a high five?

Anyone?

What follows is a guide for parents, written entirely by The Boyfriend. [No boyfriends or parents were harmed in the composition of this essay.]


When The Boyfriend Comes to Visit
Written By: The Boyfriend

1.  Acclimate The Boyfriend slowly.

Take it easy on the poor fellow! Remember what your mother used to tell you about spiders, because the same holds true for boyfriends: they are more scared of you than you are of them.  Go slowly and try not to frighten him.

Sarah did exemplary job of this when I came to visit her daughter, Jordan. I flew into Houston with jitters in my stomach, not only in eager anticipation of finally being reunited with my incredible and lovely girlfriend, but also at the intimidating and fearful prospect of meeting her entire family. Luckily, I was acclimated slowly. Before meeting any of the family, I had a one-on-one reunion with Jordan at baggage claim, which was heavenly. (No, Sarah I did not kiss your daughter at baggage claim! Okay, maybe I did....) Then Jordan walked me out to the car where I met her mother, who said, “Call me Sarah!” and was disarmingly kind and personable. We had a pleasant car ride home together before I met sisters Maddie and Becca, little brother Parker, and then finally the man I had been most dreading to meet: the dad. Of course, the entire family (dad included) was incredibly charming and friendly. But even the most charming of families can be overwhelming if met all in one sitting, so I was very thankful to be introduced in increments. The experience of a boyfriend meeting his girlfriend’s family may be likened to a deep-sea diving excursion—if you don’t give him some time in a recompression chamber, his head might just literally implode.

2. The Boyfriend will probably do and say some really stupid/funny things.

              JORDAN: But Mom, driving on the highway scares me.

              SARAH: Toughen up, honey. You need to be made of steel. Not—  
                           marshmallows.

              BOYFRIEND: [sheepishly] ….But I like marshmallows.

Because The Boyfriend is trying so hard to make a good impression, he is likely to occasionally do exactly the opposite—often with highly amusing results. He might, for example, randomly address you using your maiden name instead of your married name, forcing you to correct him as kindly as is possible in such a situation. (Yes, this actually happened.) He might, on the first or second night of his visit, lose one of the few valuable items in his possession—for example an iPhone—by carelessly leaving it in the cup-holder at the local movie theater. Rest assured that The Boyfriend is not (necessarily) so incompetent as he appears; he is simply nervous. Enjoy his antics. There is a reason so many blockbuster comedies are based around the exact premise that is being now played out for you in real life.

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3. Remember that The Boyfriend is here to entertain you.

The Boyfriend is not on vacation (though he might foolishly believe so). He needs to earn his keep / prove his salt / etc., so put the kid through the wringer. Does he have any talents? Can he sing? Can he cook? Make him prove it. As long as The Boyfriend is staying in your house and eating your food, think of him as your own personal court jester or slave, rather than a human being.

(I should note here that Sarah and the entire family were incredibly hospitable during my stay. By the end of my visit, I felt both incredibly welcomed and slightly spoiled. Sarah did ask me to sing a song for a family gathering, and I did have the opportunity to work a piping bag for a few minutes in her kitchen. But for the most part, she was far far too kind to The Boyfriend.)

4. The Boyfriend needs to meet EVERYONE.

Start amassing a list now: family (close and distant), friends, neighbors, former boyfriends and their families, old classmates, vague acquaintances, pets of any of the above. If you can think of their name, or even if you can’t but you can sort of picture them in your mind, arrange a way for them to meet The Boyfriend. A few good alibis are: “family get-togethers”, “open houses”, and “school events”. Any and all of these are an excellent pretense for requiring The Boyfriend to meet as many people as possible.

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5. Keep in mind that the daughter kinda likes The Boyfriend.

When it comes to The Boyfriend, your first instinct as a parent will probably be to hate him with a passion. After all, he is stealing your daughter away from you. The Boyfriend represents your daughter’s transition from the idyllic innocence of childhood to the responsibility and independence of adulthood. And as exciting as that transition may be, it is also just a little bit tragic.

Just remember that your daughter actually kinda likes The Boyfriend. In fact, she probably likes him quite a bit. He’s probably kinda important to her. So give her the benefit of the doubt and believe her when she says the blundering fool she brought home to meet you isn’t as big a dud as he appears. Who knows, maybe you’ll like The Boyfriend so much you’ll want to feature him on your blog.  


Editor's notes: I did make the poor boy sing at a family function. However, he has some mad musical skillz, and around these parts we make the musicians STEP UP.

My favorite thing about The Boyfriend? He was extremely kind and respectful to Jordan. Anyone who adores my baby is A-okay in my book.

Also? The Boyfriend is going to Brazil for two years. Letter-writing between France and Brazil is soothing to a skittish mother.