So I’m almost halfway through middle school… Well, my son is almost halfway. The first half of seventh grade is coming to a close and, welp, my son asked about dating.
He’s always been romantic and has had a thing for one girl in particular since fourth grade. He’d write her notes, draw her pictures and even pick her flowers while he rode his bike to school. We know childhood love often fades, but he was steadfast, even moving into middle school. No, they were never boyfriend/girlfriend — this isn’t something we ever even discussed. He just liked her a lot, thought she was special and wanted to show her as much. Even when she wrote him a sweet note back that said, in the nicest way possible, “Let’s just be friends,” he held true in his heart and even said things like he thought he’d end up married to her one day.
It was all very sweet and innocent and cute and all of us, myself and the collective swarm of cooing moms around me, thought it was just positively the suh-weetest thing ever!
Then middle school came and I was sucker punched with a seemingly automatic leap into semi-adulthood-autonomy. Fear not, everyone said. Nobody REALLY expects your sixth grader to be an independent adult yet! And I was grateful for the sweet arm pats and knowing nods from all of his sixth grade teachers. For as much grief as teachers get these days, these people are fucking saints. Not only did they do a perfect job of protecting my kid, they did a great job of holding my hand through the process.
And so, seventh grade… Started pretty much just like sixth grade. Missing assignments, generally disorganized ADHD preteen boy stuff, same ol’, same ol’… But then it happened. Puberty. It really snuck up on me. My first inclination was the hair on his legs (what?!) that he refused to acknowledge. Then his voice changed – thankfully, he didn’t/hasn’t had a huge period of big shifting/voice cracking in this department, but we’ve had our fair share of bitty-cracks. My best friend came to visit and hadn’t seen Harrison since early June and was beside herself when she heard his voice.
But that was kind of it… No real other big changes happening. Until last night.
We were cleaning the kitchen up, getting ready for bed. He asked me, “Mom, when is my next Friday night that I’ll be here with you?” He goes to his dad’s every other weekend and, in addition, spends Thanksgiving week with his dad this year (we swap even/odd years for holidays like that). So, by my calculations… Because it goes dad’s weekend,
my weekend first weekend of Thanksgiving week and then dad’s weekend/second weekend of Thanksgiving week, he’s not going to be home for a Friday night until December 11th.
“Why do you ask?”
“Well… I think,” he fidgeted with his face and pursed his lips, “I want to ask a girl to go to the movies.”
And it’s not his old flame… It’s someone new. And maybe someone else. And he goes on to tell me about his crushes and I’m both shocked and celebrating that he’s sharing so much with me. So we talk about it, on the fly, because you can’t just tell your kid, “Hang on, let me research this and compose myself and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”
We talk about preparing yourself for no. That was THE FIRST thing we talked about. My kid is fucking adorable. He’s handsome and he’s funny and he’s so damn smart. He’s great at making and keeping friends and he has a wide spectrum of interests. I don’t think someone will tell him no because I don’t have confidence in him — I’m preparing him to prepare himself for no so that he has a perspective of consent before he ever even gets any time alone with a girl. Because boys should know that a girl — even a girl that likes him — has every right to turn him down for a date and he needs to prepare for that reality so that he can take it with grace and maturity.
Second, we talked about what they’d do on a hypothetical date. Going to the movies is, let’s be real, a shitty first date. You say hello, go to the ticket counter, maybe buy her a popcorn and then you DON’T TALK for two hours. Then, you’re sort of sleepy-eyed from being in the dark for so long and your breath probably smells a little bit because you’ve had it closed for two hours, only opening it to put buttery popcorn or sugary soda down your gullet. And then what? You’ve spent over two hours together and know nothing else about each other!
So… We discussed other ideas. There’s a great place in town called Rook & Pawn that would be a PERFECT spot for a first date. Sodas, snacks, pick any game you want and play it together. EVEN BETTER – bring a few friends with you, make it a group outing. More people = more options for what to play and less pressure to make it feel all date-y.
He half way smiled at me, “You sound like you know all about dating mom,” and I’m pretty sure he was picking on me. “Yep, I dated a lot in high school.”
Do I think he’s going to ask this girl out on a date in three weeks? Probably not.
Even if he does, do I think this girl is going to go on a date with him in three weeks? Probably not. Most, if not all, of my friends with daughters this age are not letting their girls date until high school.
So why do I think this is important? Why am I stressing out and texting my sister while she’s on vacation about it? What really is the point of teenagers dating? Shit, what really is the point of dating in general? (this is the question my sister asked me, minus the shit… I added that in)
So… We date to learn more about someone that we’re interested in… And, once we know them a little better, we grow to like them and want to show them that we do and also demonstrate to them that we care about them. We also date to learn about heartbreak and about relationships — both the couple dynamic and the jealous best friend, left out best friend, etc. etc. dynamics.
She told me she thinks that’s more than a seventh grader is interested in.
And I don’t disagree. But I think there should be some sort of… pre-dating? Junior dating? Dating permits? So… What’s the purpose of this pre-dating thing then?
And really, it all boiled down to consent for me — lessons in consent.
For these examples, I’m going to follow a boy/girl dynamic because that’s what my son is into… We also live in the south, so as much of a feminist as I am, I am also southern and there are certain ways about courtship that are deeply embedded into our culture. So… Grain of salt, all of that, blah blah.
- You do not have to say yes to a boy just because he asks you out.
- You do not have to say yes to a date activity just because the boy suggests it.
- You do not have to hold his hand or hug him in the hallways.
- You get to start actively thinking about what you DO want in a partner, what you DO want to do on a date, what you ARE comfortable with in terms of PDA, etc. You get to decide how you want to be courted. You get to decide what you want your dating relationship to look like.
- You do not need to flaunt your relationship.
- Chicks before dicks, a hundred times. I mean, we’ll probably use other language for the middle schoolers, but your friend relationships come before boys ALWAYS.
Ultimately, it’s about practicing the navigation of your autonomy. Without this practice, our girls are thrust into an environment with pressure from every direction to be be thin, beautiful, perfect and happy. Yes, these skills will help them in their dating life, but it’ll also help them in their professional lives!
- You do not have to go out with a girl just because she likes you.
- You do not have to have a girlfriend just because your other friends do.
- You do not get a date just because you ask for one.
- You need to learn how to hear no and not take it personally.
- You need to find a framework for your masculinity that is respectful to everyone.
- You do not get to objectify a girl, ie: referring to her by a number based on her position on your list of girls you like (we saw this in a friend recently and I had a long talk with him about what it must be like to be #5 on that list of 5)
- You need to wrap your brain around how you plan to court a girl — this includes having the money to pay for everything you plan for a date, planning a date that is creative and memorable.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a young man wanting to take some traditional positions when it comes to dating — asking her out, holding the door for her, blah blah blah. But the biggest lesson I want him to learn is that those things are a gift you give, not an exchange. You can be the biggest gentleman on the planet and she just might not be that into you — you cannot get pissed. You cannot let it rock your self esteem. You are a fucking brilliant human, but you are not entitled to any prizes for it.
So where did we land on this whole dating thing? I think that I’m comfortable with my son going on group dates with some loose/basic parental oversight, ie: sitting four rows behind you at the theatre, eating at the same restaurant or in the same shopping center. I’m not yet comfortable with my kid going on a one-on-one date, but I am NOT going to tell him that he cannot date until (high school/he turns 16/some other arbitrary rule that has no basis on his actual readiness to date).
A friend said that her rule is that you can date when you can have candid conversations with your parents about sex and sexuality, ie: birth control and condoms and safe sex and all of that. I love that — because, really, I don’t want my son having sex as a young person. But I can’t forbid it and I’m foolish to think that I can control him or prevent him from having sex. He’s going to have sex when he’s ready — my job is to help him navigate HOW to recognize that readiness in himself… And once he’s got that readiness in himself paired with all the healthy, open dialog about safe sex, then all that other stuff about consent.
I think. We’ll see. This stuff is so exciting and confusing and different.