My daughter turned 17 years old this week. Remember the shit you were doing when you were 17? Well, she’s not doing that yet. But she wants to. She watches enough movies and TV to know that she is held back from a lot of interesting trouble. She is also a much younger 17 than I was at that age. She’s still more of a 14 year-old level, aside from realizing she’s almost a legal adult.
She has a boyfriend, who shouldn’t even be blessed with the privilege of sharing her air. He has no ambition, no plans toward which he could apply that ambition anyway, and no concept of consequence. He starves for attention, and will say anything to get it, which caused my daughter to fall behind in school. I’m not saying she’s absolved of responsibility there, but I’ve seen first-hand what it looks like to ignore him. He doesn’t go away. She already has a difficult time focusing, and I can’t imagine he’s very good at standing by while she studies.
He also has a habit of just showing up. Showing up at our house. Showing up at the school (after he graduated – yeah, he’s 18, by the way). Just dropping by whenever he feels like it, or at the very least, just texting incessantly until the midnight hour (to my phone, and yes he does know this).
I don’t want my daughter dating him, but she is in the phase of falling head over heels for whatever dumbshit happens to say the right thing to her. He has never been mean to her, and hasn’t disrespected her, rather, he seems to prioritize her happiness and safety. That being said, he also puts major emphasis on her presence in his life. He doesn’t want to lose her. Everything he does out of anger is someone else’s fault because they said something about her. He repeatedly crashes his bike because he is always speeding around town with no brakes, but insists that she ride around with him. I’ve made some poor choices in my life, especially when I was her age, but when everyone around you sees that you’re settling so hard you’re practically collapsing, it’s time to step back and think about who you’re dating.
Are they good for you? It’s one thing for your partner to want for your happiness, but there comes a time when they have to be unpopular, and help you reach what you need, instead of what you want. If you have $10 to your name, and you want to go to a movie, but you also need gas money for the week, you gotta make the better choice. It’s not always the one you want. If your partner doesn’t support that same mindset, they’re not good for you.
Are you giving up something important, because you want to make them happy? A college degree, your dream job, a hobby, your social life, your family relationships, your personal regimen of care… if something is taking a backseat to your relationship, and it’s not a necessary compromise, GET IT BACK. Relationships need give and take, and it’s completely inappropriate for one person to sacrifice, without the other person reciprocating. If your dream is being smothered by what your partner wants, speak up for yourself, and decide how much you really want to spend your life with someone who doesn’t want you to reach your goals.
Do they encourage you to grow and better yourself? Same thing as above. Do they tell you to go back to school, or quit smoking, or draw more (even when you don’t want to), or get the body you want, or go for the job you don’t know if you’ll get? Do they pump you up, when you feel discouraged or unsure of yourself? Do they push you to find the best parts of yourself, when you want to crawl in a hole and die of guilt and shame? Wallowing in your depressive state alongside you, has its place I’m sure, but when you need to stop being so harsh on yourself, your partner needs to shine. They need to show you why you lean on them, why you let them into the most private parts of your life, why they are good for you.
Do they show that they love you, without holding you hostage? That’s the one that gets me the most. I’ve heard “You can’t [leave/break up with me/do that]. I love you!” Let me tell you something: love is strong. It can make people see things that aren’t true, and things that others don’t see. It can change a person completely. It can convince you that things are going to be okay forever. But most of the time, things aren’t going to be okay. You’re going to break up with a bunch of people, and it’s going to suck, regardless of which side you’re on.
But, we live on, because love is strong, but not stronger than your personal will. You can’t get that from anybody else, no matter how much they love you. So when someone suggests that you overlook a personal principle about your life, just because they happen to express love for you verbally, look for how they treat you. Do they back up those confessions of emotion with actions that show their love, or do they just kinda say it over and over again, and expect that to be enough? If someone loves you, they’ll show you. You won’t have to hear it all the time, because you’ll feel it and see it in how they treat you, as well as how they treat themselves. Telling someone you love them is not enough, and love alone is not a reason to stay with someone, if they don’t even have the respect (for you, them, or your relationship) to stop a behavior that is damaging. If they love you, they will show you, by growing and maturing with you. If they are just focused on the way you make them feel, and not about how you feel, they will try to use their “love” to guilt you into staying, without actually changing the behavior. They know what you want to hear, and exactly how to say it to you, and you’ll melt in their hands, and nothing will have to change, because you remember how much they love you. That’s love, right?
I’ve been a love hostage. A few different kinds, actually. Ones where the guy was lingering and submissive and still clinging to me, after I essentially told him to fuck off because he was too passive for me. The tears and wailing and moaning about what “we had” was embarrassing to stand around for, and I felt like I was in a bad movie. He loved me. I’ve also been a love hostage to someone who was in fatal attraction mode. He repeatedly stole cars and drove them 50 miles to my town, only to ditch the car and break into my apartment. He loved me. The point is, everyone was okay afterward, and the shitty situations dissolved once the shitty relationship was severed, despite whatever “love” remained unrequited. Had I stayed because they were in love, I may still be miserable to this day.
My daughter will be fine. I want to guide her toward loving herself, accepting the great things about her, as well as the areas for improvement. I want her to know that she doesn’t need to be in a relationship to be happy. She needs to be a strong, independent person, because that’s how we come into this world, and that’s how we go out. You can’t let someone love you, if you don’t love yourself. If/when the time comes, I hope she is with a good guy, but she’s currently madly in love with this guy, and I just have to deal with it for now. I was so smart when I was her age, and I still made such stupid choices. I can’t imagine the ones she’ll make. She so naive and trusting, and admittedly gullible (why she tells people that, I have no idea!) so people will take advantage of her, and that scares me. I want her to find love with someone who knows how to live with her, and that isn’t easy. It took me 32 years!
Being with Matt has been great, because he knows how to live with me (for the most part) but we’re still learning. We’re learning how to be together, and how to be ourselves. We have battles, but we try not to say anything that we would want to take back. Love has very little to do with why we stay together after a fight. We argue, but then we de-escalate because we have mutual respect for the great things we do together, and for the challenges we face, and we each realize how the other one is integral in making things work. It’s a finely tuned machine, and it wouldn’t run without both of us. I want that for my daughter.
Hell, I want that for my son too! He will one day find a girl that will most likely break his heart, because he’s very old-fashioned, so that will bring a whole different set of challenges, where my daughter likes the attention and acceptance of someone admiring her, and is easily swayed by it. My son is a gentleman, and we all know girls like assholes, until they grow up and realize their worth, so once he does find a good girl, he’s probably going to do everything he can to respect her. Some women don’t want to be respected. They should stay away from my son.
The past 17 years have not flown by at all whatsoever, and actually feel more like 27 years, but I’ve just been unguided through too many terrible situations. I’ve let too much happen to me, since becoming a mom. I never thought about how my personal sacrifices were affecting my kids. My daughter wants to be like me, because she has no idea how many years I was just a shitty person, and just didn’t get help. If I have anything to do with it, my daughter won’t have to go through those years of doubt alone, because I’ll be right there beside her, even when there’s some asshole there, trying to convince her that he loves her more than I do.