I feel entirely lost when it comes to the subject of kids and dating. At what age should I allow my children to go out on dates, or have boyfriends or girlfriends? Should boyfriend/girlfriend relationships even be encouraged? What about setting limits on physical affection? What about the inevitable hurt feelings that come with rejection and breakups?
Funnily enough, I did not start to worry on account of my oldest son, who will be starting high school this fall. In fact, he apparently has next to no interest in dating (although he did admit to having a crush on some girl at his school last year). Nor did I begin to think of this subject on account of my daughter, who will begin 7th grade. She apparently has zero interest in boys or crushes or dating. Such a relief! However, I was surprised to learn recently that my youngest son, who is almost nine years old, had a girlfriend at school.
“She is so pretty and nice, Mom,” he told me with the cutest puppy-love expression, pointing out every one of her photos in his yearbook. “And look – she drew little hearts all around my picture. Isn’t that cute?” Half of me wanted to melt into the floor from the overwhelming cuteness. The other half of me wanted to melt into the floor from shock. 8 years old? 8 years old? My brain screamed at me. Surely the boyfriend/girlfriend thing isn’t supposed to start so soon! Well, luckily (for me, not for my son), he will be starting 4th grade at a different school, far away from this so-called girlfriend.
I really did not date much during my youth. Partially because I was really never the type of girl that boys wanted to date, and partially because I was scared out of my wits of boys. (It’s true. I pretty much never talked to boys during high school unless they were obviously gay or even more shy than I was). I had a couple of passing crushes, which were rejected (“My parents would never let me date a black girl. Sorry.”). My first boyfriend, my freshmen year of high school, was gay, I later learned. He was kind and shy, and never tried to kiss me or even hold my hand. That suited me just fine, because the idea of kissing a boy scared me to death, too.
I first kissed a boy in eleventh grade. His name was Joe, and he was blonde, blue-eyed, and geeky. He was my boyfriend for three weeks, during which we barely had time to hang out, due to my busy activity schedule, and during which we exchanged perhaps a dozen quick pecks on the lips. Then I dumped him, because I found the whole thing boring and pointless. What was the point of being so permanently attached to someone you barely knew? Where were the dates – the actual dates where two people go out and do things together, like bowling or movies or the batting cages? Was the only point of having a boyfriend to kiss and hug and hold hands like all the sappy, shallow girls around me? Why the focus on exclusive couples during such an age of youthful exploration? Is that still the way things work for teenagers today? I honestly have no idea. Nor do I know what the best advice is to give my kids.
“I think that she seems very cute and sweet,” I told my 8 year-old. “But next time you have a crush, please tell her that your mom says no girlfriends until college.”
“Seriously?” My son stared at me like I was completely nuts. After all, college is probably unreasonable. But then, who knows? I am a great parent when it comes to baking homemade cookies and helping with schoolwork. But the world of dating and crushes is something I never learned to navigate well. For the first time ever as a mom, I do not know the right answer.