Wednesday, March 26

Respect that Girl's Future

Dear Jacob,

We have these conversations in roundabout ways -- conversations about girls.  Your good friend seems to be very aware of the girls around him. I think you're aware too, but you're observing, maybe unsure about the way forward. I just want to say that I think you're in a good space, that there's no rush.

There was a boy in my fifth grade class who I guess was technically my boyfriend because we'd sealed the deal in some "check this box" note one day. He and I went roller skating with our class once. This meant that during couples skate we had to hold hands and my friends all giggled when they saw that, nervous and far too young to comprehend it all.  Another time the other boys were talking about kissing their girlfriends and I think he was issued a dare and he came up to me as I sat in the school breezeway and lightning-like kissed me on the cheek and then buzzed away.  I was stunned and insulted. What the heck was my boyfriend thinking he could kiss me for?  Ack. I wrote him a note and unchecked the box.

Years later there was a boy my sophomore year who wanted to be my boyfriend and so I said, "Let's give it a try." Soon thereafter we arranged to meet at a football game with friends. During the game he gave me a bracelet that had been his as a baby which, of course, meant it was too small for me to wear so I put it in my pocket. When I ran out of things to talk about with him I walked off with my best friend to the snack bar and admitted that I didn't know what to do. When I reached into my pocket to show her the bracelet it was gone. I knew this was not good.

I did what my I-need-to-get-out-of-this-situation apprehensive teen-self thought was best. I told him that we weren't going to work out and I mournfully said that I'd give him his bracelet back but I couldn't because I'd lost it. Humiliated, he and I searched below the bleachers to find it and we never did. To this day, that man has no baby bracelet to pass on to his own kids. Don't think that I don't see the rippling effects of this.

There were a couple of other attempts at boyfriends, but none of them lasted longer than two weeks.  That was kind of my thresh hold of comfortability. I think I ended them so quickly because after about two weeks in I couldn't keep hiding my true self, the mystery wore off and I was just a regular girl trying to pass Chemistry without tears.  In that same amount of time I saw that they were just boring or smelly or self-interested or I found that our friendship was messed up by this new status of relationship so I opted out. The truth is, I was too young. 

Case in point: I had a long-distance boyfriend once.  I'd only really met him once at a camp with my cousin's youth group and then we wrote letters back and forth and sent photos. We became a thing I guess, long distance through those letters.  But when I visited my cousin again and saw him again, he was stand-offish and goofy and nervous and I think we said some surfacy things to one another and took a photo together and then youth group was over.  That "relationship" lasted about six months and was obviously not as deep and meant-to-be as I thought. Sometimes we like the idea of a relationship more than we like the work it takes to have an actual relationship.

My senior year was my first real boyfriend -- a boyfriend that I wanted to kiss me, whose ring I didn't lose and with whom I could be myself. We lasted far longer than two weeks; we were together for three years. Over time and distance we had this sometimes good and sometimes rocky relationship.  He was accepted into my family and just made himself at home around them. He came to know Jesus while we were dating and I'm pretty sure that relationship with Jesus was really about Jesus and nothing about impressing me.  I actually think that it was Jesus that held our relationship together.

I think this boy was a good place to start.  I was getting better at being real with others, though far from expert at it. Because I was older I was more willing to give my heart, to compromise, to listen.  I still had walls and insecurities, but that's going to happen as you grow up.  I was at a point in maturity where I realized that a boyfriend wasn't a trophy or a dare. A boyfriend was a person with a family who loved him more than I did, with his own goals in life and his own way of wanting to live. I couldn't force my own dreams onto him and I couldn't assume he would be my "everything."  

At least, that's what I'd say about a boyfriend now.  Back then, I sabotaged that relationship in many ways, making him move to California to be with me after I'd moved away to college, being hard-nosed at times, insulting at others, pushing curfews and telling him how to cut his hair.  I wasn't the best girlfriend there ever was.  But you learn these things as you go.  And if I hadn't dated that boy and learned all the wrong things to do in a relationship, I wouldn't have been ready to meet your dad with the maturity I felt I had gained. Nothing is wasted.

But here's the thing and I know you're still a ways off from this:  The first girl you date is a girl you will remember for the rest of your life. The first girl you kiss will be a part of your story forever. I pretty much hate that my first "kiss" was done in the way it was done. And I pretty much hate my teen-self for treating that other boy with such indifference and losing something precious to him. Obviously, these are stories I've not forgotten and you won't forget your stories either.  

Building relationships with girls can be exciting, but really it shouldn't be far different than building a relationship with boys. If you can be yourself and be accepted then you're on the right track. When you get to a point where you feel like you want to treat a girl like an actual treasure, someone you can value for who she actually is and not who she can be for you, then let's talk some more. Because as much as you don't want to begin a story full of regrets, you don't want her to be telling bitter stories about you to her kids one day either.

The choices we make in first relationships deeply affect our lives. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. So is she. We need to treat other people's hearts the way we'd want ours to be treated.  I respect yours enough to tell you this.