What I Learned When My Teenage Son Started Dating

“Who is this temptress, and what does she want with my boy?” Reflections on a mother’s mature, reasoned reaction when her teenage son starts going out with girls.

By Mel Miskimen
Photograph: Illustrated by Zohar Lazar

Who were these people? I admit that our city neighborhood, with its ethnic grocery stores, its higgledy-piggledy window displays, its traffic, its guys at the bus stop with their droopy pants, might look a little different to strip mall–shopping, SUV-driving suburbanites than it did to us. But would Angus now adopt their perspective as his own? God forbid.

He usually introduced me to his friends; he usually made it a point to introduce me to his friends and, in doing so, would bring up an odd fact about me, like “Hey, this is my mom. She once did stand-up comedy!” (What especially pleased me is that he’d leave out the part about me totally bombing.) Had my son not introduced me to her on purpose? Was he suddenly embarrassed by me? Or was he afraid that I would look her up on the Internet to see if she had any outstanding warrants, as I did with all my daughter’s boyfriends?

Maybe the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. See, back in the early ’70s, when I was in high school and dating (or attempting to date), I used to tell the prospective suitor to please, please, please pick me up before 7 PM. And if for some reason he couldn’t? Well, then, I told him, don’t even bother coming over, because by then my father will be home from work. He was a police officer, and the last thing I wanted was to have my father standing in the kitchen in his uniform, with a loaded sidearm, asking my not-yet-boyfriend for his last name and date of birth so that he, my father, could then run him through the computer at work. For me, second dates had been as rare as albino buffalo.

I wasn’t as bad as my dad, was I?

That first-girlfriend go-round eventually fizzled, and I was glad to be able to check it off my list of growing-up milestones: chicken pox, first bike ride, first fender bender. I knew that this was one thing on my list we’d be revisiting later and that, let’s face it, I pretty much had to get on board with it, because what was the alternative? Me being the only woman in his life? That would be just plain sad. And it would, according to my CSI- and Law & -Order–watching husband, turn my son into a serial killer, and that’s not what I wanted. Of course not. I wanted him to meet a girl and bring her around to the house, maybe over for dinner, where she’d offer to help clean up and we’d all bond in the kitchen, trading tales of my son’s cuter-than-cute moments.

So I was confident that after all this personal growth I’d experienced from the shock of Girlfriend One, I’d handle his next romance more gracefully. Two years later, my personal growth? Stunted. There was a new girl in town. Or at least in my kitchen. One who didn’t need a security detail to visit the neighborhood. Angus even introduced me to her, although we met sort of by default, since she was standing by the sink and I happened upon the two of them, post-grope, as I walked through with a load of clean laundry.

“Mom? Uh . . . this is—” and here is the part where I should mention that I think I need to add ginkgo biloba as a dietary supplement, because her name has totally escaped me. I do remember that it was an odd name and that I had to have it repeated to me because I kept getting the pronunciation wrong. All the more reason that I should remember it, right? Yet I don’t, probably because the events that occurred next made her dead to me.

I feigned nonchalance about the relationship because I wanted my son to see how I’d gotten used to the idea of not being the only woman in his life. The Girl would come over, and they’d disappear to watch TV in the front room, the room that was in a direct line to the bathroom, which I avoided using so I wouldn’t disturb them. Kidney disease? It’s what a mother does for her son.

Yet over the course of that -summer—the one right before we were to enter a new phase, The College Years—her appearances dwindled. Were they still an item? I wondered. One morning in the kitchen, I noticed that Angus was tired, which meant his defenses were down. I moved in.
“So, I don’t see [her name] coming around . . . What’s up?”

Grunt.

“I mean, how are things?”

Grunt, accompanied by shrug.

First Published April 26, 2011

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