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

My husband and I had planned on shopping that night, for fun stuff I really looked forward to buying—new bedroom furniture, or new tile for the bathroom, or new landscaping. But for the life of me, I cannot remember what we were looking for because I have a mental block about reliving that night, a mental block whose name is Angus.

Angus is our son. At that point, he was attending an all-boy, testosterone-laden, Jesuit-run high school. Our reason for sending him there instead of to a larger, coed school was that we wanted him to focus on getting an education, not on getting a date. And so far, that’s exactly how it had worked out.

Until the night my husband and I had planned our shopping spree. Angus needed a ride to a friend’s house—a new friend, whom we had never met. The nameless friend whose calls made my son disappear into his room, shut the door and drain his phone’s battery.

The friend’s house was in one of those subdivisions with the kind of name that suggests what used to be—Rolling Meadows, Fox Crossing, Standing Tall Oaks—before the earth movers and graders churned the wilderness into nice sloping lawns that drained away from the four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath McMansions. We arrived to find the new friend, a waifish, Winona Ryder type (Heathers vintage), waiting at the front door in her short skirt and tiny T-shirt that stretched a tie-dyed peace sign across her chest. Oh, please! Honey, I had that same shirt back in 1972!

My son had a look on his face that I had seen before, but only when he was experiencing a chocolate birthday cake with six candles on it, or a fever of 103°, or a ginormous box underneath the Christmas tree with a tag that read TO ANGUS FROM SANTA.

He jumped out of the car and then. . . gave her a hug! Not the awkward, lots-of-air-between-us hug that he usually gave me. Nope. This was a full--contact, lingering hug. With back rubbing. That’s when I heard that high-pitched white noise in my ears. I was having either a panic attack or a stroke. As we drove away through the winding streets and I was certain that we were out of visual range, I began to cry—a real honest-to-God, shoulder-shaking, snot-producing wail. Because that tart, that vixen, that tiny temptress who had opened the front door? She had replaced me!

She wasn’t the first girl my son had known. (And just how well did he know her, anyway?) There was, for example, the big group of seven or eight girls who came over whenever Angus’s guy posse was in residence. They draped themselves over the furniture like melting timepieces in a Dalí painting and helped balance out the boy-stink with their heady mixture of perfumes.
They went to the all-girl, so-called sister school to my son’s all-guy institution. My daughter had gone there, too, so I knew these girls. I mean, I knew their type—driven, take-no-prisoners kinds of girls who had it together and weren’t going to settle for anything less than an Ivy League college or a hoity-toity liberal arts school and husbands or boyfriends who were their equals. Those were the girls I had envisioned my son dating. In fact, I had already picked one out. She was the one—Zoey? Chloe? Someone-oey—who worked as a camp counselor in the summer; the one with the red hair; the one who, I was certain, would bless me with a crop of redheaded grandchildren, who backpacked in Alaska, who knew how to set a fracture with a tree limb. Not this . . . person whose name I didn’t even know.

I didn’t get it. Even worse, according to my son, her parents had a problem with her coming over to our house.

Huh?

Were they worried that he would somehow violate their daughter? That while she was in our home, I’d be too busy in my crystal meth lab or passed out on the sofa after a night of heavy partying to keep an eye on the two of them while they fornicated in my son’s room? No, no, no, it wasn’t that, Angus said. It was the neighborhood.

First Published April 26, 2011

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