My Unnamed Child knocked timidly on my door the other night and then flounced onto my bed when I told her it was fine to enter. As she frequently does when she’s about to ask a question (or make a statement) for which she has not found vocabulary concise enough to express her thoughts, she mumbled through a series of unrelated reflections before landing on what she was in my room to really ask me.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about ways to improve myself, to not be so negative all the time and try to stick up for myself,” she rambled. “You know, like we talked about.”
I nodded in affirmation.
“So anyway, I was wondering…Can I get a boyfriend?”
If you’re reading this and thinking that the African Mother ™ in me jumped right out of my body and down her throat, you’re right. She did. But not for the reasons you expect. I hope that knowing this tempers your disappointment in my reaction. As one of Africa’s very first sex bloggers, you might expect my views on dating and sex where my adolescent daughter is concerned to be much more liberal. But I’m also a pragmatist when it comes to dating and sex, myself having endured the consequences of dealing with f*ck boys and all around trash men since I was 9 years old. Instead of screaming, “Are you mad, go and study maths!” at my very earnest child like the stereotypical African parent is wont to do, I gave her a task and asked her some leading questions instead.
“If you can write me a 1,500 word essay on how having a boyfriend will improve your goal of becoming a better student and stronger young woman, then yes. Yes you can.”
“1,500 words is a LOT of writing!”
“My dear, if you cannot articulate why someone else’s son should spend all of his spare time invested in you and thinking about you, how are you prepared to deal with the madness that someone else’s son is certainly carrying around?” It was a simple question, but it required an answer, so I pressed on. “What makes you so special and dateable?”
My Unnamed Child sat staring at me blankly before averting her gaze and biting her lip. She truly had no answer. And it’s because she has no answer, no gumption about herself or the situation that I have forbade her dating.
My child is gorgeous and incredibly talented. She doesn’t believe this, regardless of what her peers, parents or feedback from IG says. She’s bright, but she does not apply herself towards her work beyond the minimum requirement. Because of this, she makes mediocre grades and because she makes mediocre grades she believes she is of mediocre intelligence. A more confident girl would’ve immediate responded with at least three points about why any young suitor would be so lucky as to gain her attentions, and we could laugh about it and I’d STILL say ‘no’ to the request. My Unnamed Child sat staring at me with glassy eyes and slumped shoulders, completely devoid of confidence. So naturally my response was a firm ‘hell no’. (I never said those precise words, but I made sure she got the spirit of them in conversation.)
“Why do you think you need a boyfriend?”
“Well…because Becky and Katie have boyfriends. They go to parties and everyone likes them. And when they’re talking I just want to be able to join in the conversation.”
Becky & Katie are the popular girls at school. They wear me out.
“Are they still dating those two boys from last term?”
“When Katie was all hugged up on Johan and crying because the camp counselors wouldn’t let him into her tent, didn’t I tell you last term that they wouldn’t be together next term anyway and that she was just being theatrical?”
“How do you think I knew that four months ago?”
The answer is because even though I’m 41 and it’s hard for anyone to conceive, I – like you, Dear Reader – was a teenager not so long ago and relationships haven’t changed since Adam blamed Eve for eating the apple in Eden.
“Here’s the thing,” I continued, “I’m sure that there is more to Katie & Becky than just dating boys and going to parties. I’m sure that there is something about their personalities beyond who they are letting feel under their bra. What you need to do is find those things that are in common…or better still, introduce them to topics that are of interest to you. That’s what makes you interesting: being knowledgeable and passionate about a subject.”
“I’m passionate about ‘Hamilton’,” she replied. “Some people say I’m too passionate.”
“That’s impossible. I say you’re not geeked enough.”
This made her smile, for which I was glad. Because there was a truth bomb that I had to drop on her.
“The other thing is this, Unnamed Child. There are boys – and yes, some men – who are looking for girls just like you. They are looking for girls with low self-esteem that they can manipulate. They want girls who are easy to control. And if you don’t find and assign yourself your own value, they will assign it for you. And 100% of the time, it centers around sex. They are going to make you do things that you are not ready to do, and you will do them because you think that’s what love looks like. Let’s focus on you loving yourself first.”
Big, fat, silent tears.
I wish I could articulate to this Unnamed Child how desperate I am for her to live; to truly live. To have a full life filled with adventures and stories and epiphanies of her own discovery. So many girls, too many, have their identities wrapped up in who they are dating – or not dating. Even the church (which plays a central role in our family’s life) assigns value based on coupling. Once one graduates from the youth ministry, you are either assigned into the category of “Singles Ministry” or “Marriage Ministry”. The shame and weight of belonging to one group far outweighs the other, let me assure you.
I don’t want her growing up with the belief – as I did – that a woman is mandated to form the second half of a romantic relationship in order to have value or to be found interesting. That thinking starts from the time we are old enough to walk ourselves to school until the day some kind/obligated soul wheels us into an old age home. Besides, a boyfriend isn’t what she’s really after. What she wants is social acceptance and external validation…which is normal for a person her age. On some level, we all crave this.
None of this is to say that I forbid her from having amorous feelings for another individual. Crushes are a natural part of teen life; But this is a child who has told us in no unclear terms that she considers herself gay, so boyfriend w3 hin fa? Tsewww.
When did you start dating? And did you inform your parents or just start bringing your partner around and let them read between the lines? Ironically, I started dating at 14, but that has no bearing on this particular discussion on why my Unnamed Child cannot. Go be judge-y somewhere else! 🙂