Kids Are Dating, Hermit Culture, Other Land Mines

It’s a weird feeling having all your kids dating. It’s one of the big transitions in the parent/child dynamic. All my children are in it now, with my youngest having started to date someone at school. I do feel lucky in that none of them started dating until they were either out of school or in their senior year of high school. Middle school dating is just horrible. It’s the most awkward and ridiculous thing if you ask me. Your 13-years old and everything is the end of the world if it goes wrong, and that’s not including the opposite sex. Throw in feelings, hurt or otherwise, and it’s a dumpster fire of emotions that parents DO NOT need to deal with. They’ve got jobs to work and bills to pay, man.

As soon as I got into middle school I jumped in. I had two girlfriends by the time November rolled around(not at the same time, but concurrently), but then by December I’d hit my peak and was sad and lonely until I was 17. That’s when I started dating this girl I was essentially set up with via a mutual acquaintance. That girl and I have been married for 26 years now. And we now have three kids in the world of dating and relationships.

Our oldest is 22 and she was dating this great girl for over a year now. Things just came to an end between them sadly and now she’s in that mode of starting over. I could tell something was off over the weekend and she just told my wife about it yesterday. She seems to be coping with it, and her best friend came over last night to stay over so they could eat pizza, drink some wine, and I guess talk it out. They’re going to a big Halloween party this weekend, so let the healing begin.

She never really had an interest in dating in school. Being in band in middle and part of high school(till she transferred to a private high school her junior year) she’d had a built-in group of friends. And before that she was in the Gifted and Talented program starting in the 3rd grade through 6th grade. There she made one of her best friends(who came over last night for pizza and wine.) She always had this big friend group and was always doing something within that group. Had the dating thing started earlier I’m afraid that friend group may not have been as tight and formidable a unit, so I’m glad the romantic relationships held off till college(that I know of.) She’s a smart and thoughtful human being, and I know she’ll find someone else.

My 19-year old has been dating a guy she worked with. They both worked at Wamart together, he’s a year younger than my daughter. They were friends before they were a couple. Mutually frustrated as employees of Sam Walton’s behemoth retail monster, they were both guinea pigs in the Online Grocery Pick-Up boom(thanks, Covid.) The first time we met her boyfriend was at our daughter’s open house for her high school graduation. They weren’t dating then, just work friends. It was a weird coming together of three different friend groups that day. Her oldest friend crew going back to elementary, then her Culinary Class pals that she had gotten very close to, then her Walmart/work friends. My 19-year old was very good at navigating these different friend groups. It was something I could never do. Basically because I only had like three friends.

Early this year they decided that they hung out enough and spent so much time together that something was going on, so they made it official. She’s gone on a cruise with his family, gone camping with them in Missouri for a whole week, and even went up to Canada with them last weekend. So I guess it’s serious.

My son, our baby, has been dating a fellow band member officially for maybe a month or two(we’re not sure when the couple thing began.) I honestly wasn’t sure if he’d ever find an interest in the opposite sex, or even friends for that matter. Our son was a homebody for so long. He never had any friends over in elementary or middle school. He seemed to have zero interest in doing anything other than just being at home. Now for a dad like me who had zero interest in leaving the house on the weekends this was an ideal situation, as we got pretty tight and he was my horror movie/music pal. His horror film education started early and we had many weekends filled with Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street marathons. He also locked into my soundtrack obsession and became the DJ while I cooked dinner. Having a partner in hermit culture was great, because I didn’t feel so bad not wanting to do anything when he was right there with me.

But there were times when I was worried he was never going to find his “people” at school. He’d talk about this person or that person occasionally but he’d never invite anyone over. And he rarely went to anyone’s house. The one birthday party he had back in 2014 for his 9th birthday had one attendee. A kid in his class came over. That was it. All his other birthdays he was happy inviting my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, and us. Birthday cake, ice cream, and tacos for dinner. He never seemed disappointed about no kids over to celebrate. He was content with just us.

But that changed, finally.

In 2019 my son started taking drum lessons, so his interest in playing in bands increased tenfold. By summer of 2021 he had a crew of friends that he’d get together with in the basement studio and they’d make noise. It was pretty cool to see and hear. By the time he got his license and could drive he was footloose and fancy-free, going to friends houses and getting breakfast and lunch and just out and about. The last time he had some friends over was Labor Day weekend. Marching Band season kind of took over his free time, so the band practices have come to a halt. But now he’s got a girlfriend, and she(well I think she prefers they as a pronoun), they are in band with our son. So I don’t think he minds the band practices coming to a halt. I hope they start back up, though. I kind of miss hearing them jamming downstairs.

Being in the midst of this romantic sea change involving my kids I wonder if my parents noticed those changes when I started dating my now wife in 11th grade. I mean, from the middle of 7th grade clear to halfway through my Junior year I was a pretty permanent fixture around the house on the weekends. If I didn’t have a friend spending the night or I wasn’t at a friend’s house I was home; in my room brooding, listening to heavy metal or in the basement in my practice room playing guitar. I may not have been in the living room watching whatever my parents were watching, but at least my presence was known. I’m guessing that it wasn’t as big a shift in the parent/child dynamic because I wasn’t as involved with what my mom and dad were doing as my kids were with me. I think I did more with my kids. We shared more interests(music, movies, cooking.) While my mom and dad may have noticed no guitar coming up from the vents or Metallica not coming through the living room wall, emanating from my bedroom, it didn’t really change much of the home dynamic. I, however, notice the silence. It’s deafening at times.

But hey, another day in the life of a growing, maturing family. I’m happy my kids are finding happiness outside our family unit. Do I miss convenience and comfort of a built-in hermit partner? Do I sometimes long for those Friday nights with everyone home arguing over what show we were going to watch? Or cooking dinner with my son while the Drive S/T plays from the living room hi fi? I sure do. At a certain point being a dad went from joy with a healthy dose of anxiety to just joy for me. Once they were old enough to start forming their personalities, opinions, likes, and dislikes that parent/child relationship became so much richer. Sure I loved them as little peanuts and sleep-deprived toddlers, but there was also a lot of mania involved there, too. Seeing old photos of them in onesies, footy pajamas, and bed head on Christmas morning is great and bittersweet; but the real fun began for me once they became little adults that could comprehend things they heard and saw and could give me an opinion on them. Thinking back to those toddler years gives me panic, if I’m being honest.

I’m sure there will be more heartbreak and growing pains for them. That’s just what life is about. I’ll be here if they need me, but I’m sure they’ll deal with it quietly and in their own way. Maybe just like I would. I never talked about relationships with my parents. Then again, I’m not my parents. And my kids aren’t me.

Well, only 50% me I suppose.

One thought on “Kids Are Dating, Hermit Culture, Other Land Mines

  1. I am going to bookmark this post for future reference. We’re not quite there yet. My boy (13) still hides his eyes when there’s kissing on the TV or when I kiss his mother. My girl (11) couldn’t care less and thinks it’s as it should be if someone, including one boy her age, pays her attention lol. I’m sure we’ll be in the middle of it soon enough, though.

    Liked by 1 person

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