The other day I ran into the mother of my middle son’s former girlfriend. Our kids, who started dating in high school, broke up at the beginning of their sophomore year in college, after dating for nearly two years. Our encounter was not awkward and I was glad to see her and hear how her daughter was doing; when she was my son’s girlfriend, I had enjoyed her company.
I have a friend who told me that until a ring is offered and accepted, I shouldn’t get too attached to the young women my boys are dating. I had heard this advice from other people, as well. While that may be good advice, it’s much harder to do than to say — at least it is for me.
Perhaps it’s because I don’t have any daughters that I love when my boys bring home their girlfriends. The entire atmosphere in the house changes when there are girls here. I get to learn about the new fads and fashions in which my boys have no interest or clue. I hear what the girls have been up to, as well as news about my boys and their friends that I might otherwise never know. My oldest son’s girlfriend recently told me that one of his good friends had gotten engaged a few months earlier, a bit of information my son didn’t think worthy of mention.
When my son’s girlfriend visited us shortly after they had attended a wedding, she told me about a website where you can rent dresses. Who knew? (I am guessing all you moms of daughters knew but I certainly did not.) I asked my son how the wedding was, and he said “fine.” I asked his girlfriend the same question and she gave me a litany of specifics like how many people attended and how the food was. I don’t think my boys are withholding details on purpose; they just don’t see the relevance in relaying such trivialities. After living in a household with minimally communicative males, these morsels of information are like a few sips of water to a person who’s been wandering in the desert.
After my oldest son first started dating his girlfriend, he told me, “You’re going to like her too much and it’s going to be a problem.” I am not entirely sure what he meant but I am guessing he knew I would get attached.
When my sons’ girlfriends are around, I get to see a side of my boys I don’t normally see. The “young and in love” thing is really sweet—it is good to know my boys can be considerate and silly and tender, different from the rougher versions I typically observe. I have been fortunate because I like the girls my boys have chosen to date thus far. They have been smart, kind, caring, family-oriented and unspoiled. They are young women with excellent characters and I am happy to know my boys have such good taste.
I have also been gratified to see that my sons’ girlfriends are amenable to spending time with us. They have been particularly good about including my youngest son when they go out to places like dinner and the movies and have even attended his school concerts and soccer games. My middle son’s former girlfriend often helped my youngest with his homework and projects. I once walked in to find her doing his homework while he was nowhere to be found. (I was like “Um, no.”)
My sons’ girlfriends have been present at holiday meals, celebratory dinners, and spent more than one New Year’s Eve with us. They remember to text me on my birthday and offered me comfort when my father died, attending his funeral and Shiva. They have encouraged me with my writing career; my oldest son’s girlfriend even made me business cards. How nice is that?
So how in the world am I supposed NOT to get attached? How do other people not get attached? How do they distance themselves from these terrific young women who become (perhaps, temporarily) part of the family? Is there some sort of guidebook or manual for this that I don’t know about? (After all, I didn’t know about the dress rental thing.) Do I really have to wait until they are engaged or married before I get attached? What if they do get married and later get divorced? Isn’t it all just a moment in time?
After my middle son and his girlfriend broke up, even though I knew that the reasons for their breakup were sound ones and they parted as friends, I found myself missing her. I know that I only had myself to blame because I had broken the cardinal rule by getting attached.
For a little while after my son and his girlfriend parted ways, I decided that my friends who told me to hold off until things were “official” before getting attached had the right idea. I thought I had learned my lesson. I was determined that the next time I was going to play it cool. But then…
My son met a girl during his junior year at college and we had a chance to meet her when we visited him at school last year. A few months ago he brought her home for a weekend, so we could get to know each other better. As I spent more time with her, I could see what he loved about her and how much they cared about each other. Despite my best intentions, when I saw how happy he was, I started warming to her. I just couldn’t help it.
I admit that I’m just not good at keeping people I like at arm’s length. I really don’t know how other people do it. I find it hard to imagine that my feelings towards these young women would change the moment after a marriage proposal. My emotions are not like a light switch that I can easily flip on and off.
Another friend of mine is fond of saying “You are who you are” (as you can see, my friends offer a lot of advice) and maybe she is right. I guess what matters most is that my sons want me to know their girlfriends and they feel comfortable bringing them home. And if getting at least somewhat attached is the price I pay, then I’m okay with that.
Update—a ring has been offered and accepted; my oldest son and his girlfriend got engaged!
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Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother of three sons, food shopper extraordinaire and blogger. She is a regular contributor to Better After 50 and her work has also been featured in Ten To Twenty Parenting, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and will appear in Beyond Your Blog.