I’ve had many conversations this week about young girls, the digital space, and the complications of love. And I have to tell you, if I had a daughter who was a teenager right now, I would have a very frank discussion with her.
This is easy for me to write about because I don’t have children, and I do not profess to understand what it’s like to have children. Having children has not been a high priority for me in life, and I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t wait to host international exchange students or help kids who have aged out of the foster system. Or even broke college kids renting my basement—when/if I can afford to do so.
You see, I come from a long line of people who have struggled financially, and I just can’t stand the idea of bringing somebody else into the world on this side of the tracks.
I’ve been amazingly lucky. My parents sacrificed for me in ways I’ll never be able to repay them. They put me first, and I love them very much. My crazy branch of this family tree stems from a union of love, friendship, and humor. My parents started dating 45 years ago, and it’s the stuff of fiction that they are still together. In short, my parents are wonderful people who may or may not have questioned whether they gave birth to an alien.
When my mother says, “You’re just like your father,” I’m not sure it’s a compliment. When my dad says, “You sound just like your mother,” I’m not sure that’s a compliment.
Recently, I sent my parents a link to something I’m a part of, and wrote “Spot the impostor.” And my dad texted back, “Proud Daddy.” Unlike a lot of my friends, my dad was always there for me. Really. It sounds Hallmark-like. It embarrasses the hell out of me when I meet strangers who know him; they know my entire life. What I can say about my dad is every time somebody complimented my looks, he would say something like “Yeah, and she’s a teacher.” Or “she just did a 90 mile backpack.” Or whatever recent accomplishment, and I don’t think he was conscious of how very-feminist-like that was of him, but in hindsight, it was very cool. People tend to compliment little girls on their looks, and well, that never really changes. And although my dad never told me as much, he did make me listen to James Brown tell it:
My dad has good taste in music. You see, he taught me the beauty of all things soul, R&B, and MoTown. And the importance of having a sense of humor.
And if he thought helped produce an alien, the men I’ve loved have been even more confusing, I’m sure. My parents always, always, always loved my friends. Even if their intuition told them otherwise, they gave everyone a chance that I brought home. To this day, many people I knew in high school cite my parents and the parties that I threw at their house (while they were out of town) a highlight of those years.
Here’s how amazingly smart my mother is—when I finally “admitted” to how I threw parties while they went camping she told me they knew all along. She said, “That Sunday night I’d come home to the cleanest house ever. I told your dad we should let you think you’re getting away with it because I knew all of your friends were helping to clean the house! It was great. I didn’t have to dust or clean the floor for three years.” Here I was thinking I was SO slick, and she was right. I made everyone who stayed over help me clean so I wouldn’t get caught. She also told me that she’d rather us be drunk and stupid at their house than someplace where we were driving. Smart cookie, that mum of mine.
So here’s three things I would tell your daughter: Never drink from a drink you haven’t seen poured. Never trust anyone’s digital personae if you haven’t meet him or her in person. Birth control is a mutual discussion, but a solo decision; you’re the one who has to live with the consequences.
The discussions I’ve been having lately with my friends who have teenagers, all three of these points are related. And yet, how do you not kill the mysteries of young love? the wonderfulness of first love? the fun of making mistakes? I don’t know, but what I do know is–sick people who I’ll call Dirtbag Romeo– have ways to manipulate young girls–your daughters–in ways that are deeply disturbing.
Reports of young college girls at UW getting their drinks spiked at frat parties worry me. I’ve had my drink spiked, and luckily my husband was there to rescue me and take me home. He was there to call poison control. He hid his rage until I felt better physically and mentally–I was so lucky.
Some sick jerk put something in my drink on election night in 2008. I remember nothing–I mean nothing–of the night. On the night that our country elected our first African American president, I remember little after Barry told his daughters they could get a dog.
We were at The People’s Pub in Ballard–a district of Seattle–a drinking house of liberals and lefties–mind you. Dirtbag Romeo can be anywhere on the political spectrum.
My husband was talking Richard Nixon era politics with some dude, and I wandered to make new friends. When somebody wants to talk Cold War politics, it makes my husband’s heart rate rise. He gets giddy! I vaguely remember some dirtbag looking at me, but then again, I don’t really remember. I was wearing an engagement ring, and wow, I guess that didn’t matter to Dirtbag Romeo. Here’s my mistake, I left my drink on the bar while I went to the restroom. Two hours later, there is nothing in my memory but blackness. I’ve never left my drink again unless I trust people, and neither should you. Are you aware of this nail polish that will detect if a drink has been spiked? This is the world your daughter lives in, folks.
And it really got me thinking about the mistakes that I made, and how I would have been completely vulnerable–on any form of social media–to a skilled writer who was an older man when I was age 14. Case in point: I worked at very large retail chain in high school, and one day this gorgeous “man” walked into the store, and started talking to me. He was 20. Later in life, six years is not that big of an age gap, but at that time, it was massive. And he came into the store to talk just to me. It all started because he was wearing a Depeche Mode shirt and Converse All-Stars. #Dreamy
I’d see him once or twice a week, and I was full on mad for this guy. He thought I was smart! Funny! Cute! He had read Atlas Shrugged and knew how to say Ayn Rand’s name correctly (Note how dumb I was, remember I was 14. Note that three years later, reading Rand outside of a class assignment would have been a total deal breaker.)
Well, it turns out, he was distracting me so that three of his friends could rob the store blind! These three dudes were stealing hundreds of dollars of jeans while Dirtbag Romeo was wooing me with the poetry he had written about me. When the police came—and these were downtown Atlanta, GA cops, not mall cops—I was beyond freaked out.
As I watched Dirtbag Romeo being handcuffed (they had the whole thing on video tape that he was an accomplice), he just shrugged and had this look of “Oh well.” Right then, I knew he wasn’t going to be crafting poetry about me while he was in a holding cell. My little girl heart broke and the thick skin of womanhood started to grow. And the hours I spent defending myself to the police and my managers, turned my crush turn to hatred. The managers defended me; I was crying myself sick. And luckily I was not implicated in the Dirtbag Dude shoplifting ring. No doubt Dirtbag Romeo has helped birth another Dirtbag Romeo. The line continues, I’m sure.
Back then, he couldn’t Google me. And I didn’t dare give him my landline phone number. My dad liked to scare the hell of guys who called me, so I knew the deep voiced 20 year old would get me grounded until I turned 18. My dad was Prom King in 1969, so he had a bit luck with the ladies, I imagine. Having a daughter gave him a new lens on life, I’m sure.
So the only place that Dirtbag Romeo could contact me was at work, and it was the best lesson. I developed a strong scent for Dirtbag Romeo—I didn’t always follow my best judgments, but I developed a question that help me filter out the potential dirtbags to “The Ones with Potential.” And this, I would teach your daughters.
Research Question (RQ): Name three men you looked up to when you were a kid.
Example Answers & Responses
Dude 1: Well, my dad, Ronald Reagan…
Recommended Response (RR): Check please! (Dad, good. The Gipper, very bad).
RQ: Name three men you looked up to when you were a kid.
Dude 2: Well, I didn’t look up to anyone. I’m my own man…
RR: Check please! (Macho BS alert, unless his dad was a dirtbag and left his mother. Give him a chance, but be careful).
I asked this question many times. And here’s was my best response, and this was the one I married. He said, without even thinking for more than 3 three seconds:
Evil Kneivel, John Lennon, and Luke Skywalker.
Me: Not Han Solo? He was way more handsome, and he had Chewbacca.
The One: Are you kidding? Chewy was cool, but Luke had The Force and the light sabor, and he got to hang out with Yoda. That’s all I thought about when I was a kid. That, and my BMX bike.
The rest, folks, is history. But warn your daughters, friends, about Dirtbag Romeo. If it’s too hard to tell her, give Aunt Alyson a call, she’d be happy to talk to her.