When your daughter becomes a teenager – or likely even before – you, as a mom, tend to look back on your own life, on those early relationships. If you’re like me, you hope and pray she avoids most, if not all, the disasters and pitfalls you seemed to find yourself in. As the Princess has been asking about dating, boys, and relationships, I’ve been revisiting all those old crushes, heartbreaks, train wrecks. I was a very insecure, very needy, very unsure girl. She is none of those, but still I worry.
In college, I dated two boys (in my mind, they don’t qualify as men at that stage of life for the most part, especially these boys) who managed to jack my life pretty severely. The first nearly destroyed every last shred of self-esteem. I don’t know who the girl was who let him in so completely, who let him take so much from her. I’m not the person anymore. While I’m not sure I would be who I am had I not lived that particular episode, I could live without the damage he wrought. It took me years to recover. When boy #2 came along, he seemed to be exactly what I needed, and I would have done anything to keep him. I’m not sure he knew that fact, but I know he liked passive, submissive, spineless, subservient me.
When I look back, I don’t blame him for who I became with him. I did it. I let it happen. I gave up all control. I gave up myself. I spent all my time and energy trying to make and keep him happy. When I knew things weren’t going to be to his exact liking, I found myself forming pre-emptive arguments and apologies in my mind. I was terrified of failing, terrified he would see the worthless me behind it all, and leave. I lived and breathed to be the perfect girlfriend for him. For awhile, I was exactly that. He proposed. I was ecstatic. All my dreams realized, right? Not so much. The more control I gave, the more he took. I realized I hadn’t seen much of my family for months. We were too busy with his family. I didn’t have any real friends. He didn’t like me to hang out with anyone but him, or so he said. We ate where he wanted, saw the movies he preferred. My world grew smaller and smaller. Old friends tried talking to me about it. I shut them down. They didn’t understand how much he loved me. They were just jealous of what we had. Why couldn’t they just support me in my happiness?
One day, I started talking with a boy who had been a good friend for a couple years. The boy had asked me point blank if I were happy. I looked at him incredulously, and flashed my ring in his face. He said to me, “You look happy, and you’re acting happy, but you don’t feel happy.” At that moment, my boy walked up. It wasn’t pretty from there. But the boy’s words stuck with me. They haunted me. I started listening to myself. I started listening to my boy. I didn’t like what I heard. I didn’t like what I saw in myself. I started pushing back, finding freedom from his control. He didn’t like it. We argued, fought, stewed. And on one tearful, fearful night a few months later, I told him it was over. It was scary to take that step, to veer from the path of a planned life especially with college graduation just a few short months away. But I felt I could breath when I told him to go.
I know why I had let myself become that person who gave all control of her life to another person. Looking back, I completely understand it. But I m thankful someone had the courage to wake me up and help me pull myself out of that place. I wasn’t immediately strong. It took time, and it took practice. When you are used to asking someone permission for everything you do, everywhere you go and when you go there, when you are used to someone telling you how to dress, who to talk to, who to be friends with, you are lost when it’s gone. But day by day, I slowly took back control of my life, and I grew stronger.
I have talked with Princess about this relationship. I hope it stays somewhere in the back of her mind. She’s a strong girl who knows her mind. I know how easy it is to lose that, or give it up for someone. It worries me what may come into her life as she continues to evolve and grow into a woman. I don’t see her going down this road, but then if you had shown me the person I would become during the time when I was thirteen, I never would have believed it either.