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Compartment 14B

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To Grommet: on dating, sex, and that whole Mars/Venus thing.

2005-10-03 - 3:16 p.m.

Dear Grommet,

Today is your dadís 30th birthday and today is the day we find out if youíre a boy or a girl. Since this is the last chance I have to write to you from a ďdonít-knowĒ perspective, I figure that maybe Iíll take the opportunity to give you my views on relations between the sexes.

First of all, I want you to know that I will love you and support you and that my judgement of your friends and partners will be largely based on how they treat you, and how interacting with them shapes you as a person. Whether you have relationships with members of the opposite sex or with members of the same sex, Iím okay with that and I think your dad will be too. Odds say youíll fall into the latter category, but if itís the former, it will only be difficult for us to the extent that it makes your life more difficult as a whole. No one likes to think of their child in danger and if the world hasnít changed as much as weíd like it to by the time you start dating, and there are still horrible and unjust things happening to gay people (gay-bashing comes to mind), well, weíll fear that sort of thing affecting you. So, with this paragraph in mind, Iím going to play the odds and move on to write from the perspective that thereís a 100% chance that, no matter what, youíll have to deal with members of the opposite sex in your life on a regular basis and the perspective that you will have at least one relationship with a partner in your lifetime.

Men and women are not the same and each has advantages and disadvantages over the other. Itís a biological fact and itís not sexist to acknowledge it. For instance, men are generally taller and stronger in the upper body; women generally have a lower center of gravity, a higher pain tolerance and stronger legs. We donít think the same way. We analyze problems and situations differently. We bond with people differently. And thatís all okay. I firmly believe that we are different but equal and I donít want to hear you making remarks that put someone down based on their sex (or based on their belonging to any specific group for that matter Ė racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. will not be tolerated in our house).

However, I want you to celebrate what makes you you, and to not put up with anyone putting you down because of who you are. If youíre a boy, Iím sure your father will be a source of learning about the ďmanlyĒ things that youíll need to know in life. If youíre a girl, well, I can do my best to provide you with essentials you need to know about that. Iím great with the biology, but I wonít be much use for teaching you about up-to-the-minute style or makeup, Ďcause those arenít big influences on me; I will try to find places for you to go for that kind of information if it interests you. No matter which sex you are, I hope to be able to provide an atmosphere that celebrates you reaching lifeís milestones like reaching puberty (if, of course, thatís what you want; if youíre painfully shy about such things Ė as I was Ė I hope Iím sensitive enough to that to not foist embarrassing rituals and celebrations on you).

Sooner or later youíll likely end up dating. Thereís no timetable that you have to follow for this so when youíre ready, youíll know. Youíll make mistakes, because everyone does. Youíll learn from them and make different mistakes the next time. You will find out someone likes you that way but you wonít like them back and you will have to be as careful and respectful as you can of their feelings when you let them know that you donít like them back. Even if you really canít stand them, try to be nice but firm about it. Youíll like someone who wonít like you that way back and itíll hurt you; youíll like someone and they will like you that way back, but at some point it still wonít work out, and itíll hurt even more (both of which will hurt your dad and I too, even though thereís nothing we can do but listen if you want to talk to us about it).

Believe me, no matter how much a boy or girl/man or woman hurts you, you will get past it, even if it doesnít feel like it at the time.

Hereís some motherly advice about these sorts of situations. Bear in mind that itíll be relevant at different ages and stages of your life:

Itís up to you to decide whether you want to let someone know you like them. But if you tell anyone, even your best friend, be aware that it could get back to the object of your affection. Friends sometimes try to be friends by interfering (but someone that you know lets your secrets out all the time just to put you in an embarrassing situation? Maybe not so much a real friend).

Treat others as you want to be treated is a good rule of thumb most of the time but in dating? Itís sometimes better to find out how they want to be treated and then go from there. Not everyone wants you to beat around the bush when telling them bad news, but not everyone could handle the direct, unvarnished truth. Be mindful of peopleís feelings.

If you have a date, make the effort to get spruced up enough to show that it means something to you that this person is going out with you. Be punctual. If youíre driving, open or at least unlock the passenger door first. Yes, even if itís raining. Especially if itís raining.

Your father and I will want to meet your date if they come to pick you up. If you pick them up weíll still want a chance to meet them when itís possible. Accept this now. Weíll try to resist doing anything embarrassing for you, but we might not succeed. Sorry.

Back in my dating days (when dinosaurs roamed the earth) my rule of thumb for paying on dates was this: if, on a first date, I liked someone enough to want to see them again at all, even as friends, I usually offered to pay for the meal; if I liked them enough to want to go on a second date, I didnít mind letting them pay; if I was undecided but they suggested splitting the cost, it put them in the ďfriend zoneĒ in my mind; but if I definitely wasnít interested and never wanted to see them again, Iíd insist on splitting the tab and paying for my portion, even if they offered to pay. You donít have to do things this way, itís just the way I did them. And this system evolved long after I actually started dating Ė at the beginning just work out what works for you and donít think that one of you should always pay all of the time.

If someone treats you badly or even if you get a bad feeling from them, trust your instincts and donít ever go out with them again. You deserve someone who makes you feel good about yourself, and anyone who truly cares for you will want you to feel good about yourself. No one who cares for you and respects you will pressure you to do anything you donít want to or make you do anything that will make you feel bad. Yes, this includes sexÖ which reminds meÖ

Sex is a natural part of a relationship between two people. Only you will know when the time is right for you. Even then, you might want to give it even more thought. I had lots of friends who ďknewĒ the time was right, only to look back later and regret how it had unfolded. I waited longer than most and I still wish Iíd waited for better circumstances. Your first time should be a memorable, positive experience, even beautiful if you can swing it (even if itís unavoidably awkward at the same time). Oh and it probably wonít be as fun as youíve been led to believe. It can take some time and some practice to get something like that right. As your mother, I hope you can share the fact that youíve reached that stage of your life, but Iíll tell you what, if you donít tell me any gory details, I wonít give you any gory details of what goes on between your father and I. Deal? There are some things that are definitely too much information.

NO MATTER WHAT, your first time should also BE SAFE (as should subsequent times, for that matter). If you think youíre mature enough to be having sex, you should be having sex maturely and responsibly. If you canít obtain protection from STDs and pregnancy because youíre too embarrassed to go to the right place for it (the drugstore, the doctorís, me, etc.)? Youíre not mature enough. Really. Think about it.

When youíve just started dating, or maybe even before youíve ever been on your first ďrealĒ date, if you find yourself at a school dance, and you see someone you like, or maybe you see someone who has done you wrong nearby, resist, at all costs, LIP-SYNCHING A SONG AT THEM that expresses your feelings Ė you will look back and cringe some day.

Having said that, do not be afraid of making the occasional grand, romantic gesture where you think itís needed. Even if it fails, it may be awkward at the time but you can hold your head up and say you tried, and the recipient of the gesture will always remember that someone thought them worthy of the effort.

Good luck and remember your dad and I will always be on the sidelines cheering for you, and weíll be there to both celebrate your successes and to catch you when you fall when weíre able.



P.S. I know this is selfish and probably a silly thing to say when youíre not even born yet, but one day I want grandkids to carry on my genetic line. It would be wonderful to see you start a family of your own but if you donít want kids (and I know that will be your choice to make, not mine), I still wouldnít be opposed to you donating gametes of some sort. Just a thought. Maybe you know some nice lesbian couple that might need your sperm, or some infertile couple desperate for an egg donor? No pressure though.

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