You expect your kids to come to you for love advice because you’ve been through it all. You’ve had your share of heartaches and ecstasy; you were young once and you’re not dead yet. And nothing really changes, right? Human beings are physically what they always were, pretty much. Basic drives are the same. Man still meets woman and—
Oops. No. My kids would stop me right there.
“God, Mom,” they would say—and frequently do. “’Man meets woman’? That’s so heteronormative of you.”
But adding “And man meets man and woman meets woman” doesn’t help me.
“What about asexuals? Or pansexuals? Or non-cisgenders?” My kids all know someone who’s a “they” or an “it” or a “ze,” and when I’m careless and fall back into the habit of simply dividing people into gay and straight, they tell me I don’t get it.
And that’s just one of the things I don’t get.
The truth is, for all my attempts to keep up and stay open-minded, I’m still hopelessly out of date when it comes to modern social and sexual mores. Too much has changed too quickly in the almost 30 years since I met my husband and stopped dating.
Take texting. It didn’t exist when I was a young adult. Neither did email. You had to pick up a phone if you wanted to talk to your crush—and that was terrifying. Phones were all landlines back then, and odds were good that a parent or sibling would answer and you’d have to explain who you were and why you were calling before you could even talk to the person you were trying to reach.
Are you sweating yet? Because I promise you that we were all sweating when we were placing those calls. Sweating and hoping that a miracle would happen and our crush would pick up the phone—or that no one would answer at all, because the more you thought about it, the more this whole thing seemed like a bad idea and you had no idea what you were going to say and if you messed up and sounded stupid, your life was over because you had to see them in school every day from then on.
Now you can just send a text.
Hey, you going to the thing tonight?
It’s so easy. It’s so clean. It’s so casual and mellow and noncommittal.
And I’m so jealous.
You don’t even have to know someone to start texting: there’s a lot of ways to meet online. Your crush may not be a classmate. Your crush may be someone you’ve never even met.
Of course, that can lead to a whole new problem: coming face to face with someone for the first time after you’ve already shared secrets. I’ve asked my kids what this is like, and they say it can be weird and awkward and even disappointing … but they don’t question the necessity of doing things this way any more than we questioned the necessity of picking up a phone to ask someone out.
I always thought romance started with a flirtatious glance, progressed to a conversation, went on to dating, crescendoed in physical intimacy, and if all went well, ended in commitment.
But now kids hook up quickly. You meet someone interesting at a party, odds are good you’ll be making out with him/her/they/ze by the end of it. If that goes well, you’ll text each other later. And if sparks kindle, you might eventually meet up one-on-one.
“Shouldn’t dating come first?” I ask my kids. “Before hooking up?”
They’re horrified at the thought. “You mean sit and eat dinner with someone you barely know? That would be so weird.”
“Isn’t it weirder to make out with someone you barely know?”
“No,” they say.
I don’t want to be the kind of parent who can’t acknowledge that things change. Maybe for me physical intimacy had to come after some emotional connection had already been made, but for my kids, physical intimacy is less scary than emotional intimacy, which takes time to establish. So why not start with the easy part and figure out the rest, by texting and teasing and discussing and flirting and arguing—all from a safe distance?
My kids don’t come to me for love advice. And I don’t blame them. I know too little about how things work now. But they do come to me just to talk. So I listen … and learn.