Do You Pursue Friendships with the Opposite Sex?

Photo courtesy of Pictures88.com

Photo courtesy of Pictures88.com

Cuddling and reading Harry Potter in bed with our daughter is one of the highlights of my evenings. Our nine year old is often talkative and revealing at bedtime, especially as we’re giggling about Ron and Hermione’s constant bickering. Little did I know these beloved characters’ mutual crush would provide fertile ground for an eye-opening, painful conversation.

After a juicy discussion of Ron and Hermione’s flirtatious antics, I playfully broached the subject of crushes, asking if my daughter had a crush on any kids in her class.

“I don’t have a crush on anyone,” she answered, avoiding my gaze.

Certain she was on the verge of opening up to me, I pressed on. “When I picked you up from school this afternoon, I thought I saw you staring at Joe, but not talking with him. Are your feelings for him similar to Hermione’s feelings for Ron?”

“No, mom, not at all,” she said. “I am nervous around him. But I’m nervous around all boys. I’m scared to talk to them, and I don’t know why.”

As tears flooded her lashes, Ava explained that she didn’t understand why she was so uncomfortable when all the other girls seemed to interact well with boys.

So much for my maternal instincts. Where I perceived an innocent first crush, my daughter was experiencing real discomfort. As I held her and brushed the hair out of her eyes, I realized I had little experience-based wisdom to impart on this topic. My own lack of male friends throughout my school years and beyond was not a formula I’d want my daughters to emulate.

The best I could offer in the moment was tell her she wasn’t alone, that I remembered being scared to talk with boys too, and was open to talking more about her fears whenever she wanted.

Sated by my response, she fell asleep in my arms, leaving me to review my own history of interacting with boys.

As one of three sisters with protective parents, I never spent much time around boys. I never made friends with them or really got to know them. For me, boys felt magical from afar; terrifying up close.

My past is littered with experiences of ignoring boys who were nice to me and wanted to be my friend in favor of longing for those who ignored me, wishing they would choose me for relationships. Although I had little actual experience interacting with boys, my obsession with them taught me lessons I don’t want to pass on to my children.

In kindergarten, my rogue classmate Devon grabbed me by the arms after school and attempted to plant a rough kiss on my cheek. I, in turn, hit him with my blue Barbie lunchbox, winning his devotion for the rest of the school year. Lesson:  play hard to get, the boys will love you.

In second grade, I eagerly tried to win over Edward, a scrawny, tow-headed boy who repeatedly ignored me and my offerings of the dry Stella D’oro anise cookies my mom packed in my lunch. Lesson:  Keep chasing, sooner or later you’ll win his affection. Or bring better cookies.

In fourth grade, I graduated to Donald, the tough neighborhood kid who rode his bicycle to my house and threw rotted green apples at my legs to win my affection. After several days of this mating ritual, my younger sister sprayed Donald with our garden hose, ending his infatuation. Lesson:  keep your smarter, braver sister away so you can enjoy the attention.

In sixth grade, my undying devotion to Michael, the nearsighted boy who never acknowledged my existence, led me to commit the first of many fashion don’ts – octagon shaped, wire-framed glasses to match his. Lesson:  do whatever it takes to make a boy notice you.

My high school and college years, with their mix of hormones and unrequited love, offered similar lessons; the more uninterested the male, the better. My motto:  completely ignore me, I’ll follow you forever. Be nice to me, want to be my friend, I’ll look through you to the unavailable guy in the corner.

While my relationships with men have blossomed with time, maturity and therapy, I don’t pursue male friendships. If I’m going to model healthy interactions with the opposite sex for my kids, I need to get some male friends. Stat.

I wonder what Devon, Edward, Donald and Michael are doing these days?

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What a Shame!

I’m never writing another blog post. I’m done. It’s too scary, too vulnerable; the feelings are too hard to control. And control is my middle name. It’s actually Lynn, but I’m convinced Control was my parents’ first choice. 

An aside:  while many parents today go out of their way to find unique, often unusual names for their offspring, in my mother’s family, a hearty Italian crew, her parents opted to take a less creative route in their naming. They recycled names with ease and impunity. Two of my aunts are Marie Angela and Angela Marie. Two of my uncles are Anthony Michael and Michael Anthony. And don’t get me started on all the Josephs and Marias! My family is a biblical naming wonderland.

I digress. Back to me and my feelings. Posting these blogs over the past few days has highlighted my feelings of fear and vulnerability in ways I haven’t felt before (and have felt all my life). I tell myself I don’t have the tools or the strength of character to handle this kind of public vulnerability. Granted, I’m defining the word “public” loosely. As of today only a handful of people, most of whom are dear friends and family members, are following my blog. But, but … I’ve never been one to let pesky facts get in the way of my opinions. I’m talking about feelings not facts here, people!  

Even after many decades of practice, I still care too much what other people think of me and not enough about what I think.

I spoke with a mom friend this week who commented on my blog. She asked me an innocuous question about the personal stuff I share on my blog. I immediately felt shame that I was doing something wrong by writing these blog posts. I doubt this mom was insinuating anything malicious. I’d like to assume she was being curious, interested and loving. But that way of thinking hasn’t yet taken hold in the synapses of my brain. Shame is still my go-to feeling, the roadblock that keeps me from growing, keeps me from trying new things. I’d rather focus on this mom’s reaction than on what feels right for me.

Apparently I’m modeling this insecurity for my girls.  This morning Rhys donned a new hair clip and asked Ava “Do I look pretty?” I interjected before Ava could reply. “Rhys, do you think you look pretty? Your opinion of yourself is the most important one.” She gave me a look that meant either:  “WTF are you talking about, Mom?” or “Butt out, Mom. Don’t locate your insecurities in me!”

Yes, I’m insecure about how others view me. I love the saying “it’s none of my business what others think of me” and while my brain believes it, my heart and gut have yet to catch up. I don’t like to learn new lessons, behaviors or skills. I like to acquire them, just not through the practice required to learn anything new, especially a new skill to replace one that has a well-worn groove in my psyche. So, rather than getting any more practice, I’m quitting. That’s it. I’m done.

While some of my legion of fans likely will breathe a collective sigh of relief, others will urge me to work through the shame and come out the other side. Ugh. Who would willingly sign up to do that? That must be the ultimate mark of mental illness! But, I am also aware that it is much more fun to obsess over what others think of me than to feel my own feelings of fear and joy. And today, right this minute, I’m willing to try something different (put my “big-girl pants” on).

So … here’s what my rational, loving, kind and trusting self has to say on this topic:  I love writing this blog. I’m having so much fun writing AND I’m enjoying the positive responses I’ve been getting from you. I’m human. I like validation. I’ll be explicit and ask for what I want even though it scares the shit out of me:  I’d like your continued support. I’d like your feedback.

Sharing myself in this way is a risk I’m willing to take. For today. One post at a time.

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