(In which I address the daughter I never had, with the advice I always wanted to give.)
Dear Imaginary Daughter,
Remember when we were trying on bathing suits, and lamenting that it was the actual worst? Not because of us—we are perfect–but because the lighting in fitting rooms is terrible, sizing is so crazy, and cuts can be deceiving, and how weird it looks to try on a swimsuit with your underpants all wadded up in there. Also, remember how exhausted we were after the workout we got? Whew! It was nice to stop sucking in our stomachs, and just sit down and have a burger. Ultimately, we had a great time because we enjoy each other’s company, but man…trying on swimwear can be demoralizing and tiring.
I was thinking about that when you told me that boy had asked you out.
Dating is a lot like trying on swimsuits.
Now, before I really dive into this, let me remind you that I know you and I are different people. You aren’t mini-me. I mean, you’re fortunate to have gotten my good looks, sparkling wit, and sense of style, but you are your own person, and you have your own life to live. I can only speak to you from my experience, and from the shared experiences of your many loving Aunties. For me, when I started dating, my end goal was really just to get to know people, and enjoy companionship. I knew I didn’t want to be married young. I had big plans, and none of those plans included tying myself down to one person until I was at least 28-years-old—an arbitrary age I pulled out of my fantastic backside.
I told the boys I dated that I was not going to sleep with them (because I didn’t want to be pregnant and ruin my big plans, or riddled with crotch rots and make my big plans itchy), I was not going to fall in love with them (because I’d read Romeo & Juliet and figured teenagers were too stupid to manage real romance), and I was going to date other people (because—and you might not want to know this—I was boy crazy. I loved ALL the boys. All of them. I wanted all of them. Like Pokemon. Why have just one, when I could have twenty-one?) This approach worked well for me because I ended up dating a lot of really good guys, and some of them are still friends today. There were only a few knuckleheads in the bunch.
As great as the boys I dated were, there was still always some kind of drama (mostly because of me—I’m dramatic), some kind of heartbreak, and some kind of something riding up in the back because it just wasn’t quite the right fit. And that’s how I get back to swimsuit shopping.
Like trying on swimsuits, dating plays an important part in making a commitment. Dating helps you figure out who you are in the context of romance, and helps you refine your wishlist against reality. It’s like how I loved that monokini, and thought it was the cutest thing on the rack—it was in my size, so I could have just bought it, but after trying it on, I could see that even though I loved it, and it looked cute on me, it wasn’t properly lined, so once it was wet everyone at the pool was going to get an eyeful of all the things I was trying to cover. I could still appreciate how cute the design was, and love looking at it, but I knew it wasn’t for me.
Dating helps you to understand the part passion plays against long-term compatibility. That red one-piece you love-love-loved (and we bought) is going to be perfect for a season, but it isn’t a high quality garment, so it isn’t going to wear well for long. It’s going to unravel at the seams. You can enjoy it while it lasts, and you can have really great memories of how seriously gorgeous it was on you, but once it’s gone, baby, it’s gone. We can try to stitch it back up, but it’s never going to be exactly right again. Some relationships—some friendships will be that way. Some relationships are meant to be, but they aren’t meant to last. That’s okay. You enjoy them, revel in the thrill of them, and write some terrible poetry when they end. Later, you can enjoy the memory, and also have a good laugh about how terrible the poetry is.
We also both tried on a couple of suits that were amazing, but were just out of our budget. Sometimes, for whatever reason, relationships cost too much. Maybe they are geographically unaffordable, or morally questionable*, or emotionally hazardous, but we can look at them and say, “This would be really cute to wear to the beach, but the buyer’s remorse would be so great, I couldn’t even enjoy being seen in it.”
I think we are both woman enough to admit that sometimes the suit is great, but we are the problem. We won’t talk about that, though. We’ll just leave it at: We are wise enough to know that we all have issues we need to work on, and it is up to us to be brave enough, and compassionate enough to say, “I understand this isn’t working for you, and while I have enjoyed every second, I don’t own you, and I wish you well.”
Something else to consider is the difference between a fitting room, and the beach. The fitting room isn’t reality. The beach is reality. The beach is where you really find out just exactly how weird your tan-lines are going to be, how much sand is going to make it into your person, and what’s going to happen when the sea gets rough with the top of your two-piece (hint: never wear a bandeau top into the ocean—or attempt a dive in one. Or wear one at all. They make your boobs look like stress balls.) No matter what goes on in the fitting room—the place where you are dating your swimsuit and deciding whether, or not to take it home—you aren’t going to learn what that swimsuit is really like until it is on you, in public. And you aren’t going to know what you really look like in that suit until you quit sucking in your stomach, and you sit down to eat a burger while you’re wearing it.
We are our best selves, or are pretending to be our best selves when we are dating. You have to keep that in mind. If your date isn’t treating you well while you’re still in the fitting-room stage of your relationship, he (or she—whatever floats your boat) isn’t going to treat you better once the tags are off. That’s a fact, sweet pea. Don’t leave the fitting room with something that doesn’t work there—because it’s only going to look worse once you get it home. And what in the world will make you sadder, or make your life more in-the-moment-awful than an ill-fitting swimsuit? Only an ill-fitting relationship.
One last thing: We try on swimwear while wearing our underpants to protect our bits from any genetic material that might have been left in the swimsuit by the last person to try it on. And stores want us leaving on our underpants so that we don’t sludge up the suit ourselves. It is my opinion that unless you are pretty sure you’d like to have this suit long-term, you should keep your pants on. It is my opinion that unless you are pretty sure you’d like to have the relationship long term, you should keep your pants on—not because of any moral compunctions, but because you have big plans, and you don’t need to get pregnant, or have a prescription written.
That said, if you do try on a suit without your underwear, be sure the suit has one of those sanitary strips in the crotch. In plain English, use protection! Use more than one form! And talk to me about it because I’ll be honest about a) the best protection to use—your health is more important to me than your virginity, b) the best combinations of protection to use—because they all fail, and you need backup, and c) whether I think this is a smart decision. And I’ll say it as lovingly as I did when I suggested we go on over to Dillard’s to see if there was a suit you might like more than the one we almost bought at Macy’s. Because I love you, and I’ve lived a little longer than you have, and I would be a bad mother if I didn’t try to point you in the direction of something better. (And you can always call an Auntie. I’ve made sure to surround you with smart, loving Aunties. Talk to one of us.)
What I’m trying to say is that I fully support you dating, and dating many, many people. Dating is trial and error. Dating is fun, and exciting, and also painful, and awful. I’m going to be here for you through all of it.
Now, about that boy. I’d like to meet him first.
*Stay out of those. Stay out of those because you end up hurting more people than you can ever heal.