To my sweetest girls,
For the purposes of this conversation their names don’t matter. How old or young I was when I knew them doesn’t matter. How deep my feelings were or long the relationship lasted isn’t important. What is important is that these people lived (and I’m pretty sure continue to, I just don’t really check). They were. And before your daddy and I met I was, too. I existed. I lived and loved. I was a whole, flawed, feeling person who gave and received love. And you know what? Daddy is okay with that. In fact, Daddy knows I wouldn’t be who I am today without those experiences.
Why do I want you to know I loved others before your dad came along? It’s complicated, even to me, but I’m going to do my best to explain it to you. You see, I feel like there’s this movement now back to old school values in which a woman’s worth is directly tied to things like her virginity, her quality as a romantic partner, and whether or not she’s “been around,” back to a woman’s defining characteristic being the men she’s tied to i.e. who her father, husband, or even son is. In fact, I read an article the other day about a man leading a “get them married” movement in the US which encourages fathers to marry off their teenage sons and daughters. The leader of this movement and similarly named website, Vaughn Ohlman, said that “bad marriages” are still preferable to no marriage at all. He discussed consent by saying that, “God has designed the marriage relationship (in particular that of the virgin daughter marrying the virgin son) to be a relationship initiated by the parents, in particular the fathers, of the young couple.” Eew. Know that I think this is, well, totally yucky. His daughter in law posted on her own blog (because yes, I web stalked these people) that, “The problem is that brother-and-sister relationships are by definition non romantic, and thus romantic relationships are unable to be brother-sister relationships. There’s no neutral ground. It’s like asking someone to draw a purple whale with a yellow marker.” I’m going to take this opportunity to translate the crazy for you. She’s saying that there are only two types of available appropriate relationships for peers. You are either like a brother and sister or you should be married. There should be no in between. There should be no feelings of romance, of real and intense physical or emotional attraction. Those feelings, she says, develop surprising quickly after marriage but should not before hand. I’m here to tell you that if there’s any person you can look at as a sibling, there’s no way you should ever consider them as a partner. The same goes in the opposite fashion as well. I hope your partner never looks at you and sees a sibling. Not before you’re in a relationship and certainly not during. I hope, instead, that they see a beautiful, strong, independent, capable, poised woman whose future is as beautifully alluring as her present. I hope, eventually, your partner sees the unfathomable mystery of someone who could hold their entire future in her hands. I hope for you girls that your romantic interests look at you and see lazy days on a foreign beach, the sun setting over sugary white sands and rapid heartbeats as hands reach for yours at the movies for the first time. I don’t wish for someone who simply thinks, “that girl, she’d make a great helper for me.”
Your dad and I went to a wedding the other day where the bride and groom seemed smugly pleased that they had never kissed before their union. This totally baffled me. How did they know they would even enjoy kissing one another? It’s happened that way for me before. There was a boy I thought I really liked; like minded, interesting, cute. The first time he kissed me was completely…vanilla. It wasn’t his fault. We just weren’t meant to be. We weren’t compatible that way. My hope for you is that you know the difference. Know the difference between someone whose kisses are okay and someone whose kiss roots you to floor, whose kisses still your shaking hands. Should you ever choose to marry, marry someone whose kisses will still make time stop for you after sixty years of loving.
I knew your dad was the one because the way I felt about him couldn’t compare in any way to the relationships I had before. I remember there were times when I dated that I let the phone go to voicemail for a multitude of reasons; I was with my friends, I was running, I was on my way to work and just needed the solitude of a quiet car before the chaos of customer service. I probably did this with your dad too. But the time came when just seeing his name on my phone made my heartbeat faster, when hearing the simple retelling of his day became more peaceful to me than the hum of a car engine on the road. It didn’t take me long to fall head over heels, no going back in love with him. I knew it was the one because I knew it was so magically different. May you know the difference as well.
Healthy relationships, even those that eventually end with breakups, aren’t a mistake. They’re a chance to grow and learn, about who you are, who you want to be, what kind of relationships are worth your time and energy. I hate this assumption that when people end a romantic relationship they leave a piece of their heart behind, they shatter and will be unable to offer their next partner their whole, pure self. People aren’t puzzles or vases. People have an endless capacity both to learn and to love. People also aren’t property. They do not become less valuable or tarnished by use.
So yes, I dated and even fell deeply in like with people before I met your dad. Someday you’ll ask, and I want you to know that asking is okay. It’s okay that it happened and okay if it happens for you too. If your first romantic partner is the love of your life, great. If you have to kiss some frogs, be aware that most of us do. I was someone’s frog once upon a time too. If you’re like Tiana and your frog eventually grows into your prince after adventures and personal growth, that’s okay too. Just know the difference. Don’t let anyone talk you into believing that having frogs somehow diminishes your or their worth. It doesn’t. It won’t. To me you’ll always be priceless. To the right partner you will as well.