I have a new theory about dating. We think we date to find sex, get attention, fall in love, lasso a partner, and/or accidentally-on-purpose end up married. That’s not it. Dating prepares us for children.
There is, of course, a literal sense in which this is true. In my experience, dating can lead directly to children. Do not pass Go, do not get married (or do, your call), do not collect $200, but do start paying way more than that, every month, for daycare. Dating leads to sex, sex makes relationships and/or babies – and voila! – you’re a single mom. (I am fully aware that some people will argue that the formulation ‘sex makes relationships’ is inaccurate or immoral. They are wrong.)
Still, my point is over there lurking in the bushes. Dating is a thicket where the wild animals play and prey and only the thick-skinned and sociopathic survive with their self-esteem intact. The rest of us retreat to facebook or get married.
I hate rejection. In grade school, rejection is a heart-melting note that says “I would like to take you on a date but I don’t have a car because I’m ten” followed the next day by a quick kick in the shins (hello Jeff. Long time. I still have the note). As an adult, it is pretty much the same thing, except now the men usually have cars and cannot be bothered to kick you. And that is the healthy scenario. When they actually kick you – well that is another, more serious topic altogether.
Dating is rejection. Some relationship experts advise women (and men) to approach dating as a numbers game. You date a whole lot of people until you stumble upon one person who is the least objectionable of the bunch, and then you keep him (or her). For the most part, in dating and in calculus, I am just way too lazy to do the math. [Note to my daughters: look away. Do not listen to Barbie, mainstream society or the weak metaphors of your mother. Math is NOT hard.] So to me, dating and rejection are the same stinky animal. You present your all-dressed up, pretty-chattering self to someone and they say ‘err, no thanks.’ Add gin. Add lipstick. Repeat.
Oh, the scary injustice of it all. The men I date are not even rejecting my no make-up, barefoot, drinking-apple-juice-directly-from-the-fridge self. No, they’re rejecting the good-bra-wearing, boobs-on-a-tray, martini-sipping, perfectly-assembled, fabulous me. The horror. The horror.
But, I argue, that pain is nothing compared to the epic story of unrequited love titled “Children”.
Rumour has it that pregnancy and childbirth stirs up hormones that make you emotional. I hereby officially confirm this rumour. I wept during MADD commercials and nature programs; spent hours worshipping my sleeping baby whose birth was a cosmic event that would, hands-down, outshadow the second coming of Christ if I believed in that sort of thing; was suddenly overwhelmingly in love with my partner and ignored the all medical advice about waiting six weeks to have sex; and teared up and almost french-kissed the convenience store clerk for telling me that he liked my hair.
And I fell in love with my mother.
When I saw my beloved, magnificent, miracle-baby in my mother’s arms, the fraught kaleidoscope of mother-daugther angst cleared to reveal a truth that levelled me. The way I overwhelmingly love, adore, fear, and worship my daughter, how I know that she is the best of me and more, is the way my mother loves me.
I am that loved. I am that loved.
To walk in this kind of love and knowledge brings a power and a grace to the most mundane moments. When I brush my daughter’s hair at night and wind her curls into braids, I remember my mother making Laura-from-Little-House-on-the-Prairie braids for me. I think about my mother’s mother braiding her hair at night and in the mornings, too. The stories of mothers and daughters are woven in braids.
This love, the love of my mother and my motherly love, protects me every day. Every day my heart is casually, inevitably and mercilessly broken by children, who squirm out of my lap, dodge kisses, scream on the way to the naughty corner that they want their father, and un-invite me to their birthday parties. My children, who grow stronger, smarter, more beautiful, and more devious every day. Who weep and tell me they wish mommy and daddy lived together. Who tell me “mama. wait. I’m busy. You have to wait for me just like I wait for you when you are busy.” Who grow more into themselves and further away from me with every breath. Who one day in the hot ruthlessness of adolescence will strip the scales from their eyes and see clearly that I am a flawed, inadequate mother and a person and recoil. My children, my babies, my heart, who will one day be embarassed by my extravagant love and hovering and the fact that I exist.
And this is why I date. This is why I am, at long last, resilient enough to brave the thickets of sexual rejection. The slights of a beastly lover are nothing compared to the wilds of disregard that I travel with my children. Children are dangerous game. They will never, ever love you as much or as hard or as continually as you love them and they do bite the hand that feeds them. The cruel paradox of parenthood is that you raise the loves of your life to leave you.
This, by the way, is why your mother and the Whole Damn World wants you to have children. It is grand circle-of-life stuff. Intimate, divine secrets about how and why we are here (to love, suffer, and create) are revealed in that instant when the karmic boomerang of unrequited, unconditional and eternal love hits you square in the chest. The shock of it takes your breath away. Your heart stops beating just for a whispering second and then starts again stronger, harder, louder, deeper, more.