When my friends reminisce about childhood days spent getting sent to the principal's office, or instigating playground drama, or going on awkward middle school dates to even-more-awkward middle school dances, I have nothing to share. I was home-schooled.
Growing up, my siblings and I took classes through local zoos, museums and even home-schooling co-ops, where parents got together to teach classes on art and science and everything in between. But, in the end, I was primarily educated at the kitchen table, taking notes on a lecture from Professor Mom.
Long before I was old enough to have a crush on anyone other than Jonathan Taylor Thomas, my parents talked to me about dating. They assured me boys were a distraction and warned me about the emotional roller coaster that accompanied falling in love. They gave me books with titles like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and When Dreams Come True: A Love Story Only God Could Write. They packed my seven siblings and I into our 15-passenger van and hauled us off to see speakers who championed purity and finding love the "right way"—God’s way.
Throughout all of those books and speakers and family heart-to-hearts, I never heard anyone say anything positive about dating. According to my parents, it was one big mess that I should avoid at all costs. They didn’t believe in dating, they believed in "courting": a ritualized, highly supervised imitation of dating where the man asks the father if he can court his daughter and the two go on supervised outings until they get married. No sex. Very little hand holding. Kissing is frowned upon.
Courting is often a religious decision, and while there are plenty of kids who are educated at home for other reasons, home-schooling and God were so intricately intertwined in my family that it's hard to separate the two. Ultimately, I rejected the courting model. It seemed silly, unrealistic and, quite frankly, a big hassle. I had a hard enough time getting dates, much less finding some guy who would be interested in talking to my lawyer-father or going on a date with my little sisters in tow.
Despite my rejection of the courtship ritual, my parents' lessons bequeathed me with a pragmatist's attitude toward modern love. I gave it a chance, but thought dating was ultimately distracting me from my real goal: graduating from college. On the rare occasion that a guy asked me out, I didn’t give him much longer than the first date to impress me. Before I met the man who became my husband, I went out with three guys for exactly one month each. I broke it off each time.
The harsh practicality that colored the way I approached love both helped and hurt me. It helped because I was able to clearly evaluate potential partners before we ever got to the "dating" part. I didn’t lead people on or get caught in a cycle of dating drama. I wasn’t blinded by emotion. But it hurt in that I didn’t give a lot of well-meaning men a chance. I pushed people away, and likely missed out on some pretty awesome friendships.
I remember one guy (we'll call him Henry) who was doing his best to woo me. He came to my house, met my parents, brought me flowers and took me out to as nice a dinner as a college student can afford. But I was bored. Instead of trying to get to know him, my mind kept racing to the future. Would we be compatible? Could I handle his love of Star Wars as long as we both shall live? If we married, would I have to live in rural Minnesota? I broke up with him a week later. Henry cried at the news and I hung up. Now, when I think back to my cold "it's not going to work" speech, I cringe. Poor Henry. I have no doubt he is better off without me.