If you MUST love another woman besides me ... she better love you like I do!
When you were a baby, I imagined you growing up to become "all things boy."
I envisioned mud pies and frogs in my bathtub, wrestling in the living room, and playing football in the yard. I thought of the broken bones from falling out of trees, the constant smell of dirty socks and aftershave, snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, because "that's what little boys are made of."
As you grew, most of my premonitions came true, along with the sweet stuff I never expected—like picking flowers and wanting to brush my hair, baking really messy surprise breakfasts, and of course, the compliments and promises of a child (like you saying, "You're so pretty, Mommy! I want to marry a girl just like you someday!").
Wouldn't that be amazing? ... Yes! I want you to marry a girl just like me, too, because then I just might like her.
But more importantly, a girl just like me will unconditionally love you ... just like I do.
Unfortunately, there is no one "just like me," just as there will be no one else "just like" the woman you fall in love with; we are all unique individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses (although clearly she will have more weaknesses than me).
So instead of locking you in your room with a bag of Doritos and your PS3 until you are 30—which was my original plan—I want to share some dating advice with you that I hope you'll always remember when searching for the love of your life:
1. Let yourself fall in love.
We always hear about "love at first sight" and "soul mates", but the truth is that love has levels. The love you feel today will sweep you off your feet and you will believe you can't live without that person who holds your heart.
But, kind of like how you have to tear a muscle to grow it, each time your heart tears a little, it will grow back stronger and capable of expanding and experiencing even more. Who knows, you may find your "forever love" in high school (like your dad and I did), but don't make that a requirement of the people you date.
Dating isn't meant to break you. If your first, second, or twelfth loves don't work out, it will hurt ... but it's not the end of the world. Let each relationship teach you and remind you that no matter what, you are worthy of BIG love.
2. Dance, even if you suck at it.
Everything about relationships is a dance. We move, we trip, we laugh, we connect, we let loose, we embrace, we touch and we feel. The guys acting all cool at the side of the dance floor aren't experiencing life and they aren't being seen.
Let yourself be seen and let the person you're with know that you see them, too. Besides, there's nothing hotter than a guy who is so comfortable in his own skin that he is willing to dance and laugh at himself just to get close to you and see you smile.
3. Laugh at yourself.
Dating is better if you don't take it (or yourself) too seriously. The world is full of drama and tragedy and heartache, so don't create more of it in your relationships.
You'll make mistakes and you'll probably get into disagreements, because that's what happens in the real world. The most important thing is to know that no one can make us angry without our permission, and we don't have to participate in every argument we're invited to.
Your Dad and I have learned to ask in tense situations, "Is happiness more important, or being right?" I hope you always choose happiness.
4. Say "yes" to the girl who elevates your mind, not your status.
There is something more important than looks or popularity, and even sex. Are you ready? It's connection.
I know that sounds super boring and you're thinking that I really just don't get it, but it's true. The girl who makes you think, question, dream, want to try new things, and pay attention in that class you hate—THAT is the girl who will also want to spend time with you, even if there isn't an event to attend or a party to go to.
She's the one who makes you want to go on hikes and picnics, just so you aren't distracted by the noise of others. She may even make you forget your cell phone when you're with her!
Don't base your affection on the person who makes you feel like you need them in order to feel accepted; instead, wait for the person who sees your worth, shares your passions, and values who you already are.
5. You always have the choice to become the hero or villain.
Ever since you could talk, you've been obsessed with superheroes. Not so long ago, Halloween wasn't properly Halloween without a Buzz Lightyear, Batman, or Spiderman costume (which you'd continue wearing long after, until the seams blew out).
Although you've long outgrown the costume phase, as a young man, you have even more of an opportunity to once again play the hero. I know you swore to me that you won't let a drop of alcohol touch your lips until your 21st birthday, but I know better.
I also know that situations occur where someone makes a poor choice or feels coerced into a scenario they want to get out of ... it may even be you! You may actually have a girlfriend say, "no," or, "stop," or even, "wait," and when that happens you must listen to her and respect her choices.
And if you hear or see someone in a situation you know is dangerous or threatening to them, it's okay to turn into the hero. Even if the other people laugh at you or make fun of you, listen to your gut and always go with what is "right."
I want you to understand and always remember who we raised you to become. "Be that person who, if someone tried to spread a nasty rumor about you, no one would believe them."
6. Don't kiss and tell.
This sounds so old-fashioned but believe me, the world needs more of it! When you find someone you want to share the most intimate pieces of your life with, keep them intimate (that means personal and private). Today, that phrase may go more like:
Don't kiss and Snapchat it, don't make out on YouTube, and don't talk about how far you got on Facebook. You get the idea. If the only reason you're excited for intimacy with someone is because you can blast the "proof" out on social media, you're not ready for intimacy.
And if the girl you are dating starts sending you anything you wouldn't show to me or your grandmother, she is not going to respect your privacy either. Find someone with the integrity to keep your private life private.
7. Hold the door, always.
No matter what you may hear, you should always hold the door. It is polite and courteous ... and because I'm your mother and I said so.
Along with the door, remember your other manners, too. Say "please" and "thank you", be on time, dress like you care about how you look, and don't text when someone is talking to you. Your buddies may not always appreciate your good manners. Hell, half of your generation may not even know what manners are!
But trust me, 10 years from now when you look back on this part of your life and how it molded who you are as a man, partner, and even a parent yourself, the choices you made and the reputation you built will be way more important than the people who didn't appreciate you.
8. Know that you always have someone to talk to.
I realize that parents are weird and embarrassing. They don't know as much as you, and we absolutely couldn't possibly ever understand what you are going through! But we do get it. Not only have we been exactly where you are, but we also thought the same things about our parents when we were young.
Truth be told, I HATE the thought of another woman stealing your heart. But I promise I will never allow those feelings of sadness—and the overwhelming desire to protect you from anything that could hurt your feelings or break your heart—keep me from being there to support you.
Dating is serious stuff with serious decisions to make and important questions to ask and answer. I hope you will always trust me to tell you the truth, guide you in the best direction, and gross you out with answers and details you don't want to hear.
Know that no matter what, I may not always like the choices you make, but I will always love you—and I loved you first, so remember that when you have to choose between going on a date or visiting your mother!
Tara Kennedy-Kline—Parenting Coach, Author, Radio/TV Host. www.tarakennedykline.com.