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the interested in boys switch got thrown on bella recently. both before and after the switch a few boys have shown interest in bella. obviously since the switch, bella has shown interest in a few boys. also obviously, bella has been asking when she can start dating. the short answer has been "not yet". her repeated and consistent reply has been "then when?". marty is inclined to say something like "well, i guess i started dating when i was around fourteen so fourteen sounds about right". i am more inclined to say something like "that depends on you my dear".

you can imagine how unsatisfactory the "depends on you" answer must be to a smitten girl of twelve. but she has crested other "depends on you" hills and knows it is about the expectations. the problem in this case has proven to be her father's verbalization of those expectations. it all came on so fast i didn't feel like i had time to get my wits about me before being asked to make decisions, decisions i felt carried largish consequences.

during our summer vacation, bella and i shared a private moment, not a super frequent thing on a multi-sibling, two-week family vacation. one day we found ourselves canoeing down a remote creek in central pennsylvania. in the middle of the ride bella pushed the dating point again. between the relaxation of the extended vacation and the calm and quiet of our canoe adventure and having had time to give the matter some proper thought and, most importantly, sensing my captive audience, i dropped into what bella calls my lecturey mode and said the following to my daughter in regard to boys and dating.
when i say it depends on you bella, what i mean is it depends on when your mother and i get the sense that you are mature enough to handle yourself in a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. if you're wondering what that means, to me it is my knowing that you will, without exception, make good choices and protect yourself in such a relationship. when it comes to your girlfriends, if a girl is disrespectful to you or litters or is dishonest or is mean to others you are quick to call them on it and if they don't respond, you are quick to change your relationship with them. i need to know, with absolute certainty, that you will exercise the same sense and expectation in your dating relationships and that a boy doesn't get a pass with you because he's cute or popular or has a beach house you want to go to.

and when you ask me what i think of some boy, like andrew, my answer will always be the same, "i don't know what i think of andrew because i don't know andrew, you do." i'm not spending time with him, i won't see how he treats you when you're alone or when you're with friends and if he's consistent and respectful in how he treats you. maybe he is nice to you when you're alone but not when his friends are around and he makes fun of you because you ask a question about how lacrosse works. i'm not going to be there to see those exchanges which means i have to be confident you will police and protect yourself in those relationships because you're the one in them. so in short, when i know you will hold your boyfriends to the same standard i see you hold your everyday friends, then i will say you are old enough to date.

(multi-minute pause)

and for a more concrete example bella, think of it like school. there was a time mom and i told you when to go to bed, when to do your homework, when to get up, what to wear, what to take for lunch and on and on. we made virtually every decision for you. now we don't get involved in any of those details. why? because you're all over it. you bring home straight As. we don't have to wake you in the morning. hell, sometimes you wake your mother up. you've never missed the bus. we get nothing but rave reviews from your teachers. as long as you keep managing your school affairs to that level of excellence you will never, ever, ever hear me comment on how you're conducting yourself when it comes to any of that stuff, namely because you know what's going on better than i do and as long as you handle your business to that standard, i don't have to get involved. that's where you want to get to in regard to dating. and technology. and money. and eating. and exercising. the only time you'll hear me comment is if i think you're making bad choices that can hurt you.
so now you have a small taste of what it's like being my now boy-crazy daughter as well as why she has dubbed such moments as lecturey. the part you didn't get to see in the front canoe seat during my monologue is how she was near quaking with excitement (it was so pronounced i could sense this looking at nothing but the back of her head) learning that she held the keys to this part of her life and that, as the saying in our home goes, one bella has forbidden me from ever saying out-loud to her again, "it's your game to lose".




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