Mom-isms: Lessons Learned from a Conversation with Mom — Lesson One

Mom and I sat at the table with spoons in hand … the pints of ice cream sitting between us. Mom was dying of cancer, and she wanted to impart some sage wisdom from her own life before our conversations looked more like me talking and her not being able to respond. She dove right in ….

“Don’t be anyone’s girlfriend. It’s a trap”, she stated matter-of-factly and between mouthfuls.

“A trap?” I sputtered, ice cream leaving my mouth in a spray…

“Yes. Being in a relationship is practice for being in a relationship. You don’t need practice, you need to figure out what you want from a relationship.” Mom said.

“Hmmmm …. What do you mean?” I asked, not sure where she was going with this.

Mom: “I mean have lots of suitors.”

Me: (snickering a little at her use of such an old-fashioned term) “Suitors? Mom, do you mean dates?”

Mom: (a little exasperated at my snickering) “Yes — dates. They called them suitors in my day. Anyway, have lots of them. At the same time. Go out on lots of dates. Meet lots of people and do lots of things that will stretch you and make you grow as a person. Don’t get tied down with just one.”

Me: “Okay. Well, in my day — we call those kind of people ‘players’ — they’re just out for a good time without any commitment and they lead you to believe that you’re the only one when you’re not. They play with your heart. It’s quite deceitful, actually. You want me to be a player?”

Mom: “Don’t be that kind of player. Be the kind that tells them up-front that you’re just dating and you don’t want to be anyone’s girlfriend. Not theirs — not anyone’s. Be the kind that is happy with just going out and doing something interesting. Not forever. And not only with them.”

While the player she described sounded adventurous, honest and fun; it also didn’t sound even remotely possible in the world of online dating and such, where weeding out players was at the top of everyone’s list — and here was my mom suggesting that I be one!

“Um…” I stammered, “But mom, those kinds of players don’t really exist. Completely unattached, free spirits with tons of dates — who all know about each other. Women who go out and do interesting things with lots of different guys, none of which are her boyfriend. Those kinds of women don’t exist.”

Mom: “You exist.”

Me: “Well, yes. But … you want me to be a player?”

Mom: “Is it the word that bothers you — player? Let’s think of a different one then …. another way of describing it.”

“Yes. The word bothers me. I like your description — but not the word. I was thinking more like a partner — someone to go out and do stuff with. An adventure partner!” I exclaimed, happy with myself for coming up with a term so quickly.

Mom: (chuckling) “Adventure partner? Sounds like you’re 10.”

Her comment was a little deflating, but she was right. ‘Adventure partner’ wasn’t it.

Me: “Okay. Maybe not adventure partner. But that’s what I want — I want to go out and do things I’ve never done. I want to learn about myself through my adventures, to put myself out there and have fun in the moment. I want to share hobbies that I’m passionate about with people whose hobbies are different from mine so that I can grow as a person. I want the chance to teach people how to treat me and to have the confidence to walk away when something isn’t a good fit. I want to know that I can do it on my own so that when I choose to be a girlfriend, it comes from a desire to do so and not a need. And I want to do all of this on my own schedule and in my own time. With lots of different people — no strings and don’t be falling in love. That’s what I want.”

I finally nailed it! And she was right. I didn’t want to be anyone’s girlfriend. But there was still that label looming over my head — player.

Mom: “Ok. Not an adventure partner. So, what you want from a relationship is that you don’t want one? You want a guy to go out and do things with — you know, interesting activities and adventures — without being in a relationship. Like a friend, is that right?”

“Yes! That’s it! I want a relationship where we can just go out and do fun stuff and it’s not an event. It’s just something that we do. I want ….. Activities Partners!” And there it was. I said it out loud. I had just coined my own term. Activities partners.

I enrolled lots of Activities Partners and had lots of opportunities to try things that I had never done before. In fact, it seemed for a while there, that I was always off doing something adventurous with a different AP! I’ve milked cows, raced a stock car, played trampoline basketball, walked on the beach in Ocean City during a Tornado warning, been in the booth as the starter in a horse race, dined at the finest restaurants, watched fireworks over the water, taken ballroom dancing classes, snowmobiled, hiked a State Park, taken a 9 mile ridge walk, been picked up by a limo and partied on a yacht, went target shooting, rafting and tubing, jet skied, gone bass fishing on a bass boat with a professional bass fisherman, and helped build a house. There was even the one time that one of my APs recreated The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s song, ‘Fishing in The Dark’ — complete with shooting stars! I had a great time and I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted from a relationship without being in one. My mom was right. Being someone’s girlfriend was a trap. But, being no one’s girlfriend afforded me the time and chance to figure it out for myself.

This year, I’m getting married to a guy who would never be enrolled as an AP. Nope. He would have none of it! Instead he’s the one who stood in the background as I navigated the loss of my mom… and then my dad. The one who generously offered his support, but would not collapse his own boundaries and get on board — no matter what I called it. The one who taught me how to shoot pool and make chicken marsala from scratch. He’s the guy I drag race and play poker with, the one who sent a dozen roses to my family in remembrance of my mom’s life and who held me countless times when I cried. The one who inherently knew that I wasn’t a victim and I didn’t need to be saved, that I was just testing the waters before I put my toe in.

He’s the guy that I just do stuff with and it’s a non-event. The guy that is my friend. The one who just lets me be me. Which is exactly what I wanted from a relationship. Thanks mom. Lesson learned.

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