Lessons in Love

You know, son, I was quite the romancer back when I was … Hey! Stop laughing!

Son, it’s time I taught you everything I know about dating.

Ha ha. That’s hilarious. Yes, I know you think your dear ol’ dad knows nothing about romance, but I was quite the heartbreaker back in my day!

Well, come to think of it, the heartbreaking part was that I knew so little about dating.

But, anyway, that’s my point. It’s time you learned these lessons, and who better to … What’s that? No, you may not go play video games. Sit back down.

The first girl I ever took on a date was named Jenny. She had long, dark hair and the prettiest brown eyes. Or maybe they were hazel. Anyway, she had a little brother in my Boy Scout troop, and one summer she inexplicably started showing up with her family at all our Scouting events. She even seemed enthralled by my long-winded descriptions of my very important role as Assistant Senior Patrol Leader.

Which is Lesson Number One: A girl will feign interest in just about anything to get your attention. For the love of Pete, don’t believe for a second that she really wants to hear how you beat “Mega Sonic the Mario Brother: Part XVIII” on your GameBoxStationWiiWiiWhatever. Slow down and ask about her interests — and see if that doesn’t improve your chances.

In any case, I did eventually figure out why she was hanging around so much, and I asked her to accompany me to my school’s Homecoming Dance. Which turned out to be absolutely miserable, because I didn’t yet know about Lesson Number Two: Never, ever, under any circumstances, ask Grandpa for dating advice.

See, Grandpa and Grammy were never big on dating; a nun had to convince them to start seeing each other. After they met in college, Grandpa and Grammy spent weeks hanging out after their class together, and the good Sister finally suggested that what they were doing was called “flirting.”

Anyway, I showed up at Jenny’s house to take her to the dance and was mightily confused when she pinned a flower on my jacket. See, my dad never said anything about a boutonniere, and he didn’t know a darn thing about getting a corsage — the little, wearable bouquet that I, according to custom, was supposed to give her.

So, yeah: She gave me a flower, and I had absolutely nothing for her. It was mortifying.

So, Lesson Number Three: When going to a dance, always give your date a corsage. Yes, yes, I know — I don’t care that the girl never actually wears the corsage at the dance, or that, these days, you and the date get matching, cybernetically-enhanced tattoos. Get her the corsage anyway.

The rest of that night was pretty awful, too, because I still didn’t understand Lesson Number One. Strangely, Jenny never showed up at Scouting events after that. We never spoke after that night.

Months later, a girl named Sarah became my first girlfriend. She was a sweet girl — kind of short, with curly red hair. I think I have a photo over here in one of the albums … What’s that? Okay, fine, we’ll find the photo later.

We met on a church retreat one summer. Somebody told me later that she was one of three girls there who had a crush on me. Yeah, that’s right! But I was oblivious. Sarah and I started dating because she was the only one who actually asked me out.

Come to think of it, there’s probably a lesson in that, too, but I still haven’t figured out what it is.

Anyway, I took Sarah to Homecoming that year. And because I’d learned from my failures with Jenny, Sarah and I had a pretty good time. Somewhere along the line, we decided to make it official and declared ourselves to be “going out.”

We had been dating for about two months when our first Valentine’s Day rolled around. I had been preparing for this moment for weeks — I bought her the cutest teddy bear I could find, and I posed it so that it looked like the bear was giving her two red roses. Get it? Signifying the two months!

Um, yeah. We broke up a few weeks after that.

Lesson Number Four is that cute, big, or symbolic gestures are great if a relationship is already in good shape, but they will not — repeat, will not — save a dying relationship. I don’t care what you see in movies.

I learned a lot of other things from our brief relationship, too. I learned I was a pretty miserable kisser, and that I needed a lot more practice … What’s that? No, I don’t think that line ever worked on your mother. Stop snickering.

More importantly, I learned Lesson Number Five — that just saying I was “going out” with someone didn’t mean we had a real relationship. Sarah was into competitive horseback riding — yes, really! — while I was obsessed with the school newspaper. Spending time together wasn’t much of a priority. Sarah realized a lot sooner than I did that we just weren’t interested enough to make the relationship work.

In high school, it seemed like all of my friends had boyfriends or girlfriends, so I had figured I ought to have one, too. Once I got over Sarah, I realized she had freed me from this perceived need — that it wasn’t worth it to be in a relationship just so I could say I was in a relationship. Which meant I was a much stronger person when I got to know your mother several months later.

Of course, that’s Lesson Number Six: Sometimes your relationships won’t work out, but they can set you up for something even better. I still did plenty of boneheaded stuff in those first weeks and months with your mom, but all those missteps with Jenny, Sarah, and a few others meant I was much better prepared when the true love of my life came along.

What’s that? Mom’s been standing behind me, listening this whole time?

Of course I knew that. That’s a lesson for another time. Now get going — your mother and I have some, uh, practicing to do.

Article © 2007 by Michael Duck