A Letter To My Son, For When He Becomes A Young Man

[This may seem self-indulgent and unnecessary, but whatever. I’m writing this because if someone had sat me down and said it to me when I was younger, it would have helped me out a lot. Or maybe not, because I was so intent on being a self-pitying sourpuss I might not have listened. Regardless, it’s worth a try, and while the content is optimally for young boys, I think there’s some truths here that many of us who are much older need to be reminded of sometimes.]

Son, you’re going to want to start dating soon, if you haven’t already. It will almost certainly not always be easy for you (though if your current cuteness as a baby is any indication, maybe it will), so there’s some things you need to know.

The first is this: Nobody OWES you their affection. It sounds obvious, but people, particularly boys, often forget it. Life isn’t a movie where you’re the protagonist and everything is supposed to work out for you in the end. It is certainly not one of those sappy romantic comedies where you “win” someone’s heart through passionate declarations and over-the-top deeds. No matter how genuine your own feelings are and no matter how much you “do” in order to express those feelings, you’re not guaranteed to get what you want. Women exist independently of your wishes.

That’s the tough truth. This is the softening truth, the corollary to the first one: If you don’t get someone’s affection, it’s probably not your fault. It doesn’t mean that something is “wrong” with you.

We subconsciously view romance & love like a sporting event, such as a race: the guy who wins the 100-yard dash did so because he was the fastest, the best-trained, the most talented. If you let yourself think this way, it will drive you INSANE. You will feel like you are not good enough, that something is wrong with you, that you have no value… and of course this makes you lose your confidence and leads to a shame-spiral where you do even worse than before. Also, you will experience painful confusion if you perceive, correctly or otherwise, that you are indeed the “best” choice yet you still don’t win. You have no idea how hard or how often I beat myself up because of all the times girls chose someone else over me and I didn’t understand it, because I viewed myself as kinder, smarter, more devoted or in some way more “right” for some particular girl. This made me resent the woman for her seemingly irrational choice, resent the man she chose for his seemingly illicit victory… and resent myself, because I ultimately concluded that if I can’t even beat that guy, there must be something REALLY wrong with me. You deserve better than to do that to yourself.

But love isn’t a sport. It’s more like a food. (Yes, I know how shocked you must be, YOUR dad making a food analogy.) To be sure, there are foods which are better in terms of both quality and nutrition than others, but what it comes down to is whether your taste buds like it or not, and you can’t really control that.

Think of it this way: what’s a food a lot of other people like but you don’t? Shrimp? Let’s say it’s shrimp. You’ve given shrimp an honest try with an open mind on several occasions, both homemade dishes and stuff from nice restaurants, yet you never have liked it. Why not? Who knows, you just don’t. It isn’t the “fault” of the people who caught, prepared or served the shrimp to you, no matter how much sincere effort they put into it. In fact the best shrimp chef in the world, working with the finest ingredients and equipment, couldn’t cook a shrimp meal you like. Even the ultimate shrimp dish is worse than a greasy McDonald’s hamburger, as far as you’re concerned. It just isn’t for you. I trust the point is obvious, but inevitably, son, you’re going to want more from someone who won’t want it back. There’s nothing wrong with you; you’re just not what she wants.

The best thing about this metaphor is that it extends pretty far. A lot of times we convince ourselves that we can change, in some way or another, to earn someone’s affection. And sometimes it even works, at least for a while. Just like maybe someone could get you to eat shrimp if they covered it in some kind of heavy sauce, or chopped it up into tiny pieces and spread them throughout a thick stew. But if you like that, it’s not really shrimp you’re liking at that point, is it? It’s a trick. You’re only eating shrimp because it’s so smothered or diluted that you can’t taste it anymore. And if someone only falls for you because you force yourself to unnaturally alter your hobbies, your beliefs, your appearance, the way you talk, and so forth… well, I trust the point is obvious.

Of course, sometimes people ought to change. They don’t achieve real love & affection until they improve their kindness, selflessness, maturity, health, wisdom and the like. But here’s the thing: those are the areas you should be working to improve ANYWAY—for your own good, before anyone else’s. Just like how pretty much no one’s going to like any shrimp platter that’s served well past its expiration date, is improperly cooked, arrives on a filthy plate, etc.

So here’s the deal. You will eventually find someone you think is right for you, and if you’re being the best You that you can be, maybe she will feel the same way back… but maybe she won’t. And if she doesn’t, that is genuinely sad for you and you have the right to feel disappointed, but you don’t have the right to be angry at her or yourself or anyone else for it. It’s not about being Good Enough or Not Good Enough, it’s about tastes. Maybe eventually she’ll change her mind, possibly because one or both of you have a lot more growing up to do, or for some other reason. But that decision will come from HER, it will not be dictated by anything you do or don’t do.

Now are you hungry? I’m really hungry for some reason.

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2 thoughts on “A Letter To My Son, For When He Becomes A Young Man

  1. Pingback: Absentia « Grading Fight Scenes

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