My oldest daughter just turned 16, which puts her in the 3-D danger zone: driving, dating and drugs. Of the three, the one that makes me most uneasy is dating.
I’ve tried their entire lives to prepare my two daughters for the temptations and dangers of substance abuse. We’ve talked about addiction and responsibility and house rules. They know a lot about brain development and how alcohol and drugs can thwart it.
I’ve also tried to prepare the girls as much as you can for the day when they will get behind the wheel. Driving is a wonderful, terrifying thing, because you always have to bring your A-game to it. You have to pay attention to what you do – and to what others do, as well. Sometimes, no matter what you do, it just ends badly.
Dating brings my heart up into my throat because it’s not as simple as setting rules. Any time you have two different humans interacting, the variations are unpredictable and unique. I have a little personal experience with that truth.
In my single days, one of my relationships was controlling and potentially dangerous, but it took me a while to recognize that fact. When I did, the extrication process was ugly and painful. The irony was that at the time, I was a reporter who covered, among other things, domestic and dating violence. I knew the warning signs, but it turns out that dating violence is a process, not an event.
So I am woefully aware that you can’t teach someone a “right way” to date beyond a certain point. I’ve talked a lot about my expectations when it comes to when my daughter has to be home, what kind of activities I will support and general house rules.
The scariest thing that can happen in a relationship is also the very thing you don’t see at first. If potentially abusive dating partners showed their true colors when you were starting out, you could bow out before anyone felt invested enough for a relationship to get ugly.
When I hear men or women talk about jealousy as something that’s “cute” or “romantic,” I shudder. I remember being flattered that the young man in my life was jealous when I talked to other men. I actually thought he was kidding with it. Then he was jealous of time I spent with my girlfriends and family, too. And he was serious about it.
When I found myself avoiding certain things and people I really enjoyed just to skip the “discussion” that would follow, it finally hit me. He wasn’t viewing me as a prize, he saw me as property. Getting clear was an awful process, but at least it never escalated to physical violence. I believe it would have.
I’m trying to teach my girls that they belong to themselves, not someone they’re dating. They must have relationships within their comfort zones and realize that no one has a right to isolate them or control them. If I had sons, I’d do the same for them, because domestic and dating violence is not a one-gender issue. Females can be as controlling and abusive. I have tried to teach them not to be controlling of others.
Our society tends to blame the victims, expecting them to get themselves out of situations before they escalate. It’s never that simple.
This week, Barbara Brotman wrote in the Chicago Tribune about a “Silent Witness” exhibit of lifesize cut-out figures of real people who were killed by domestic violence, each bearing that person’s story. Communities around the country host them, providing their own too-frequent, too-tragic examples, some high profile and others not.
They never have to search hard to find women, children and sometimes men destroyed by a person who should have cherished them.
Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @loisco.