She was sobbing pretty hard when she said it, so it came out more as a halting stutter. It hu . . . hu . . . hu . . . rts.
My arms were wrapped around her and her head was buried in my shoulder as she cried. She was just a little girl the last time I comforted her like this. Now she is a young woman.
With a broken heart.
She and her first boyfriend of three months had just broken up. She did the breaking up. He gave her the broken heart.
It doesn’t really matter what the circumstances. Heartbreak is heartbreak. And words do little to mitigate the pain and humiliation of a failed relationship despite the stage.
You deserve better, I tell her rubbing her back paternally as I used to when she fell off her bike or skinned her knee. You are a remarkable young lady and you should be treated that way. I know it hurts, but you did the right thing. He has not demonstrated himself worthy of you.
All completely true, but empty of any sort of comfort in the moment.
In the end, I learned, he just did not do enough to show that he really cared about her. He was supposed to care. He was supposed to want to be with her. He was supposed to make an effort. But he didn’t. And that hurt her.
I can’t say I liked him all that much. For starters he was shorter than she. I suppose that makes me a vertical bigot, but I believe where my daughter is concerned, that any boy that is interested in her must stand tall. In stature and in character. She deserves that.
Heck, all girls deserve that.
But that is not always what comes their way. I should know. I was that boy once. My wife might argue that I still am.
When I was sixteen and drifted nervously into my first relationship with a girl I was clueless. My brain was telling me one thing, my heart another thing, and my hormones, well they were dominating the conversation. The problem is that no one else was telling me anything useful; I had no one to turn to for advice.
And I was too embarrassed to ask.
So I pondered the really big questions of my new relationship. Do I call her on the phone? How often? What are we supposed to talk about? Do I give her a card on Valentine’s Day?
And, am I supposed to go on dates? Where? Am I supposed to pay? How do I do this without a driver’s license and not involve my parents? And when?
Is this love?
When you are sixteen, a boy, and clueless these are pretty monumental questions.
I quickly discovered that what I liked most was sitting on the couch and kissing her on Friday nights as we pretended to watch Creature Features on the black and white TV in the basement of her house. The door was open and her parents were upstairs. It was kind of dangerous.
Of my first experiences in life, kissing her was pretty high up there. Even when I didn’t know how to do it right.
But I wasn’t too far into this mysterious new relationship when I discovered that I didn’t particularly enjoy calling her all the time on the telephone. You can’t kiss on the phone. And after awhile, night after night, I started to run out of things to say.
Because It turns out I was not good at conversation either.
And at some point I realized that my relationship with her wasn’t going to make it if I was having trouble holding down a conversation. At night I would cradle the phone next to my ear and look at the wall in front of me and wonder what I was supposed to say next.
It didn’t end well. Because I didn’t know how to do that either. I just kind of withdrew until finally she asked me why I was no longer calling every night like I used to.
I don’t remember what I said, but knowing my younger self as I do, I am sure it was painfully awkward. I do remember she started to cry and told me she was breaking up with me.
I felt like a heel. She deserved better.
And it wasn’t too long before she got better too. She was a popular girl with a beautiful smile and a winning personality.
As for me, I remained clueless pretty much through high school. And maybe beyond.
As I held my sobbing daughter in my arms I felt both ashamed and angry. Being clueless, I realized, is no excuse for being insensitive. Because someone will still get hurt.
And I don’t ever want that someone to be my daughter.