Sometimes I think I should have my own reality show, because it would be easier than writing all those screenplays that I intend to write, any day now. The other night, my daughter, my baby-daddy and I were chatting as I was making dinner for everyone. Here’s a snippet:
Baby-Daddy: I thought you guys broke up.
Me: We did.
Baby-Daddy: But he’s on his way over for dinner and a movie.
Daughter: We still love him, he just isn’t relationship material.
Me: (Laughing,) wow, where have I heard that before?
Baby-Daddy: (to daughter) what does that mean to you?
Daughter: Ya, mom, what does that even mean?
Me: I love him, like him, value him, but we just don’t work as a romantic couple.
Daughter: But, ya, it doesn’t really seem like anything has changed.
Me: It has.
Daughter: What changed? He’s always here, you’re always there.
Me: We’re not fucking any more. So see, it has no impact on you. We just aren’t having sex anymore, but we’re all still friends and he still loves you too.
Daughter: Okay, I totally didn’t need to hear that.
Me: Well, that’s what it is. And that’s how it goes. Sometimes people fuck, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes that’s the only thing that makes one relationship more “special” than another.
Baby Daddy: It’s not gross, it’s normal and human. People have sex, because it’s fun and natural. And…
Daughter: Gross. It’s gross. I don’t need to hear this. And I like “him,” so I don’t need to know that he’d do that.
(Pause, in my own head, what? You like HIM, so it’s gross if HE does it, but I…..)
Me: It’s not gross.
Baby Daddy: It’s not gross.
Me: No, you don’t need details, and I’m not gonna give you details, but you do need to know that in all likelihood, you’ll have sex someday too, and it will mean something, and it will change your relationships with people. And that even when you stop having sex with that person, it doesn’t change all the other ways they were wonderful. Relationships change, and that’s okay.
Daughter: UGH! STOP IT.
And so we did. She’s 13. She only needs the broad strokes, and she got them. But what she really needs is to know that sex changes the nature of things. That the idea of Happily Ever After is fine, as long as you don’t confuse that with “exactly like this, not to change at all, ever after.”
So there we sat, a typical Friday Dinner as a family that “split up” in statistical terms some 5 years ago. But stayed together on human terms, and always will. Discussing my changed relationship with someone of whom we were all very fond of, and the only way to accurately describe the change was to say that sex changed it. It changed it when we started fucking, it changed it when we stopped fucking.
And that the change itself was normal. That’s what mattered.
I realized that’s what I want to teach her. Not that there is right and wrong, but that change is constant. That changing one factor doesn’t obliterate all the rest. That love takes many forms, all of which are strong and flexible.
But she’s been through a lot. The big great love – the one that had us packing up to move to California – just vanished on her. It went from “forever” to “never” without warning, mitigation or explanation. I’m old and have the emotional tools to process it, but she didn’t. So for her to see this relationship change, but not end, is such a gift. (This is how I typically do it, but she’s too young to really know that, my relationship with her father not withstanding.)
The whole thing lasted maybe two minutes, but they were two minutes that I think set a solid foundation for her to understand some complicated issues. Then the TV News droned on, something about a wild day on Wall Street and the stock market.
She asked me to explain the stock market to her, which I did. In more detail than she wanted, really. (I love economic theory almost as much as I love sex and romantic theory.)
“Does that all make sense to you?” I asked her.
“Yup, way more than all that sex-no-sex stuff.”
True that. Smart girl. She’s gonna be just fine. As long as she gets over this idea that sex is gross.