Bridging the Gap

For all my glib talk about how much I was going to make my parents squirm when I read a couple of my pieces with them in the audience the other night, I wasn’t all that surprised when they totally didn’t.

“We’ve been conditioned!” my dad smilingly explained to one of my professors, who commended them for getting through the evening without a blush.

“She’s gotten a little raunchier over the years,” he later joked to a group of friends. “But we can take it.”

They can take it. And they do. But, as it emerged over their weekend visit, it’s not always easy.

Nor would you expect it to be easy for the parents of a blogger who writes about her sexual life with a regularity and tone that often require some exaggeration. I’m not saying that what I write here isn’t true, but the extent to which I do so surely enhances the severity of the impressions I give off.

Which, as they finally confessed, can be tough for them to swallow. (Dad: “You just seem, kind of, insecure and obsessed with finding a man.” Mom: “You don’t need to date men who aren’t worthwhile, you should be picky!”)

I tried to quell their concern by explaining that, while I am sometimes a bit insecure and preoccupied with relationships–if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be writing this–I’m actually pretty okay being single. I’ve just decided to write about those anxieties I do have on a daily basis.

And that, despite what I say about my imperfect judgment when it comes to male objects, I am, in fact, picky: it’s actually pretty rare for me to be attracted to someone. It’s not low self-esteem that sometimes drives me to date good-looking men with substance abuse issues, it’s a typical vulnerability to “bad boy” types that’s a cliche for a reason. The reason, of course, being: I’m not alone.

But that, it turns out, is where the rub lies. It turns out that my parents didn’t really get the degree to which my experience isn’t unique. The difficulty they encounter in reading my blog doesn’t just come from reflexive parental discomfort, it comes from the fact that their life experience is so different from my own. Simply put: it’s the generation gap.

On some level, I understand this–that the world of dating is drastically different for twenty-somethings now than it was twenty, thirty or forty years ago–enough to have made it the premise for a blog. But when it comes to my parents, I tend to lose sight of the implications.

This weekend, for example, it took several anxious, post-parent-conversation phone calls with girlfriends to remind me.

“If my parents knew the number of men I’d slept with, I’m sure they’d be horrified,” one sympathized. This friend has not slept with a ridiculous number of people. She is not promiscuous or reckless in her sex life. And yet it’s probably true that her parents would be shocked.

Not because they aren’t progressive, open-minded and worldly people. But because the universe in which they were single had very little to do with the one in which we are. People settled down earlier and women were less focused on their careers. Some who didn’t vote Republican actually engaged in conventional forms of dating. Gender roles were clearly defined and the expectations of men and women in relationships more explicit. Courtship required slightly more effort than that which it takes to click on a small green dot or thumb the word “thanks:” things tended, generally, to be more serious.

It’s the same for my parents. That they are so enthusiastically supportive of my endeavors and genuinely interested in my happiness sometimes allows me to forget this: that, as much as they are open to relating to my romantic experiences, sometimes, it isn’t that easy.

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