by Shawn Tucker:
The only thing more awkward than this post about helping my son learn how to be confident talking with girls is the fact that I discussed these ideas with him recently when he was trapped in the car with me. It is interesting to watch your child consider the implications of throwing himself out of a car going 65 miles per hour on a freeway. Luckily he chose to smile, nod, and think of something else while I gave him a version of the following advice. And now I’d like to spread the awkwardness around the interwebs. Here’s my advice to a 16-year-old modern Mormon young man on how to step up his game with girls:
1. Be 16. What this means is be patient with yourself and allow yourself to grow into being someone who is confident with women. Frankly, 16-year-old girls are like 16-year-old boys, and, yes I will say it, most girls are just as awkward around boys as you are around them. And hey, you like them, so…
2. Keep in mind one goal: helping her feel at ease, safe, comfortable, and getting to know her. When you are getting to know a girl your age, keep in mind that your goal is to get to know her. Do what you can to actually listen to her. Care enough about what she’s saying to hear it and to perhaps even show her you’re listening by remembering what she says and say it back to her. You can go a long way by later on saying something like, “I remember when you told me that you quit playing soccer because you had such a bad coach—that must have really sucked for you!” Saying things like this show you care enough to listen and think about what she has told you, but keep in mind to be genuine about this, since the goal is helping her feel safe and at ease.
3. Use humor carefully. While humor can be a great way to connect with someone, you will probably have to step up your game in this area. Few girls enjoy potty humor, and many do not like sarcastic or insulting humor. Humor that is witty, generous, and kind often goes over better. But here again use humor to connect, to tell her about who you are, and to get to know her.
4. Planning creates confidence. If you are planning a party or a date, have solid plans and back up plans. Think through what you will do and what you will do if you need to change plans. Few girls like young men to show up and say, “I was thinking we could see a movie—what do you want to see?” or “Maybe we could go eat—where do you want to go?” That seems pretty thoughtless, and it might convey that you don’t care enough to think it through. Saying, “We could see a movie—which sounds better to you, movie A or movie B?” or, “We could get Chinese food here or Mexican food there—which would you prefer?” Finally, since this is the 21st century, alternating the date planning can be a great way to go.
5. A note about falling in love—it is always temporary and it doesn’t really mean anything. Son, one day you will fall in love, and it will be awesome, and it will be temporary. Oh, and you will probably fall in love again, and that will also be temporary. In each case you will meet someone who you are very comfortable with. It will feel easy, safe, free, and thrilling. And you will want to connect emotionally, psychologically, and physically. This means you have fallen in love. And that means…almost nothing. It will seem awesome and incredible. You might even feel like no one has ever felt like you feel. But that simply is not true—most everyone falls in love. You may also feel like you are therefore destined for each other, like you are soul mates. Sorry, having fallen in love, even if the feeling is mutual, does not mean you are destined for each other. You might feel like that feeling will last forever. Nope. The fact is that eventually those wonderful, euphoric feelings will fade. Now, in the best of situations, those euphoric feelings will be replaced by more reliable, constant feelings of friendship and a desire to extend yourself in love to encourage another person’s growth. That is truly loving someone; falling in love is just the invitation, the hook. Loving someone is what keeps you bonded. Sadly, you can fall in love with the wrong person or you can fall in love with the right person at the wrong time. That is because falling in love just happens to those who open themselves to the experience, where loving someone is a choice you make. Falling in love is great, but don’t mistake it for something it is not, and don’t mistake it for something more difficult yet more lasting and rewarding.
6. Talk. Good relationships involve some difficult discussions, and how those difficult discussions go will usually determine what will happen with the relationship. What that means is that you will have to talk about what you like and don’t like, about how physically intimate both of you are comfortable with, and then eventually about difficult issues like the long-range plans, perhaps about marriage and then the timing and number of children, parenting, how money will be spent, etc. Honestly, you may as well get used to it now and start learning how to be clear, respectful, generous, and courageous in those discussions.
7. Dating sucks. When people get divorced, the one thing that they often dread is the prospect of having to date again. Dating is like this terrible audition where you see if you can get a part that you are not even sure you want. Oh, and most everyone hates it, but, the plus side is that if you do what you can to make it go well, the people you date will generally appreciate your efforts.
8. Every skill you need to interact with women you will learn on your mission. This might sound crazy or disturbing, and please don’t take this wrong, but you will learn the confidence and skills you need to interact with women as you try to be the best missionary possible. And it makes sense why: as a missionary you have to step out of your comfort zone to try to establish a relationship with someone else. You don’t know those people, but you have to genuinely try to get to know them. You have to take a genuine interest, listen, and learn how to hear them and to show that you hear them. You have to learn how to actually connect. You also have to learn how to share something important with them. You will develop and hone all of those skills, skills you will then use when you try to get to know women, try to connect with them, and try to share yourself with them. I know that this sounds funny, weird, and more than slightly creepy, but that is frankly one of the great and odd fringe benefits of being a missionary.
Okay, modern Mormon men, young men, women, and others, what do you think of this advice? What would you add or subtract? How quickly would you leap from a moving vehicle if someone started to have this conversation with you or with a 16-year-old you know?
Shawn Tucker grew up with amazing parents and five younger, wonderful siblings. He served as a missionary in Chile during the Plebiscite and the first post-dictatorship election. After his mission, he attended BYU, where he married ... you guessed it ... his wife. They both graduated, with Shawn earning a BA in Humanities. Fearing that his BA in Humanities, which is essentially a degree in Jeopardy, would not be sufficient, Shawn completed graduate work in the same ... stuff ... at Florida State University. He currently teaches at Elon University in North Carolina. He and ... you guessed it ... his wife have four great children. Twitter: @MoTabEnquirer. Website: motabenquirer.blogspot.com.
Image credit: Joris Louwes (used with permission).