I used to dance around the house to Frank Sinatra with my first born son. He was born six weeks early, a scrappy 2.2 kilos who wouldn’t eat or sleep properly for the first six months. Frank calmed us both down.
He’s now 17 years old, strapping instead of scrappy and I need to look up to meet his eyes.
His year 12 formal is also coming up. He attends a co-ed school, however his year level is unusual in that 80 per cent of students are boys. It just wasn’t a great year for girls. That hasn’t bothered him before. To the contrary, making friends was easier with a large pool to choose from.
That is, until he needed a date for the formal and the pool of girls to choose from was more a puddle than a pool.
A quick investigation by him revealed that all the girls in his year level were attending the formal either with their boyfriends from other schools, or they had already been asked.
Unperturbed, he decided to ask a girl from a different school who he had known since they were babies. They occasionally bumped into each other at parties. After unsolicited guidance from me that he must call her to ask and not text, he left two messages for her to call him.
She hadn’t returned his call by the next morning but he remained relaxed. “It’s fine mum, she probably hasn’t even listened to her messages. I never do.”
I drove him to school and forced myself not to raise the matter again. She called him a little while later. She declined his invitation. He texted me that she had said no. I tried calling him, but classes had already begun and his phone went to message.
Watch Mamamia staff confess what they’d say to the one that got away. Post continues below.
I was miserable for the rest of the day imagining his distress. I knew he would’ve collected himself in order to get through the day but it must have been tearing him up inside.
I cooked his favourite meal for dinner. At least there would be something to brighten his day.
As I picked him up from school, I asked gingerly how his day was, if he was feeling okay. He looked at me oddly and responded that everything was fine.
I asked him if he knew why his friend had said no and he responded that he did not but in any event it didn’t matter. He already had another date. I remained dumbfounded and mute for the rest of the ride home.
It took me a few days to come to terms with what had happened.
I had reacted like a girl (despite being a girl well into her 40’s) and he had reacted like a boy.
I discussed it with him some time later.
“Mum,” he said, “it wasn’t a big deal. It’s not as if I’d asked her on a date. It was the formal. I knew it wasn’t about me. She probably had some other reason.” (And she did, I later found out from her mother but my son didn’t know that at the time.)
How was it that at 17 years, my son had the maturity and confidence to brush this off with nary a second thought while his mother lay weeping in the corner on his behalf?
If the situation was reversed and I had been his age, I imagine the tears would have flowed, expletives voiced and a call made to my girlfriends that they needed to come and help pick up the pieces.
It would not have mattered whether I liked the boy or not. Rejection is rejection and I would have internalised that it must have been about me rather than some other perfectly acceptable explanation.
The fact is, a boy surmises (and I know I’m generalising) that the reason he doesn’t receive the response being sought is that it’s likely to be an issue with the person asking rather than with themselves. Girls take it personally.
My son’s response fascinated and delighted me. It wasn’t learned behaviour. It came to him naturally. What appalled me was my reaction. My concern is that my daughters will in the future, react as I did.
My brother-in-law lives by the motto: “If they don’t want me, I don’t want them.” It’s the approach my son seems to be taking.
My teenage daughters are intelligent and sensitive. They look to me for guidance and advice. Are they destined to live by: “If they don’t want me, why not?” I’m not doing them any favours leading by example.
I hate to say it, but on this one, they should take their cues from their brother.