Dating Family Style
How to act when Mom and Dad are both dating (but not each other), and brother is too
I was a bit concerned when my mom started singing along like a teenager to “Your Body is a Wonderland” as she got dressed every morning. It didn’t faze me when my brother told me he was going to midnight mass for Christmas, even though we’re Jewish. But when I visited my dad’s apartment and spied a pink paperback and a pair of fluffy slippers beside his bed, I knew we had reached the point of no return.
It’s my senior year of college; my brother and his raging hormones are in high school, and my middle-aged parents and their revived libidos are newly separated. Everyone is dating.
“It might not bother you now, but all that little stuff will start to annoy you after awhile,” my mom said, wine glass in hand, as my boyfriend, Cameron, pulled into the driveway 45 minutes late, as usual. Her boyfriend, Jeff, pretended he wasn’t insulted and slipped off to the kitchen as my brother, Dylan, slithered up from the basement with Kelly, his latest in an unending parade of undernourished brunette girlfriends.
“If Cam is staying over, then I’m going to go stay at Jeff’s,” my mom declared. Jeff returned, gave me an awkward, semi-fatherly hug and all three couples paired off and drove out on our separate ways.
I was back in the suburbs for school break. My mom and brother were now more like roommates than family. If Dylan and Kelly were, ahem, “watching a movie” downstairs, I couldn’t go there without texting him first. If my mom was staying out late, or having a sleepover, she was supposed to call and let me know, so I wouldn’t wait up worrying.
Like a good Girl Scout, I used observational clues to assess the environment: the heavy scent of Dylan’s Axe body spray or of mom’s perfume meant “date night;” loud music from any room meant KEEP OUT; shoes lined up in the laundry room in the morning (Kelly’s flip flops and Jeff’s loafers) signaled who hadn’t left yet.
The plot thickened at my dad’s place on Chicago’s Gold Coast (aka the Viagra Triangle) where the butter and beer had gotten shoved into a corner in his fridge to make room for his girlfriend Maeve’s gluten-free groceries. The apartment has a guest room where my brother and I can crash. But the sight of the two of them pushing their new puppy down the sidewalk in a blue stroller as if it’s their newborn child is just surreal.
Bizarre as it sometimes gets, some of this is, in fact, heartwarming: witnessing my loved ones falling in love, giving my mom advice about male behavior, helping my brother pick out gifts on his anniversaries (measured in months, not years).
On the other hand, watching your boyfriend and your mom collide on the way to the bathroom in the morning can be unsettling, to say the least. Hearing the word “vasectomy” tossed around in conversation twice in one week by your dad and then by your mom’s boyfriend doesn’t help. Fighting with my own mom for the last lace push-up bra on sale at Victoria’s Secret definitely crossed the line.
Forget about privacy in what she calls our house of ill repute (“So, um…what did you need from Walgreens at 1 a.m.?”) We witness each other’s fights, overhear phone calls, and are constantly meddling in each other’s relationships.
But what’s a little intimate interference among family? Actually, it’s like we’re starting to become friends all over again. Each of us is at a time in our lives where everything is changing and chaos could be just around the corner. We face a messy divorce, an empty nest, a high school graduation, and my college graduation. (Who gets invited, who sits next to whom, and what about the dinner?) For now, we are all zooming off in our own separate directions. But dating is the one thing that we all, at least temporarily, have in common.
So I’ll enjoy it while it lasts, because I can’t even fathom what comes next: the weddings?