| || ||
What's a "Pretend Ex-Boyfriend"? | Mary Beth Bonacci | Ignatius Insight
It's never too early to start teaching little girls about the difference between a boyfriend and a husband
My five-year-old niece informed me the other day that she
has a "pretend ex-boyfriend."
Her mother and I are both at a loss as to where she picked
up the whole idea of an ex-boyfriend in the first place. Of course, I
highly doubt she's particularly clear on the concept. If she really knew
what an ex-boyfriend was, I'm not sure she'd be pretending to have one.
Still, it makes me a little sad to see her picking up on
such grown-up concepts at such a young age.
Every parent (and loving aunt) dreads the day when the sweet
little girls we love start showing that excessive girly interest in boys.
We want them to choose wisely and well. We want them to gravitate towards
the boys who will respect them and avoid the users and manipulators. We
don't want them to define themselves or their value by what boys think of
them. And most of all, we don't want to see them have to go through the
seemingly endless trauma and drama of teenaged dating.
But how do you explain that to a five year old? I
think I muttered something about how it's nice when boys can just be friends,
and left it at that.
It wasn't until later that I realized what a teaching moment
that had been.
My niece doesn't know what a "boyfriend" is. She
doesn't much understand the whole concept of dating or marriage. This, after
all, is the girl who held a pretend wedding with her hapless little brother as
the groom, and then returned from the "honeymoon" 30 seconds later to announce
"I want to marry someone else now."
But she's going to start learning about all of it very
quickly. Where she learns and what she learns first will go a long way
toward shaping her later attitudes. If she learns about it from her
little friends and from the popular culture, she's going to learn that having a
"boyfriend" means somehow "taking possession" of a boy she likes -- kind of
like seeing a toy that she wants at the store and then getting it. As she
grows older, she'll start to associate it with "status", as all of the cool
girls start bragging about their fabulously perfect and attentive
boyfriends. (Of course, six weeks later the relationship with Mr.
Fabulous and Attentive will be over, but young girls tend to live in the
I so don't want her to associate "teen-age fulfillment" with
"boyfriend." So I though, "What could I tell a five year old?"
Well, I could start by asking her what she and her "pretend
ex-boyfriend" do. If she told me that they have long sad talks about how
"It's not you, it's me," then I'd know she really knows what she's talking
about. More likely she'd say something about how they love each other and
do wonderful things together. That would tell me that she's a
normal little girl who is in the very early stages of developing a healthy
attraction to men.
And as a parent, what's your first instinct when a little
girl starts talking like that? We don't want that unrealistic fantasy to
take root in her little mind, so we're tempted to say "Well, having a boyfriend
isn't always fun, you know. Sometimes you argue. Sometimes he's an
inconsiderate jerk who is late to pick you up and completely forgets about your
birthday and calls his old girlfriend Brittany when he thinks you're at the gym
but really you didn't go because you were too tired from cleaning his kitchen
for the fiftieth time and he never even thanked you and . . ."
Way to ruin a little girl's fantasy.
It occurred to me that it might be better to say, "That's
great, honey. But when you think about that wonderful man who loves you
so much and stays with your forever– that's not a boyfriend, that's a
husband." And then you can talk about marriage and how two people promise
to stay together forever and how they help each other and love each
other. You can talk about how important it is to choose a good man who is
loving and kind and who will be a good father, etc.
And then "You know why women have boyfriends? It's to
help them decide who's going to be their husband. They spend time
together so they can see if he is a loving and good man who would be a good
husband and daddy."
That way she can keep her very normal childhood fantasy
without pushing her toward early "romantic" involvement.
I always tell teenagers that dating is "interviewing for the
job of spouse." But by that time, I'm fighting years of ingrained
thinking that has them convinced the boyfriend is the one who will give them
the unconditional male love they crave right now. That's bad, because
dating is the ultimate conditional relationship. "I'm here until I break
up with you."
If we can, from a very young age, teach girls that dating is
supposed to be about figuring out who they're going to marry, they'll avoid
some serious pitfalls. First of all, it'll be more obvious why we don't
want them to start dating too young. Why interview when you won't be
hiring for ten or more years?
Second and more important, they'll be less inclined to
"romanticize" dating – to see it as a way to get their need for
unconditional love met now. They'll go into it with less "please, please
love me" and more "Who are you? Are you a good and loving man?"
I know, the pressures will still be there. I know
they'll still grow up in a culture where boyfriends are "status symbols."
I know they'll still crave male attention. The conversations need to
continue. They need to be reminded that God made them to be attracted to
boys, and that the dating years are about figuring out what kind of boy they
want to marry – or even if they're called to marriage.
If you continue to do that, there will be another voice in
their heads in the midst of the pressure, one that says "This isn't permanent
yet. This isn't the best place to find the real love that I need in my
life right now."
And that's a very good start.
This column originally appeared on RealLove.net
on July 10, 2008. Click here to read more of Mary Beth Bonacci's columns.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Book Excerpts:
Focus Groups and Marriage: A Match Made for
Heartache | Mary Beth Bonacci
Parents Love the Chastity Girl | Mary Beth Bonacci
The Challenge of Marriage Preparation | Dr. Janet E. Smith
Entering Marriage with Eyes Wide Open
| Edward Peters
Human Sexuality and the Catholic Church
| Donald P. Asci | Introduction to The Conjugal Act as a Personal Act
Who Is Married?
| Edward Peters
the Family in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae | Reverend
Michael Hull, S.T.D.
Male and Female
He Created Them | Cardinal Estevez
and Necessity of Spiritual Fatherhood | Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers,
Chastity in an Unchaste Age | Bishop Joseph F. Martino
The Truth About Conscience | John F.
Kippley | An excerpt from Sex and the Marriage Covenant
Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks
and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken
to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at
World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and
television programs, including several appearances on MTV.
Mary Beth has written two books, We're
on a Mission from God and Real
Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications.
She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series,
also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex
and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award
for Best Youth Curriculum.
Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from
the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage
and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was
also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan
University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women
of America for 1997. Her apostolate, Real
Love Incorporated is dedicated to presenting the truth about the Church's
teaching about sexuality, chastity, and marriage.
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!
| || || |