Luck by the Dashboard Light – as in, Just My…

The WordPress Daily Prompt: Sweet Sixteen asked:

When you were 16, what did you think your life would look like? Does it look like that? Is that a good thing?

Oh, Sweet Sixteen!

The psychological challenge for parents of teenage daughters
(if they’ve managed to make it this far – I mean the parents, of course)


I would be shocked to hear anyone say that life turned out just as they thought it would when they were the wise old age of 16. I was convinced that, once I had a driver’s license (and the car to match it), I’d suddenly have control over so many more aspects of my life. I just hadn’t considered those aspects would include controlling my schedule to work in a job (to pay for the matching car and that pesky liquid gas-stuff to keep it running). That was nothing compared to the other life aspects I began learning I’d have to control though…

Let’s go back a couple of years earlier, to me at the naïve age of 14, when I had my first “real” boyfriend. I can’t quite describe to you what was more real about him than any other boy I’d said was a boyfriend prior to that. I can only explain that everything felt different inside whenever he called or he was in my vicinity (most especially if his vicinity was micrometers from my vicinity). Looking back, I now understand (unlike then) that I was feeling that magical mix of life’s first ‘significant other’ experience while being slapped upside my brain by budding hormones – a potent mix that should be dubbed as “puppy love” (or possibly a hazardous chemical reaction) when the teenager has already otherwise named it to be his or her “first love.” (Cue the theme song to that terrible Brooke Shields movie.)

Oh, he could work it “real” well too. He would sing to me on the phone, between chatting for hours. (We didn’t have texting back then). My dad would even let me go off on picnics with his family in the summertime, where he’d hold my hand on long walks and run with me on his back. I’d giggle while feeding the ducks with his little brothers. My butterfly-infested infatuation, which convinced me of his own smittenness (which I now understand is not even a “real” word), lasted one entire glorious summer, as a matter of fact. And then came the school year and the fall (Note: this is one of those foreshadowing words, if you missed that). I was in junior high school; he was officially in high school. Most importantly, he was officially close to getting his driver’s license. I didn’t think much of it when he asked me about car dating when he turned 16. Well, I didn’t think much of it until I mentioned the idea to my dad. I’m pretty sure my dad said a long string of expletives I’d never heard before that day before he finally got around to the word, ‘No.’

A few weeks later, there I was, standing behind the goal post of our junior high football field, bawling my eyes out while our team scored the winning touchdown. No, this wasn’t a Rudy episode. ‘Mr. First Love’ had just delivered the fatal blow, teaching me how my first “real” heartbreak was going to feel. If only I, too, could have been Sweet Sixteen, I was certain our love would’ve lasted forever… (Cue the dramatic music again.)

Fast forward to a time less than forever…I’d lost so many battles with my dad on car dating that, by the time I actually turned 16, I’d forgotten I was old enough to do it, to tell you the truth. (After all, almost one month in and I still didn’t have a car, so it wasn’t like I was a “real” 16-year-old anyway.)

One spring day (openly referred to as mating season for most other species of the animal kingdom), I came spryly bouncing through the commons area of our high school. As I turned the corner, I looked up to see one of the past fantasy men (ha!) of my junior high years coming down the stairs, his eyes and his smile focused directly on me like cupid’s arrow was drawn back in his bow. On that particular (somewhat forgettable) Friday, he walked right up to me in front of my friends and anyone else standing around in about a 100 foot radius or so and boldly proclaimed he wanted to take me out on a date that evening. I was taken aback, for a second thinking my dad would use a long string of expletives along with the word ‘no’ attached to the end. I stuttered and said I’d get back to him on that. By the end of the day, ‘Prince Persistent’ had figured out which friend I had plans to spend the night with and had called her in for back-up reinforcement. I almost reluctantly refused his offer – simply because I didn’t want to face my dad. Later, I nearly fell out when my dad decided to honor his agreement for me to car date at 16 – and still let me spend the night with my friend, to boot. (I’ve since gotten old enough to recognize that my dad must’ve already had his own plans – something that 16-year-olds don’t expect parents to ever have.) Suddenly, the world seemed bigger and brighter (and maybe a little scarier) than it had before.

I must’ve unknowingly bathed in Eau de Pheromones before I climbed into the guy’s car that evening, and perhaps my body was silently screaming something like, “Hey, I’m ovulating!” That’s the only explanation I have for how things went from there – well, scientifically anyway. I was humiliated when I found out that my date’s idea of a, well, date was to make sure he had an ample amount of liquor on hand and a place for us to park. I’m further humiliated retelling this story when I have to mention that I didn’t immediately ask to go home. You see, the fact that I was staying with a friend (so my dad wasn’t expecting me home that evening nor was my friend’s mom expecting me to crash her ‘mom’s night in’) made for a tough scenario for the inexperienced car dater. (Did I mention we didn’t have cell phones back then either? And, no, we didn’t crank-start our vehicles.) So there was the problem of offering an explanation versus the scientific explanation I’ve tried to cover myself with as the best reasons I can offer for helping my ‘Not-so-Romantic Romeo’ steam up his windshield with some heavy, breathy kissing. I had waited two long years to car date, after all! I had lost zillions (okay, that might be a slight over-estimation) of potential dates and “next loves” due to not being allowed to car date. I couldn’t just let this first one slip down the drain.

Oh, but how I should’ve! It didn’t take too many of those heated kisses to realize where this date was going to lead. It also dawned on me in mid-kiss that this guy hadn’t even had the decency to work his way up from small talk, much less singing to me or taking me for long walks on picnics first. I slammed on the brakes to this car date so fast at my “real” revelation that I’m surprised he didn’t get whiplash.

“You need to take me home,” I said, straightening my, um, dignity, assuring my body wasn’t accidentally denoting, I’m ready for take-off.

“Already? We just got started,” he tried for the “real” convincing tone.

(Insertion of the string of my dad’s expletives here) No, we just ended,” I assured him.

Not to be too easily dissuaded, he slid across the seat and tried to let his fingers do the walking. “The other girls don’t act this way.”

Rather than try to break his roaming fingers, I gave a rapid summary of what I was feeling (emotionally, anyway). “I swear, ___ ___…” (that was his first and last name, which I’ve decided to omit for my own sake – and because he’s no longer 16 either and has hopefully learned a thing or two, himself), “…if you don’t take me home right now, I’m never speaking to you again.”

I doubt he cared about future verbal communication, but he took me back to my friend’s house anyway, where I had to wallow in humiliation to her mother – oh, and worse, watch her mother’s television programming that evening while the rest of my friends were out having a fun time together. ‘Casanova’ didn’t seem too disappointed about it. After all, there was probably still plenty of time to find one of those other girls.

My humiliation didn’t end there though. I forgot to mention that, at the beginning of my car date, I was leaning out of his car window to speak with one of my friends. When I pulled my head back inside, my necklace got caught on his door lock and broke, allowing a long string-full of beads to go scattering in all directions across his floorboard. He made a show of bringing them back to me in a clear envelope on Monday morning, announcing to everyone standing around before classes that he’d gathered them up from his floorboard after our date, while cleaning out his car over the weekend.

I swore off car dates on my own for several months thereafter, especially after two dozen guys within hearing range rushed to ask me out.


So let me provide some “real” practical dating tips for early female car daters the parents of early female car daters, as I now understand the reason for all the expletives my father used as a prefix to the word ‘no’. (Trust me, girls, you’ll thank me one day – it’s just that I’ll probably be in my grave by then.)

  • Feel perfectly justified to say plenty of expletives ending with the word ‘no’ when the guy pulls up in a cargo van and introduces himself with a nickname like ‘Big Mike’ or ‘Ample Alex.’ No further explanation should be required.
  • Have clearly defined time parameters (know the exact time of the event, the exact travel time to and from the event, and allow no additional time for unplanned extracurricular activities – oh, and demand to see the stub from the event. Yes, I know your daughter and her date can snag a stub from someone else, but at least make them work hard at being deceptive).
  • Better yet, show up at the event yourself. Or how about double dating? You parents haven’t been out in awhile, right? (If you mention you’ll spring for the meal, you might get some takers. Of course, these could be the guys who will end up being deadbeats. Tread carefully on that one.)
  • Insist on group dating at first, where all the young men and ladies will accompany one another somewhere. (Ultimately, at least one of the boys will not have yet completed brain-induced puberty and will irritate all the other young people present, making most of them wish they could end the night early.)


Practical Date Night TiP: Themed group dates (that come with a swarm of chaperons built in) are always in style.
(And it’s psychologically challenging to your teen to get romantically involved with a Disney character he/she watched as a child. Okay, um, maybe don’t let your daughter leave the ball with Prince Charming.)

Parental Engagement TiP: Parents should feel free to hang around taking lots of pictures, too, for as long as possible. Teens love this kind of attention.

Other Top TiPs that will be Most-Appreciated by your Teen:

  • Search the young man’s car (and maybe even strip search him) for any signs of alcohol or illegal paraphernalia. (Wait. Some of you may be from a state where paraphernalia isn’t illegal anymore – so let’s just say ‘paraphernalia that will get your daughter into fewer clothes than what she left the house in.’ Parent-unapproved paraphernalia, maybe?)
  • Do background checks on the parents. You really don’t want to be stuck having extended family meals down the road with some of these people, do you?
  • Extend the dating age to 26. Tell your kid once he/she can afford to be on his/her own health insurance plan, then he/she can afford to deal with the emotional and physical risk factors of dating.
  • Have any tips of your own you’d like to share? Feel free to do so in the comments section below.

Go Ahead - Tickle My Ear...

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