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I was never a very good dater.
Once upon a time, I would have attributed that to the fact that the strongest, most lasting relationship I’ve ever had has been with my mother. But I can’t be sure.
You know my mother. Sure you do. Just picture the love child of Sylvia Fine from The Nanny and Marie Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond — with just a touch of a more accessible Angelina Jolie thrown into the mix (my mother is reading this, after all). And there you have it. An eccentric self-proclaimed drama-mama, she dresses up in her wench costume for the annual Renaissance Festival and reads Tarot cards. Like an excitable puppy she often gets so worked up about something that her mind runs faster than her body and she falls over and needs to be rushed to the hospital. This is a woman who gets so worried when I don’t immediately return her calls that she has been known to call the police on me, convinced that I’ve gone missing.
My love life has never been spared her utmost attention and devotion, of course.
At 18, I took the chance to sever the umbilical cord and moved far away, creating a freak-fest surrogate family of my own. I started a radical feminist riot grrl band, watching the landscape change shape from the window of our tour van, only to land in cities to play shows while wrapped in tin foil dresses to strangers who we would take turns falling into bed with.
Though immersed in my new DIY scene with my fire-engine red hair, rebellious sexuality, and my new enemy, the ‘patriarchy’, I still couldn’t quit my drama-mama. I spoke to my one and only every morning on the phone. I would wake up hungover on a stranger’s floor to my ringing cell phone – my mother, naturally, oblivious to my condition, asking if I had clean underwear, if I had a proper winter jacket, if my bathroom was clean.
When it came to dating, Sylvie-Marie-Angelina-Mom had a lot of useful advice, and the three thousand miles between her state and my own weren’t going to stop her from making her point. Throughout my time as a single girl in New York City, I received dozens of panicked phone calls and voice messages about how 20% of New Yorkers have Herpes — DON’T SLEEP WITH ANYBODY! And of course, Swine Flu will kill you in a matter of hours and starts with just a regular headache — DON’T GO KISSING ANYBODY!
I always took these words of wisdom with a grain of salt, and got on with my life. I wasn’t exactly looking to pick up a social disease, but I’d be lying if I said I’d never been kissed. That’s what my friends – my dah – was for. Each member of my tribe served a distinct purpose: I had one for concert going, one for Gossip Girl (yes, now he’s gay), one for nights of heavy drinking, and one that was just really hot. Though they were fun and all, they weren’t going to break my heart. It wasn’t serious, there was no future in it, and though we were sometimes intimate, they would never be boyfriends. ‘The Future’ always scared the shadoobie out of me, thinking that when I settled down I would tie a towel around my head a la Little Edie and spend the rest of my life re-enacting Grey Gardens with my mother.
Though I didn’t catch the swine flu from any illicit smooching, at a certain point I had to admit that I wasn’t exactly meeting quality guys from the pool my dah presented me with. And the Grey Gardens scenario was seeming less of a joke and more of a terrifying foregone conclusion. I was 24 — too young for such despair, I knew.
After a particularly nasty breakup, I cried to my mother, knowing that her sympathies would only extend so far. Though she was kind, she wasted no time in pointing out that I was dating all the wrong guys, and that if she had her way, I would be with a nice, Jewish doct-ah.
“Fine,” I challenged her, still firmly situated on my pity pot. “Then YOU find me someone to be with!”
It was a challenge she was more than ready for. You don’t mess with Sylvie-Marie-Angelina-Mom. Much to my dismay, when I checked my email several hours later, I discovered that my mother had set up a JDate profile for me. Interestingly, I knew quite a lot about JDate, but never thought that it was for me.
I clicked on my profile in terror. My senior high school portrait stared menacingly at me, while the ‘About Me’ section told readers that I was ‘Pretty, perky, and fun!’ Three traits I’m, well, not. And apparently I wanted to get married, wanted children, was a non-smoker, enjoyed ‘life,’ and learned from past relationships that ‘Relationships are Fun!!!’.
MARRIAGE AND CHILDREN?! At the tender age of 24, I pitied those “friends” on Facebook who had gotten engaged, married, pregnant…and, in certain cases, ultimately divorced. None of that sounded like my scene. I was a rockstar in the New York music scene; I enjoyed ‘life’ when it involved an entire bottle of wine after working into the wee hours at photo shoots and band showcases.
When I confronted my mother about the profile, she informed me that her involvement extended well beyond my initial fears. In fact, she’d been ‘chatting’ with some ‘really nice boys’…undercover. My Jewish mother, I swear to G-D, had been talking to guys on JDate pretending to be me.
Oy flippin’ vey.
She insisted that implicit in the challenge I had extended to her, it was my responsibility to go on some of the dates she’d arranged. Never mind what these dates would have thought once they realized they’d been lured in by a borderline (if well-intentioned) Momzilla.
Reluctantly, I went on a few dates. They were memorable for all the wrong reasons. One guy insisted that he “did not like fire alarms, mayonnaise, or shuttle trains.” One was excruciatingly upfront about his fear of abandonment and how he felt like I was being distant. It was our first date.
I would sit at these dates that my mother had scheduled with men who had never existed in my world, feeling very uncomfortable and out of place.
I was at my wits end, falling back pretty hard on my dah, when I got what would be my very last Jdate email. He said “It was nice chatting with you yesterday, I’d love to try karaoke some time.” Laughing at how my mother had roped him in, I clicked around his profile. He seemed quirky and artistic, exactly my type. I sent him a mixed message, a hostile email with enough flirt to float it and my phone number at the end.
Minutes later the phone rang and I spoke to my future husband for the first time. We talked until one in the morning and immediately after we hung up, I received an email with the subject line ‘Your Order Confirmation’. “Ha! Proved you wrong punk!” he wrote. “There are interesting people on Jdate.”
We went on a date to Barnes & Noble, where he bought me the graphic novel he had illustrated and signed it for me. I was very cautious at first – my mother couldn’t be right about this. But as it turned out, she was.
She found a guy who kvelled as much as I did at cute dogs, liked to write theme songs for, well, everything, didn’t mind when I jumped from behind doors trying to scare him, and had a hilarious alter-ego named Reinaldo. He came to my shows and danced in the front row even when our songs were really bad, he brought his sketch pad everywhere, drawing doodles while we cuddled on the couch in front of horror movies. He forgot to drop the laundry off. He ate cookies at the kitchen counter late at night.
And then one day, when we were on the bench downstairs from our new apartment, sharing a cigarette, he casually asked me to marry him.
And I smiled and said, “Yeah, ok.”
It turns out this feminist, riot-grrl, tough cookie, now bride-to-be has a moral to her story. Maybe you can learn from my own experiences with my mother. Sometimes, even when she voices her unsolicited advice under the guise of reading my ‘tarot’, even when she sends rapid fire texts to the point where I have to turn my phone off, even when she urges me to go to the emergency room when I have a cold, sometimes, just sometimes…mother knows best.
My fiance’s not a doctor, but my mother loves him anyway.
But even better, I do, too.
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