Self-proclaimed "relationship experts" almost always get a side-eye from me. When they're not writing books educating women on how to successfully attract men, they're on Twitter making patriarchal blanket statements about behaviours that will or won't land you your perfect mate. It's safe to say that I take the "relationship expert" title with a grain of salt, but recently I've realized: I'm becoming one of them - but with a twist.
Being the eldest child of divorced parents, I've led many different roles in my family. Mediator, message carrier, therapist, friend, surrogate parent - I've done it all. One role I didn't expect to take on was that of relationship expert - but that's the hat I currently wear, somewhat against my will. Both of my parents are at various stages in their dating/relationship worlds. Both are a bit rusty in love. Both have recently learned to navigate the world of technology. And both of them look to me - the eldest child who's well-versed in matters of the heart and is now representing for the married crowd - to lead them to success in their love lives. Yes, I've become my parents' personal Steve Harvey. My forthcoming book will be called "Think Like A Parent, Act Like A Sexy, Middle-Aged Dating Machine" - get ready for it.
It started off innocently enough, with one of them asking me for style advice before a big first date. I thought, "Cool! I can give some fashion tips - fun and easy!" Then, conversations moved to "I got this new phone - can you show me how do to those text message things?" Next thing I know, I was getting calls about online dating, long distance relationships, trust issues, and my favourite: "He/she said XYZ. What did they mean by that? Is that good or bad?"
As my parents tell it, they come to me for advice for a variety of reasons. One being that I've had a lot of different dating experiences - in contrast to them, who had a few serious relationships but not a whole lot of dating opportunities. Two being that they view my marriage as a successful one (pretty rare in my family), so they say "You must know what you're doing!" Three, it seems that I've magically crossed the threshold of being their "child" to being their "adult daughter" - the acknowledgement of me being a self-sufficient grown-ass woman has added a new dimension to our respective relationships that I didn't expect.
Back to my book idea. I'm not sure how other children of divorced/single parents feel, but I think there's a niche market for us to jump on this relationship expert bandwagon. I've already plotted out chapters like "Being A Digital Cyrano: Helping Your Parents To Navigate Online Dating" - explaining how to handle requests from parents like "I heard about this site called BlackPlanet - is that a good one?" Also covered in this chapter: assisting parents with setting up online dating profiles, teaching them how to take good webcam pics, and giving them step-by-step instructions on the importance of Googling potential dates to see if they, you know, have warrants out for their arrest or something. Another important chapter will be "Dating In The New Millenium When You Haven't Dated Since The Last One" - instructing parents on making a good first impression, the age-old "who pays?" debate, initiating date #2, and a bonus 'fashion makeover' section. They say that everything that's old is new again - but the velvet bolero jackets and extra spritzes of Drakkar Noir can be left behind. A special chapter will be called "Don't Make The Jerk Chicken Too Spicy" - helping parents manage cultural sensitivities with new ventures into interracial dating. Post-divorce, both of my parents got involved in serious interracial relationships, and we had many discussions around the nuances of being middle aged, divorced with kids, and trying "something new." We had the Black/White version of the Brady Bunch happening up in my house for a few years, and it led to a new experience for all of us.
Special chapters for us kids are a must. "She's Not My Sister, She's My Stepmom" will deal with parental May/December relationships, and new partners who are younger than you. Yikes. "When To Give A Side-Eye And When To Let It Slide" will touch on that sensitive topic of plain old not liking your parent's new partner. You think Mom/Dad's date is a loser. Do you tell them? Do you just let it be if they seem happy? How do you know if your dislikes are valid - or if you're just uncomfortable with the idea of your parent moving on? Sigh. Let me get started on this manuscript.
This role reversal has had me feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland lately. Society's framework of family structure maintains the ideal that parents are the relationship experts who give their children the low-down on love. Reality, however, shows us that in today's world, families take on all different shapes and forms. Parent/child relationships have so many intricacies, many of which are only revealed as we grow and mature. For me, the dating/relationship guidance is one of those intricacies, but is something I'm low-key happy to help with. When they report back after a great date night, or tell me that my advice helped them during times of conflict with their partners, I can't help but smile and think, "Wow - they're growing up right before my eyes."
Now...about this book deal/movie deal/TV show on OWN deal... *pages Oprah*
So, do you think I'm on to something with this new 'relationship expert' niche? Have you had similar experiences with your single/divorced parents? As you've gotten older, have you found that your relationships have changed?