The week before I started high school, my mom took me aside to have One of Those Talks. As only a mother can, she worried that my charm and winning smile would attract a bevy of girls. And some of those girls might lead me down the path of vice.
If mom ever saw me talk to a girl, she’d know she had nothing to worry about. My tongue turned to lead. Sweat beaded down my forehead. And when I started talking, a small piece of my brain told me that I was a thin-wristed loser who wasn’t pulling off that shell necklace. It’s hard to find a girlfriend under those conditions.
As high school rolled through college and into young adulthood, my tongue stayed as lead as ever. But my mother started believing that I was staying single on purpose. This was partly because she still saw me through mom-colored goggles.
Also, that’s what I told her.
Toward the tail end of college I realized that the sweaty forehead would probably never change. But I could change how I framed it. Instead of being the guy too awkward to talk to girls, I became the guy with too many plans to waste time on women.
To change my mind, mom developed a bad habit. She started setting me up with a string of “the nicest girls.” But I couldn’t do it. Even though my singleness started as a defense mechanism to social anxiety, it had become a principle.
I had told myself that being single was a deliberate act of rebellion enough times to believe it. If anyone asked me why I was single, I had plenty of reasons:
- I was reacting against the culture’s obsession with romance. I was taking an especially brave stance against evangelical marriage culture. John Brown University, like many Christian colleges, had a saying around campus that girls should expect a “ring by Spring.” This was one of those jokes that wasn’t entirely a joke. For lots of classmates, the purpose of youth was finding a spouse and preparing to be a spouse.
I was going to be different. I was going to demand more from life.
- I had killer plans that required singleness. I was going to hitchhike across Europe making pastel sketches. I was going to launch an artisan soda company. I was going to write an epic poem entirely in limerick. I was going to grow out my hair and tie it behind my head like a Samurai. I was going to get the Bayeux tapestry tattooed across my chest.
There was no room in those plans for a relationship.
- I also found a brochure for a monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. The more I thought about it, the better it sounded. Though they might frown on my samurai hair….
But none of this deterred my mom from her would-be brides. Her phone calls down to JBU sowed the seeds months in advance:
“Matt, I met the sweetest girl at church today. She’s new in town, and was looking for a church where they preach the word. She said the funniest thing when I met her–just like something you’d say…”
When I visited home, the girl would get invited over for dessert. Or asked to join us at the park for Fourth of July. Or offered the seat next to me in the church pew.
Nothing against these girls–they were all nice, and they had no idea they were a pawn in my mom’s master plan. But there was nothing I could do. I had decided to live as a cool loner, the way I imagined Jack Kerouac did. And there was no time for romance.
Besides, these were the girls my mom picked out. I couldn’t let her be right about this.
The summer before law school, I met this girl named Danielle at work. Danielle was different. Not only was she both pretty and smart–I could actually talk to her without my tongue turning to lead. I’d never seen this combination before. Maybe I could actually…
No. There was nothing I could do.
I was a sophisticated single man going to find his fortune in California. I was free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change. Besides, that little part of my brain was pretty sure Danielle thought I was a loser who looked stupid in that paisley tie. Seriously, what was I thinking on that Kohl’s trip?
That may have been how things ended. But then I invited Danielle and some other friends over to my house one evening. Mom was in the kitchen when the doorbell rang1. She answered it. That’s when she saw Danielle for the first time.
Here’s how my mom explains what happened when she opened the door2:
The light from the setting sun was blinding. It radiated around Danielle’s golden hair, wrapping her in a halo of light. Birds sang. Flowers bloomed. Harps played in the background. Everything in Danielle’s countenance–her smile, her eyes, the graceful nod of her head–told my mom that her quest to find her son’s wife had finished.
Now she had a real problem.
On one hand, if she tried to set me up with Danielle, I’d see what was happening and reject it on principle. So she couldn’t set us up. But on the other hand, if she did nothing, I would leave for law school without anything happening. So she couldn’t not set us up either. Quite the dilemma.
The plan she settled on was to set us up without “setting us up.” A fine line, to be sure. In practice, this meant she never talked with me about Danielle, but she made sure that Danielle was always around.
It was still clear what was happening. The fact that the only people invited to my Dad’s birthday brunch were me and Danielle made me raise an eyebrow. But the fact that mom never directly talked about it took the edge off.
And what’s more . . . I didn’t mind mom inviting Danielle places. You see, I liked spending time with her.
And that was a problem.
One one hand, I liked Danielle. She was pretty and I could talk to her without lead-tongue disorder. As a bonus, that little part of my brain even stopped calling me a loser (but it still hated my paisley tie). On the other hand, dating her would give up my principles, my soda company, and the samurai hair.
It would also mean proving mom right.
A week before I left for law school, my family and I were driving back from a trip to Texas. Head leaned against the window, I glazed over the brown fields and abandoned oil rigs. Okay, so I wanted to date Danielle. We stopped at a small town gas station, dust swirling against the mirrors. But that would mean mom was right. I got out to squeegee the bugs off the windshield. Maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing….
Ten minutes later, I was furiously typing on my phone.
“Who are you texting?” mom asked.
“. . .” I replied.
A couple hours after I got back, Danielle and I started “officially dating,” or whatever I’m supposed to call it. I haven’t looked back since. And, I have to say . . . that is, I mean . . . what I’m trying to communicate is . . . *deep breath* my mom was right.
Happy Mothers Day, Mom.
1 YES, I was living with my parents. I was about to go to law school and needed to save money. Cut me some slack, will you?!?! Why are you all staring at me? It’s my shell necklace, isn’t it?
2 And she has told this story A LOT.
Writer’s Note: Since you made it to the end of the post, you might as well keep scrolling and click to follow my blog. -Matt