Last week I had lunch with the sixth grade girls I visit at the local middle school.
“What’s up?” I asked them as we started settling into our seats with lunch. There was a sigh here, a shrug there. And then one of the girls, who I will call Sara, said she was a little sad.
“Why are you sad,” I asked in Spanish, as our lunch conversations are usually in Spanish.
“Because my boyfriend and I broke up.”
“Why did you break up?” I pressed.
“I did something that I shouldn’t have done,” she said, regret in her voice– an emotion that was hard for me to hear from a sixth grader about a boyfriend although I am sure I probably expressed it myself at that age.
“So what are you most sad about?” I asked.
“I don’t have anything to do now,” she explained.
“But, of course, you do,” I insisted, “you had things to do before he was you boyfriend, didn’t you?”
She looked at me surprised, like ’what does that have to do with anything?’
“Sara, what did you do before you had a boyfriend in your free time?”
“Hung out with these girls. Read. Drew pictures. Wandered around the neighborhood. Went to the library.”
“Well, then do that,” I told her. “Do those things. You don’t need a boyfriend to do those things or to have fun. You owe it to yourself to always do things that you enjoy.”
She nodded, eyes squinting, trying to comprehend.
And it struck me again that girls learn the lesson of giving their very selves away in order to be in a relationship at such an early age– an age that keeps them from questioning and that ultimately turns them into automatons of pleasing personas for the person of their dreams. 11, 13, 15 or 17 year old boys don’t sit around, brooding in their rooms, their lives on pause, waiting for a girl to call them, text them, want them. They go out and play ball. They hook up their Wiis and play ball. They live.
We owe it to our girls to raise and encourage them to not sacrifice themselves. They’re so vulnerable, so precious, so impressionable, so very rare. They are one of our lovely natural resources, and their preciousness, their purpose, needs to be preserved in a way that makes them understand that the only person they are ever waiting for is themselves.
Updated from an April 20, 2008 blog post.