The Summer of Love About To End? Tonight is the final night home…tomorrow’s dawn introduces the new regime. For six weeks our daughter has conducted two on again, off again summer romances via cell phone conversations, Facebook and texting. Once she moves into her apartment new rules apply. This social romp, with no face-to-face encounters as yet, has been fascinating and somewhat disturbing to witness. But I am glad that all this occurred under our roof because it allowed me to observe the cognitive processing of our daughter’s special needs romantic thinking.
The Bizarro World: The facility with which our daughter can shift from delighting in one of these fellows to indignation and back again is humorous at best and troubling, too. Because no one either drives or has access to wheels, face-to-face has yet to occur. Both young men are known to the special needs community, one having gone to our daughter’s school (she met him briefly last year when he was visiting), the other her friend’s school. All three socialize for long stretches on the phone. So much so that I had to make both young men favorites on our family phone contract.
Mother-Daughter Chat: When something goes awry with one of them, we have a mother-daughter chat, but whatever clarity or course of action may emerge from the chat is undone within hours. Nothing sticks, so swept up is our daughter in the sheer fun of the flirt and though at times hurt, she quickly recovers, forgives, or switches loyalties. Is this healthy? One of the young men, after hours of wooing her, revealed that he was in a relationship. I was in the kitchen when she burst into tears after hearing this declaration on the phone. She was justifiably hurt and furious because, as she accurately described, “He was tricking me.” I comforted her, forcefully validating her reality and she decided, “I am not ready to forgive him.” His explanation, with some justification, was that they live far from each other. A half hour later she was ready to forgive him. The next day he wanted her to drive down to see him and asked to speak with her mom. On the phone he told me that our daughter was so beautiful and to please call his parents to arrange a visit. This young fellow comes with a reputation for compulsive flirting and flitting from girl to girl. Early yesterday, prior to this phone exchange, I had shared that information with our daughter, including a specific incident that occurred with a friend of hers some years ago. All her energy went into sympathy for her girlfriend, including sending her a text. But as for wariness regarding this young man, there was obviously none.
Exploitation and Judgment: The worry here is every parent’s worry; someone will take advantage of their daughter emotionally and or sexually. I doubt I need to explain that to anyone and as with many moms and dads, though I spell out this concern to our daughter, and she gets, it is gone with the wind ten minutes later. Despite this behavior, her history with a somewhat rocky though long lasting relationship at school showed mostly good judgment and boundaries. What pushes her buttons, and bodes well in many ways, is someone trying to control her behavior, not someone appealing madly flirting with her. Makes sense.
Middle School, Teen Or Dysfunction: Which typical developmental age group does this behavior correspond, fourth grade, sixth grade, ninth grade? I have no idea? Or will this be a life long cognitive dysfunction?
Danger Lurking? Of Course: Her ABD team was fully informed of these amorous shenanigans at the meeting last Friday. Fortunately the young apartment-mates on their own had the wisdom to establish rules with their team which exclude men from the apartment. Months ago both girls had requested that there be no male residential staffing. Our daughter will never be alone and it is also unlikely that these fellows will be making their way here any time soon. Visits with either young man with parental chaperones are a possibility but scheduling will be difficult since both live quite a distance away.
Cognitive Confusion: The cognitive confusion here is Mom’s. The staff will limit some of this “access” but not all is audible, such as texting. Fortunately our daughter is not secretive. I will insist that staff remind her to turn off her phone each night. She is trustworthy and will do so. She needs her sleep and one young fellow has been known to send a text at 5:00 a.m. But what is a mother to think? Is this a healthy progression, mimicking the typical behavior of a child much younger than her twenty-one years? Or a dysfunction that will remain? Probably both. There is some growth in socialization from her previous “romantic” relationship at school, more of the gossip and social networking that you see in middle school and amongst early teens. And more straightforward flirting.
Chocolate Showers: These new contacts have added a feature missing in her earlier alliance, sexually suggestive content. The former exchanges overheard in the kitchen typically focused on family dogs and the break down of a furnace. Now, when I overhear her responding to something that I read as sexual, though she doesn’t, I speak with her about what I think she may be missing. Chocolate showers, for instance, usually mean sans clothing. She didn’t get that and disputed my suggestion, so taken up was she in the image of a streaming fountain of velvety chocolate pouring over her much like ones she had seen at family Bat Mitzvahs. OY! Yet, she was highly offended when one young man said he wanted to make “love to her” and chastised him for it. Clearly this is all new and fun for her, but within a special needs world one must be especially aware and watchful.
Safety First, Fingers Crossed: The new regime will provide the proper balance to allow her fun but keep her safe through this next developmental progression. We want love in her life, and romance. And perhaps someday, something more permanent. Why not? She has a heart too. It’s the head we have to keep a watch on, and the body. Naturally. Fingers crossed, all be well. (And yes, she has had sex education practically since kindergarten. One takes no chances with special needs.)
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011