Relationship Issues?

Her teenage son had already had three breakups. Was he repeating her mistakes?

Posted in , Feb 23, 2015

Molly Pennington with her son, Dash

“Hey, mom!” my 16-year-old son, Dash, bounded into the kitchen and bumped fists with me. “Boom!” he said, spreading his fingers out in an imaginary explosion. His favorite way to greet me.

“Where’s Ashley?” I asked. Dash’s girlfriend usually joined him after school to do homework together.

“We broke up,” he said, poking around in the pantry for a snack.

I almost dropped the plate I’d taken out of the dishwasher. A breakup? Not again!

Dash tossed a handful of Goldfish crackers in his mouth.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Mom.” He shook his head, a familiar twinkle in his eyes. “It’s no big deal. I’m fine. We’re better off as just friends.” He put his hands on my shoulders and squeezed, then headed to his room.

Just friends. That’s what he’d said about Savannah, his previous girlfriend, when they broke up. And about Sarah and Jessica before that. Each and every one of the girls was lovely, someone I would’ve been thrilled for Dash to be high school sweethearts with. Instead, there was one breakup after another.

Is this what happens to a child of divorce? I wondered. God, did I cause this? Dash was just a toddler when his father and I divorced. It took me a long time to recover. Until eight years ago, when I married a wonderful man named Val, I didn’t exactly have the best track record with relationships.

I’d worried that my romantic missteps were the reason Dash didn’t take his relationships seriously. That breaking up would become a pattern. I’d thought the strong, healthy marriage Val and I had would be a good model for Dash. But it didn’t seem to be having the effect I’d hoped for.

I grew up in a broken home. I never knew my father. Ever since I was a little girl, I’d dreamed of getting married, being a mother, having a loving family of my own. I wanted that more than anything.

But I was bookish and shy, not the kind of girl that boys noticed. I didn’t go to dances in high school. Only went on a handful of dates. I was a senior in college when I met Dash’s father.

Actually, I knew him—or knew of him—in high school. He was the homecoming king. A varsity athlete. So that day when he smiled at me across the breakfast bar in our dorm I was surprised. But not half as surprised as I was when he sat down next to me. He was confident, outgoing. Everything I wasn’t.

A few days later he asked me out. It wasn’t long before I was fantasizing about spending the rest of my life with him. We got married a year after college. I told myself it didn’t matter that we were nothing alike. Love would smooth over our differences. But in the end Dash was the only thing we got right.

It wasn’t until Dash was nine and I’d been through a couple of failed relationships that I married Val. We built a beautiful life together and gave Dash two younger siblings he adored. Our marriage was based on love and trust and a shared belief that God had brought us together.

That’s the kind of relationship I wanted for Dash. At first it seemed like I had nothing to worry about. Dash was outgoing and popular. Socially successful the way I had only dreamed of being in my high school days.

His freshman year, when he told me he was going to a formal dance, I was thrilled. I bought a corsage for his date and a boutonniere for him. He looked so handsome in his tux and she looked like a princess. I was so happy for Dash. Then, a few weeks later, he told me they’d broken up.

I didn’t think too much about it. Until sophomore year, when it happened again. What was going on? The girls he dated seemed nice to me. Smart. Cute. I’d liked all of them.

I’d actually grown pretty attached to a couple of them. Sometimes, when they came over to the house, it seemed like I talked to them more than Dash did. I took them shopping. Did their hair before dances. Of course I was sad to hear the relationships hadn’t worked out. And now Ashley? She lived in our neighborhood. She was sweet, a little shy, a big reader. She’d seemed perfect for Dash.

She’d started coming over to our house at the beginning of their junior year. They would set themselves up in the dining room with snacks and do their homework.

I’d told myself I wasn’t going to get involved, but one day Ashley asked me what I was doing and, well, she was genuinely interested. We talked about the books we were reading and where she was thinking of going to college. She told me she loved to bake and I confessed that I’d never been very good at it.

A few weeks later I’d invited her over and we’d spent the afternoon baking cookies. We had a great time.

Ashley and Dash had gone to all three school dances together that year. I couldn’t understand why they’d broken up. Unless my worst fears had come to pass, and my son was having relationship issues because I hadn’t been a good role model for him.

Dash was putting up a brave front, but he had to be hurting. I remembered how heartbroken I would be when one of my relationships ended. I needed to talk to him.

I went to his room and found Dash at his computer scrolling through Facebook. “Can I talk to you, honey?”

“Sure, Mom.” He turned his chair toward me.

“I’m worried,” I blurted.

Dash looked puzzled.

“I’m worried that the reason you are breaking up with these girls is because of your dad’s and my divorce.”

Dash laughed. “Mom, I never even think about that,” he said.


“I barely remember you guys together. The fact that you’re apart, it just feels normal to me.”

I stared at him in amazement. “So what’s with all these breakups, then?” I asked.

“Sometimes they break up with me, you know.”

“I know, but...” There was something he wasn’t telling me. Had they even tried to work things out? “What happened with you and Ashley?”

For a second, his eyes clouded, like he didn’t understand what I was getting at. Then the twinkle was back. “Nothing, really,” he said. “I’m just not ready to get serious. I still feel too young for all of that.”

It took a moment for me to digest what my son was saying, what God was trying to tell me. It wasn’t Dash who was getting too serious. It was me.

Dash was a great kid. Confident. Well-adjusted. Only 16 but wise enough to know he wasn’t ready for a long-term relationship yet. A lot wiser and better adjusted than I’d been at his age. Not scarred but strong. And I knew I had something to do with that. There was a plan for Dash, a plan I was definitely a part of, but a plan that wasn’t mine.

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