In honor of International Women’s Day, I present some unconventional wisdom from an important woman in my life: my maternal grandmother, Debbie. She dropped this wisdom during my visits to her assisted living home in Newton, where she stayed throughout my late high school and early college years. She died as I began my senior year of college. Today, I want to Debrief both what I think she meant, and what meaning I can take from her words today.
“Do you have someone to take you out? It’s nice to have someone to take you out.”
What she meant: She wanted me to be having fun in addition to doing all that hard work I always did. Often she would call me at home while I was doing homework, and she would sound sad or apologetic that I was hard at work instead of…I don’t know, what else was I supposed to be doing? I wonder how much of her response to me was gendered; my brother didn’t get this advice. Maybe he didn’t visit her as often so he just didn’t have the chance, or maybe she thought that women need men to buy them dinner and take them dancing. I told her I could take myself out, and that I went out frequently with friends. She remained skeptical.
Wisdom I’m gleaning: Looking back, I like this concept of having someone to take you outside of yourself. It’s not just about getting outside the house or outside of the library/study hall/office. It’s about what we can feel, experience and learn through connecting with another person. It’s about getting outside of our own worlds and absorbing the meanings and nuances of someone else’s world. It’s about the potential for growth in and through relationships.
“Better make it two people—because if one is busy, you can call the other.”
What she meant: Have fun! She seemed quite focused on having fun and seeking pleasure. She had several different strategies for keeping herself the center of attention, which is where she preferred to be. I laughed nervously and again assured her that I had plenty of friends who would go out on the town with me.
Wisdom I’m gleaning: I doubt she’d ever in her life heard the word polyamory in her life, but that’s what this advice sort of sounds like. Yes, she had a boyfriend in her assisted living center, and then later there was a second boyfriend. Why stop at one when you’re just having fun? Even couples who want sexuality, love and romance to remain monogamous between them can support that primary connection by building close relationships with other people, like friends and family. We all have a lot going on in our lives, and we don’t always want to be doing what our partners are doing. When our partners aren’t available, whether they are busy working or needing rest or spending time with someone else, we may want other people close by, other people to listen to us, comfort us, get dinner or go dancing with us, or just take us out—to take us outside ourselves.
“You don’t need a ring on your finger until you want children.”
What she meant: She clearly didn’t believe in marriage for its own sake. But she did believe in propriety, and hinted to me that I was supposed to get married before getting pregnant. It’s just what’s expected. Her own life story adds some interesting subtext here. She did indeed get married before having children. And then she got divorced about a decade later. So her concern was likely not about raising children or supporting children or building a family in the context of a loving partnership. Her concern was just about the pregnancy. The propriety. I smiled, nodded and didn’t say a word in response.
Wisdom I’m gleaning: I don’t know, folks. I think this is a pretty ridiculous thing to say. Your choice of jewelry (as in the rings on your fingers) and your process of family planning (whether you want children) need not be related. Some people want and have marriage without children, and some people want and have children without marriage. Many people do both. Some people, like my grandparents, do both and then split. I’m not sure what wisdom I can glean here. It just seems really judgy. I’ll admit, Granny could be pretty horrible much of the time. Maybe we shouldn’t listen to her dating advice after all.