I’ll never forget the night my mom got honest with me about her own past. We’d always had a close relationship, but she was notably vague when it came to talk of boyfriends she’d had before my dad. For twenty years I’d assumed it was because there just wasn’t much to say; I never suspected that she so regretted her past choices that she was hiding them from me.
As we sat at my kitchen table in the apartment I was sharing with my boyfriend, she opened up in a way she never had before. I listened as she humbly and honestly told me about one particular long-term boyfriend, the one she thought she would surely marry one day, and how she’d lost her virginity to him believing it was the real thing. I was shocked.
My mom and dad had raised their kids with the adamant teaching that sex was reserved for marriage alone. I had chosen to experiment with sex outside of marriage, knowing it went against their values, but I never once dreamed that either of my parents had done so themselves years ago. This new piece of information was disorienting at first. Imagining my mom anything other than squeaky clean and following socially acceptable tradition shocked me.
But as I digested the information, I was so glad she’d told me.
We had been having a conversation about my living situation—she wasn’t keen on me living with my boyfriend and was trying to show me why other choices would be better, but I was getting defensive and annoyed by what I saw as “goody two shoes rules.” I didn’t think she understood what is was like to be young and wanting to make my own way.
But she did understand, that’s what surprised me. She wasn’t trying to talk me out of a sexually active relationship simply because it was morally unacceptable to her sensibilities. She was coming from her own personal experience of having given all of herself to someone only to have it not last forever. Then, she told me, she was left feeling like a shell of the whole person she once was. Sex, she said, was a deep part of yourself you couldn’t get back.
I remember that night telling my mom that I wished she had told me about her past years earlier. I thought that maybe it would have saved me from making the same mistakes and feeling devastated and heartbroken afterward. Her explanation was that she had been afraid it would make me feel legitimized in my choices, thinking well mom did it, so it’s not a big deal if I do. I can see where she’s coming from, and I honestly don’t know if or how it would have changed the choices I made.
Having that conversation with my mom was hard and awkward, but I was grateful for it. Not only did we grow closer, but I understood the reasons why she was advising me the way she was. She wasn’t being a prude—she was trying to protect my sense of self.
That conversation with my mom stuck with me so much that I eventually ended the relationship I was in and decided not to be sexually active anymore until I was married. A few years later I met a man I could commit to for the rest of my life, and he to me. If I hadn’t taken my mom’s advice, I’m not sure that I ever would have even found my husband. I would have been too weighed down by relationships that weren’t forever.