Why I’m not giving my son advice on how to talk to girls

Arguably one of the perks of being a dad is the constant stream of opportunities to give fatherly advice.

Advice columns are one of my favorite guilty pleasures. The best ones are like miniature ethical treatises—perfect for a lapsed philosophy major with a short attention span. And who doesn’t like giving advice? To be human is to be full of opinions about what other people should do.

So my son’s first attempts to talk to the girl he has a crush on? A golden opportunity for an advice enthusiast. But I’m passing it up, at least for now. Here’s why.

It turns out that 99% of what I want him to know before his first date isn’t anything new. It’s the same stuff we have been practicing since he was a baby. Love yourself and be open to loving other people. Be kind. Respect people’s boundaries. Pay attention. Use your words.

If I were to make a list of the absolutely critical information straight boys need about dating and relationships, you could boil it down to one feminist principle: Girls are people. (There are lots of variations on the theme: Girls are people, not prizes. Girls are people, not shiny objects.) Special coaching on “talking to girls” seems to me to violate this principle. Girls are people, not aliens.

Of course, that doesn’t make telling a girl you like her for the first time any less excruciating. My palms get sweaty for him just thinking about it. But that isn’t because girls are “girls.” It’s because liking someone and wanting them to like you back is intensely vulnerable. In this TED talk, Brene Brown talks about vulnerability as risking connection, and the courage to take that risk as the key to intimacy and joy.

The awkwardness is essential, and there is nothing I can say to guide him around it. Even worse, there is no advice he can follow to protect himself against heartbreak. Like all the other times I have watched him leap into the unknown, the best I can do is admire his courage and offer him a place to land.