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Memoir: The Family That Dates Together, Stays Together

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DatingI was a bit concerned when my mom started singing along like a teenager to “Your Body is a Wonderland” as she got dressed every morning. It didn’t faze me when my brother told me he was going to midnight mass for Christmas, even though we’re Jewish. But when I visited my dad’s apartment and spied a pink paperback and a pair of fluffy slippers beside his bed, I knew we had reached the point of no return.

It was my senior year of college; my brother and his raging hormones were in high school, and my middle-aged parents and their revived libidos were newly separated. Everyone was dating.

“It might not bother you now, but all that little stuff will start to annoy you after awhile,” my mom said, wine glass in hand, as my boyfriend Jake pulled into the driveway 45 minutes late, as usual. Her boyfriend, Ron, pretended he wasn’t insulted and slipped off to the kitchen as my brother, Bobby, slithered up from the basement with Katie, his latest in an unending parade of undernourished brunette girlfriends.

“If Jake is staying over, then I’m going to go stay at Ron’s,” my mom declared. Ron returned, gave me an awkward, semi-fatherly hug and all three couples paired off and drove out on our separate ways.

I was back in the suburbs for school break. My mom and brother were now more like roommates than family. If Bobby and Katie were, ahem, “watching a movie” downstairs, I couldn’t go there without texting him first. If my mom was staying out late, or having a sleepover, she was supposed to call and let me know, so I wouldn’t wait up worrying.

Like a good Girl Scout, I used observational clues to assess the environment: the heavy scent of Bobby’s Axe body spray or of mom’s perfume meant “date night;” loud music from any room meant KEEP OUT; shoes lined up in the laundry room in the morning (Katie’s flip flops and Ron’s loafers) signaled who hadn’t left yet.

The plot thickened at my dad’s place on Chicago’s Gold Coast (aka the Viagra Triangle) where the butter and beer had gotten shoved into a corner in his fridge to make room for his girlfriend Nancy’s gluten-free groceries. The apartment had a guest room where my brother and I could crash. But the sight of the two of them pushing their new puppy down the sidewalk in a blue stroller as if it was their newborn child was just surreal.

Bizarre as it sometimes got, some of it was, in fact, heartwarming: witnessing my loved ones falling in love, giving my mom advice about male behavior, helping my brother pick out gifts on his anniversaries (measured in months, not years).

On the other hand, watching your boyfriend and your mom collide on the way to the bathroom in the morning can be unsettling, to say the least. Hearing the word “vasectomy” tossed around in conversation twice in one week by your dad and then by your mom’s boyfriend doesn’t help. Fighting with my own mom for the last lace push-up bra on sale at Victoria’s Secret definitely crossed the line.

Forget about privacy in what she called “our house of ill repute” (“So, um…what did you need from Walgreens at 1 a.m.?”) We witnessed each other’s fights, overheard phone calls, and were constantly meddling in each other’s relationships.

But what’s a little intimate interference among family? Actually, we were starting to become friends all over again. Each of us was at a time in our lives where everything was changing and chaos could be just around the corner. We faced a messy divorce, an empty nest, a high school graduation, and my college graduation. (Who gets invited, who sits next to whom, and what about the dinner?) We were all zooming off in our own separate directions. But dating was the one thing that we all, at least temporarily, had in common.

–by Blake Gernstetter

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