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Explaining birds and bees -- to her parents

July 19, 2007|Cindy Bertram | Special to The Times

WHEN I was a little girl, I would spend countless hours sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table drawing brides in beautiful wedding gowns, holding hands with their tuxedo-clad grooms. Piles of color-penciled paper told their stories -- they met, dated, got married and had kids. The final drawing never changed: a family holding hands next to a big tree in front of a picket-fenced house.

Now, at age 36, I am still sketching family scenarios -- in the form of giving dating advice. To my parents.

My mother and father split when I was very young, yet I don't remember a time when they were not with other partners. I didn't see it coming, but both of my parents are now single. With all 10 toes shriveled from being dipped in the dating pool for so many years, I find myself giving them random bits of advice, often unsolicited. If someone had told me when I began dating at 17 that one day I would be having conversations with my mother about her sex life, I would have told them they were missing a few crayons from their box. Just yesterday, I edited a breakup e-mail my father wrote to his now ex-girlfriend. (Apparently, he didn't read my piece, "Cyber-messages R 4 Losers," which ran in this space in April.)

I am reluctant to admit that in some ways my mom and dad seem to be more adept at dating than I am. They don't have the trepidation that I have, they aren't as picky, and after so many years of being coupled, they are much more eager to be mated.

However, I do find that their pursuit of a partner can be extreme. For example, last year I joined a singles website. My mother joined six. I dated someone long-distance. My father moved. While their measures may seem drastic, they also make me question whether I am too set in my ways to pair off. Watching their dating techniques, I find myself criticizing my own demeanor.

I used to think that my tenacious grip on my independence was an attractive quality, but is it possible that I missed my stop on the genealogy Greyhound? Do I need to be more "needy" in the relationship department?

Because my parents have multiple divorces between them, I have always assumed that my way was better because when a dating relationship ends, there's no muss, no fuss, no lawyers (usually). But when you're in a marriage, then another, and there are children involved, things are complex. I silently implore my parents not to get married again (especially to each other), but what if they have it right and I'm the bumbler?

My latest advice to my mother was that she needed to "give it up" to the poor guy she has been dating for months. My latest advice to my father: Stop "giving it up" for a while and try being alone for a change. I guess it's time I "gave up" being a backseat driver and started steering. Mom, Dad, what do you think?

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