Since my 18-year-old daughter has gone to university, I’ve been worried sick. I’ve read about the new TV show Girls, meant to be an accurate portrayal of young girls’ lives. It seems they’re expected to have loveless sex with boys desensitised by the pornography that has removed the link between love and sex. If I raise this with her she just says, “Mummy! I have never watched pornography,” but the new dead look in her eyes tells me otherwise. I want her to have a love life rather than a sex life. She won’t discuss it with me. What can I do?
I do think you’re letting your imagination run away with you. It’s not surprising. When a child leaves home for university, most parents are not only miserable, but also worried sick. They worry for two reasons. First, irrationally, they feel that worrying about every possible eventuality will keep the demons away. Secondly, they worry because it’s a way of keeping the child close, at least in their minds. Better to worry than face up to the awful pain of separation and realisation that the child is now beginning to fly the nest for good.
But let’s look at what you’re worrying about. Firstly, remember that Girls is American. And things that go on in the States are incredibly different to what goes on here. Anyway, even within the US there are different cultures and different attitudes. Indeed, there are some campuses over there in which it’s the fashion for girls to be virgins until they marry.
Then for heaven’s sake remember it’s only a television programme. It’s not real life. And everything has to be heightened and altered for television in order to make it entertaining. The series itself is billed as a “dramedy” – a mixture of a drama (completely invented) and a comedy (with situations exaggerated for comic effect). If your daughter were to go into politics you wouldn’t imagine that it would be exactly like The Thick of It.
Then remember that if you gave your daughter a secure upbringing and set her an example by implying that sex and love were linked – in other words, your daughter’s father and you weren’t constantly wife-swapping and swinging and bringing home unsuitable one-night stands – then it’s highly unlikely that your daughter will go in for that sort of thing either.
Of course she’s watched pornography – it’s impossible for anyone not to. But that might well not account for her “dead eyes”, as you call them. She could be short-sighted and too vain to wear her specs, she could be tired, she could be depressed or, which is the most likely answer of all, she could be bringing down on her eyes that kind of cheesecloth film when talking to a you, as so many young people do with their parents, which is a way of distancing themselves from anything you say. Particularly if what you’re saying is something to do with love or sex, highly embarrassing topics to discuss with a mum.
It’s not a sign of terminal debauchery. It’s just part of learning to be separate.
She’s a woman now
Millie, salacious tales of university bed-hopping are exaggerated. Some will be having loveless sex. Some will be having loving sex. Some will be having no sex at all. I know that it’s hard to come to terms with the idea that your daughter is now a young woman. Perhaps she is unhappy for a different reason? Provide her with a loving, supportive environment without judgment and without the influence of your anxiety and she may just open up.
Jessica, by email
Don’t burden her
You are obviously missing your daughter and vague imaginings are turning into real fears. Don’t let the fears escalate and don’t burden your daughter with them. There will be a lot of things going on for her in her new life apart from men and sex. Give her a break and back off. When you chat to her next, tell her your news with cheerful enthusiasm so she knows you’ve got a life and are not relying on her for your happiness. You can’t protect her from unhappiness, just let her know you are there if she needs you, and let her make her own discoveries about sex and relationships.
Jenny Jones, by email
Next week’s dilemma
Five years ago, when my then boyfriend’s mother died, I asked if I could have a Victorian picture of hers. I’d always liked it and we thought it was valueless but pretty. He gave it to me. Since then, I finished with my boyfriend – but we’re still friends – and because I’m short of money I took the picture to be valued. It turned out it’s worth £8,000. Should I just sell it behind his back, or tell him about it – or should I split the proceeds with him? I don’t know what is the right thing to do.
What would you advise Yasmin to do?