When I was sixteen and received my learner’s permit, my mother took me out for my first day of driving. Knowing there was a better chance of it ending badly than ending well, she got into the passenger’s seat, scooted down so that her feet were braced at the end of the foot well, firmly clamped one hand on the dashboard and with the other held tightly to the handle over the door. All this before she took a deep breath and exhaled the words, “Start the car.”
That’s how I feel about dating. There is a very good chance it’s not going to end well, and I should prepare for that eventuality before I even begin; I should brace myself.
Unlike parents, high school driving instructors have a choice about getting into the car again and again. When I pick Jake up from after-school practice, I often see the driving instructor arriving or departing with a new, nervous teen. I’ve always thought the man must be slightly unhinged to return to the school day after day to get back in that car and experience the same dangers, repeatedly. What’s the matter with him?
After a divorce and dating for several years, it occurred to me that I’ve become the high school driving instructor. I keep getting back in the car. I keep bracing myself and saying, “Start the car,” and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m as unhinged as the poor driving instructor must be.
Yesterday Jake’s practice ran late, and this gave me the opportunity to observe the driving instructor as he ended one lesson and began the next. The little white car with the magnetic “student driver” sign on its roof came to a screeching halt immediately before the turn into the school’s entrance, then took the turn too wide, screeched to another stop, reversed, and then sloooowwly made the turn into the school. After more jerky stops, starts, and reverses, the car was parked. The jerky movements, the stops and starts, the reversing; this is dating.
Student and passenger got out of the car, and the driving instructor was smiling. The man seemed fine. He made some notes on his clipboard, gave the driver a friendly clap on the back, shook the hand of the next driver and got back into the car. He didn’t brace himself against the dashboard and fearfully cling to the door handle. The silly man didn’t look afraid for his life at all; he was fine.
Either he’s happily unhinged, or he knows something I don’t. Maybe both.
The car does have scuffed bumpers, but it has no major dents; in two years I’ve never seen any serious damage. The driver and passenger might get out of the car a bit shaken, but they’re fine. It’s fine. The driving instructor doesn’t look afraid because nothing truly life-endangering ever happens.
It’s going to be fine.