How Dating Taught Me I'm Exactly Like My Mother

by Laken Howard

Since I was a kid with curly locks and a thumb-sucking habit, my mom has called me her “mini me.” Everyone who knows us both has commented on how alike we look — our almond-shaped eyes (hers blue, mine hazel), our radiant smiles (if I may be so bold), and even our feet (complete with matching birthmarks). But when my mom says “mini me,” she means it in much more than the physical sense. Growing up, I was her shadow, always a mommy’s girl, and I thought her lap was much comfier than the couch. So when my parents got divorced when I was 10, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone that I chose to live with my single mom.

Not much later, she met a charming, handsome, and successful man on and within months had moved us from Bumblefuck, Kentucky to Suburbia, Illnois to marry him. I was 12, and for the first time had a stepdad, younger siblings, and lived in something called a “cul-de-sac.” My life had drastically changed, but I was quick to adapt — all I really cared about was that I was with my mom.

My mom, Katie, is wonderful — funny and kind, supportive and accepting, and stunningly beautiful (hint: she is older than you would guess). She’s also forgiving and affectionate, which gradually began to disgust me as I grew older. I watched as her now-less-than-picture-perfect husband continued to lie, cheat, and tear her down emotionally, all while she stood by and tried with every fiber of her being to make it work. Despite how abysmally he treated me, she still treated his children as her own and never once favored me over them. For almost four years, we lived in an unhappy blended family, with the chasm between our two units growing ever more vast.

But finally, when things reached a terrifying level of messy, she left. Almost 16 now, I was so relieved to be rid of the stepfamily that never felt like home and so happy that my mom had chosen to put herself (and me) first. We moved into a house in the same town, but it was just the two of us, now free of her ex-husband’s tyranny and emotional abuse.

Gradually, my mom started dating again. Understandably, I was less than thrilled at the prospect of her getting serious with anyone. I’d just escaped from one controlling and hateful stepdad — the last thing I wanted was another man telling me what I could and could not do. As I watched her date, I noticed again how far out of her way she would go to make her man happy. I rolled my eyes when she would do something as simple as clear her boyfriend’s plate or order him a drink before getting one for herself. I had mistakenly thought that her great act of self-love and bravery — leaving her abuser — would transform her whole attitude and demeanor. But here she was, as forgiving, affectionate, and people-pleasing as ever. I was baffled, and a little angry: Why couldn’t she just be single and happy on her own?

Then something truly shocking happened. As I entered college and began serial dating, I had an epiphany: I am exactly like my mother.

Almost like an out-of-body experience, I would watch myself with men of mediocre to terrible quality and, without fail, I would dote on them, do anything to please them, and frankly, give them more of my energy than they deserved. If things weren’t going well with a new beau, I would cling as hard as I could when I sensed it going downhill, trying to be as wonderful as possible in hopes that he would change his mind and realize how amazing I would be as a girlfriend.

I was a woman with the desire to love and be loved, and I was doing everything in my power to make that happen. Those same qualities I had begrudgingly watched my mom display while growing up were suddenly my own, and I was worried that I would be too forgiving and end up in a painful relationship that I just couldn't end. Slowly though, I began to recognize that these qualities, which for so long I had associated with weakness, actually took an incredible amount of strength to maintain. Time and time again, I was left heartbroken or dejected, yet inevitably I would start seeing someone new and still have the ability to be caring, loving, and show affection.

After dating in college, I think I finally understand just how much my mother has taught me. She might be too quick to forgive, too caring, too eager to please… but she’s also strong, independent, and knows what she deserves. Through years of example, my mom has taught me that affection and forgiveness are beautiful things that don’t have to be mutually exclusive from strength and independence. Every time, she rose above whatever terrible emotional struggle she was going through and put her own needs first. It may not have been right away, and it may not have meant her resolve was unwavering, but at the end of the day, she recognized her own self-worth (and taught me to do the same).

So yes, like my mother, I am forgiving, affectionate, and caring — sometimes to a fault. But, also like her, I am strong and know that my own happiness comes above all else. I am her “mini me” in all its forms… and I can’t think of a higher compliment.

Images: Laken Howard/Facebook