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The A to Z's of Teenagers: B Is for Boyfriend

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I just have a few (modest) he is potential boyfriend material criteria. No, not for my happily married self but for my teenage daughter. Any boy under consideration must have these qualities: responsible, respectful and not have a tongue piercing. Extra points if he can manage to look an adult in the eye and utter a reasonably coherent sentence.

Some of Lizzie's past boyfriends have, alas, not met this high standard. I don't like it, but I get it. My boyfriends at her age failed all objective criteria, and then some. In fact, I took great delight in presenting my parents with a line of ne'er-do-wells, including a peroxided 19-year-old Atlantic City pool boy who thought I was 16. (I was 13 ... or I would be soon). And an emaciated, 6'6" guy with shoulder-length hair so greasy that his nickname was Pennzoil. (To his credit, no tongue piercing.)

My personal boyfriend criteria changed drastically during my active boyfriending years, from "let's shock the parents" types to tortured, neurotic artistic types to go-with-the-flow, it's-all-good, man types. Finally, I figured out what counts: a deep and abiding sense of humor, a passion for and curiosity about life, and the unusual ability to find me endlessly fascinating. I'm betting that's why I've managed to have one—and only one—husband.

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I want Lizzie to have solid boyfriend standards, but I know she will have to grow into them as I did. I want her to value her own unique self so much that she will associate only with others who value her at least as highly. I want her to know and feel and celebrate her self-worth and hang with a guy who does the same. I want her to seek challenges and have a boyfriend who supports that—and who is, himself, a seeker. I want her to have adventures, but not the kind that end badly. And I want this boyfriend to see consequences as well as opportunities. I want Lizzie to laugh and have fun and think new thoughts and wander down new paths. I want her to learn how to do this, herself, and take joy in that. But how cool if she found a worthy companion.

Her current boyfriend, to my utter delight, meets and greatly exceeds the modest criteria I listed above. He has a depth to him I haven't seen in the other guys. He has a great laugh. And the way that he looks at her? It's golden.

You know that cheesy move you see in movies with the nerdy guy inching his arm around the girl's shoulder? I love that.

And now, a word from the teenage daughter:

OK, so I thought of this first line for this boyfriend blog and I just had to write it, even though my mom says it sounds like I'm a "40-year-old, chain-smoking stand-up comic at a dive club." Here goes: I like my men like I like my meat; rare, with a side of me.

When I say rare, I mean sensitive, humble, yet strong, maybe a little dorky, stubborn—and fun. I think that's a "rare" combination, especially in guys around my age or older. When I say "a side of me," I mean me by his side, you know, holding hands. You know that cheesy move you see in movies with the nerdy guy inching his arm around the girl's shoulder? I love that. Hmmm. All this sounds familiar. Kind of like my boyfriend right now. Lucky me.

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I wasn't always this lucky. Or should I say, smart. Let me tell you about some of my past boyfriends. There was the clingy guy. There was this guy with the clammy hands. There was this guy I had to babysit because he couldn't do anything for himself. There was the guy with the really bad teeth. There was the guy who thought he was the smartest person he knew, and the mirror was his best friend. If he could have dated himself, he would have.

What I learned from five years of crushing on, dating and then discarding (or being discarded by) these guys is that you actually have to like and respect a guy first. You have to know him a little and be friends. It's like you can't just look at the cover. You have to read the back of the book (where the good stuff is). So that's what happened with my current boyfriend. We were friends first. Apparently, I discovered later, he was secretly crushing on me. But at the time, we just hung out, played video games, watched movies and ate pizza. It all happened slowly, and we got used to each other, learned about each other, talked. It might be, in the future, that we really come to understand each other. And that would be the best kind of boyfriend of all.

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