When Renée was a high school freshman, she did what many fifteen-year-old girls do. She developed a crush on a senior. We’ll call him Dave, and he was gorgeous. He was also smart, and funny, and mature, and he could drive a car. What was not to like? But he was a senior and not too interested in fifteen-year-olds.
But three years later, when Renée was a senior, Dave was still in town and took an interest in her. So after three years of admiring him from afar, Renée was more than a little excited when he asked her out.
The plan for their first big date was a Saturday night movie with just the two of them, followed by a big party many of their friends were going to. But that was a few weeks away. So before then, they had time for a couple of smaller, less formal dates over lunch. These were Renée’s first opportunities to meet the real Dave. But unfortunately, she didn’t like the man she met.
He seemed far less mature than she expected for a twenty-one-year-old. He kept telling crude jokes and acting childish. And she learned that he’d dropped out of college and seemed satisfied with a job that lacked any challenge for him or interest for her. A few days prior to the big Saturday night date, Renée decided she wasn’t interested in going out with him. But she’d never broken a date with anyone before and wasn’t really sure if or how she should do it. So she did what most of us do when we’re uncertain. She put it off.
Saturday afternoon came and, as planned, Renée went to her high school football game with her girlfriends. Her big date with Dave was still a few hours away. But who should walk over and sit down beside her? Dave, of course.
What did Renée do? “I ignored him,” she recalls. “And then when he tried to talk to me, I was curt with him. After a while, he got frustrated with me and left. He just stood up and said, ‘I’ll call you later,’ and then walked away. I remember my girlfriend saying, ‘Renée, you weren’t very nice to him,’ and she was right. I guess I thought if I wasn’t nice to him he would break our date so I wouldn’t have to.”
Two hours before he was to pick her up, Dave called Renée. After a few pleasantries, he said, “I don’t think we should go out tonight,” and Renée quickly agreed. She even apologized for not breaking the date with him sooner. A moment later the call was over. Renée quickly made another phone call to her girlfriends. She still wanted to go to the party, just not with Dave.
Now you have to understand that at the time most homes only had one telephone. It was usually mounted to the wall in the kitchen, and the handset was tethered to it with a curly cord. That meant conversations were rarely private. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that Renée’s mother overheard both conversations.
As soon as she hung up, her mother stopped her and said,
You are not going to that party tonight. Call them back and tell them you can’t go.”
This must have seemed as surprising to Renée as it seemed unfair. But her mom explained herself well.
That was not an appropriate way to break a date with a boy. You made a promise to go with him. It’s okay to change your mind. But you should have the decency to tell him yourself. And you should have done it sooner so he could make other plans. You don’t have to go to the party with him tonight. But you’ll not be going with anyone else either.”
Mom went on to explain that just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean you should treat him unkindly. “Renée, you will always run into people you don’t like. Never show it. Treat people, everyone, with the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings.”
By this point, Renée’s father had walked into the room and picked up on the conversation. Now it was his turn to share some wisdom. “Renée, he will forever think of you in that light. He had a very good image of you in his mind, and you destroyed it. It’s a bit like how you now feel about him. You built him up in your mind in a way he didn’t live up to. Now he’s feeling the same about you. Only he’s more justified in his disappointment.”
The entire event and her parents’ reaction made a lasting impression on Renée that she perhaps only fully realized years later. While walking to a meeting with her boss at work, they ran into a colleague of Renée’s she didn’t like. Her boss knew she didn’t like him and why. But after the brief encounter in the hallway, her boss marveled at how she handled it. You said ‘hello.’ You asked how he was doing. And you remembered something about him and asked him about it. Most people in your situation would have just said, ‘hi’ and nothing more, or ignored him entirely.” And that would have made it difficult to maintain a professional working relationship.
Renée had indeed learned her lesson well. Learning how to graciously break a date with a boy turns out to pay dividends later in life as well.
As with all of these stories, I encourage you to share this with your kids, and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.
- What would have been a better way for Renée to break her date with Dave?
- Why do you think Renée’s mother told her she should treat everyone with the same dignity and respect even if she didn’t like them? Do you agree with that advice?
- Have you ever changed your mind about plans that you already made with people? What did you do about it?
- What’s an example of a situation or reasons why you would want someone to know that you don’t like them?
Source: Parenting with a Story: Real-life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share, by Paul Smith.
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story, Parenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.
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