As a part of Evan Barden’s “One Hundred Dates” project, he reflects on the seven years following his mother’s death, what it’s meant to be a mama’s boy, and how it all influences his relationships with women.
On January 17th, 2005, I lost my mother in a car accident.
While my mother’s death may not seem a relevant topic to my dating life, I can assure you that the two are linked more deeply than they maybe should be. Readers of OHD will note that she comes up frequently. Sometimes, she’s a big part of why I’m even on the date, such as when I went to get a tattoo back in September.
From Tattoo Date:
I’m getting the initials ‘E.F.B.’ tattooed on my right arm, […] The initials are my own, Evan Forde Barden, and they were also my mother’s, Ellen Forde Barden. My mother was killed in a car crash on January 17th, 2005. My father and I were also in the car, but we were lucky enough to survive.
My parents were driving me back to Connecticut to begin my second semester at Fairfield University. This was the school that my family could not afford, yet my mom fought for me to attend, against the worries of my dad. We had enough money to pay for one year, with the understanding that I would likely have to transfer to UMASS for the next three. When that refrigerator truck ran our car over at 65 mph, my mother was in the back seat. She had this thing about letting my brother and I ride in the front seat on important days. She always put us first. And when that happened, an unforeseeable number of events were triggered, the likes of which would change my life.
I saw the best in people when our kitchen was filled with food from neighbors, my suitcase filled with clothing, a bank account filled with donations towards my education, and my heart filled with the company of friends. Both guitars which had been destroyed in the accident were replaced seemingly by magic. Without my asking, I had people come out of the woodwork to help me with all manner of things.
I saw the best in my school when I looked up to see the president and various deans standing around my hospital bed, when my RA drove a van of hall mates up to Massachusetts to attend my mother’s wake, when the financial aid department more than doubled my aid package so that I could stay at Fairfield, when the study abroad department sent me to Italy for the summer just to get away, and when my improv director told me that I had a home with them in the theater. I saw an institution reach out it arms and take care of me for the next three and a half years.
I saw the best in myself as I returned to school two weeks later without missing a step, as I applied to be an RA to help defray the remaining costs of school, as I graduated magna cum laude, as I used my mother’s death as a catalyst to positive life decisions, and as I stepped into each new venture in my life with the faith that everything would be okay because I’d already lived through the worst. My mother’s death enlightened me and has made me lead a better life.
Those three letters, E.F.B., serve as an eternal bond which connects me to my mother.
That’s the gist of my experience. Those are the CliffsNotes of my mother’s death and how it relates to my life. I summed it up as briefly as possible for OHD because really writing about it would take an entire post. That’s where this piece comes in.
People have often asked me if I have the same conversations over and over again on these dates and if I get tired of them. One of the topics that comes up the most is my mother’s death, but you don’t always see me write about it. I may mention that we discussed it or that we talked about my tattoo, but sometimes I leave it out entirely from the post. I gloss over it because I worry that if everyone knows how often I talked about her death to my dates, people will begin to think that it’s my sympathy card and that I am using it to manipulate women into liking me.
That’s simply not what it is.
The reason that my mother’s death comes up so often on dates is because it is possibly the most important experience of my life and I enjoy talking about it. The reason I like talking about it is because, as described above, I saw so many beautiful things come from my mother’s death that I never would have seen otherwise. I’ve also experienced great difficulties with it, but even those have helped me to grow. My mother’s death has made me an optimist and I love that. The worst can happen and life carries on.
It’s also a big part of why I love improv comedy. I was beginning to learn improv when my mom died and several key principals of improv really helped me deal with my mother’s death.
- There are no mistakes. You can take anything “bad” and not only get through it, you can make it into something better than your original idea. My mom died and rather than panic, I used it to make myself better.
- Trust your ensemble. I have long been an ‘I can take care of myself’ sort of guy. When my mom died, I had no choice but to trust in those around me because I was mentally, emotionally, and logistically incapable of doing it myself. They took care of me better than I ever could have imagined. Go figure.
- Don’t plan. I planned on having my mom around for a lot of things—my graduation, my first job, my wedding, my kid’s birth—all that good stuff. She wasn’t around, and won’t be around, for any of those things. That’s definitely sad, but in the end, it’s okay. In improv, when someone destroys the idea you had in your head and you force its survival, you’ll likely be disappointed by the results. If you drop your plan and adapt, your scene will be better for it. So I try not to plan my life out too far ahead anymore, and if things change, I go with it. I place little stake on life goals such as marriage, children, and career. I’ll take them as they come or as they don’t. Resistance is painful, but acceptance is strengthening.
Learning improv and dealing with my mother’s death have gone hand in hand the last seven years and they’re forever intertwined. When dates ask me why I like improv, I can’t help but talk about my mom.
The same is often true for travel. My father has traditionally been a homebody but my mom loved to travel. I never left the country until my school sent me to Italy after my mom’s death. They thought I needed a vacation, and because of some special circumstances, they were able to make it happen. I took that trip, fell in love with the world, and have never looked back. If not for my mother’s death, I probably wouldn’t be the adventurous traveler I am today. All those things about not worrying and trusting other people are also reinforced when I travel. It all weaves together.
When I get to talking about the experience of her death, I enter into a quasi-motivational speaker mindset because I really think that my outlook on my mother’s death can help other people put negative events into perspective. That may sound egotistical, but I only write it here because I’ve been told countless times (often by dates) that it’s impressive and refreshing to hear how I’ve dealt with it. Not everyone handles a significant death the way that I have. Truth be told, I just can’t imagine doing it another way. I didn’t feel like I had a choice. If I hadn’t embraced it, it would have crushed me.
Growing up, I was a mama’s boy. When my dates and I talk about why I like ER, Murder She Wrote, California, hippos, stuffed animals, or Michael Jackson, I can attribute them all to my mom. She encouraged any and all things feminine and cute in me because she’d probably already given up on my more rough and tumble brother. I was often her little sidekick. Of her two sons, I was the emotional one who needed comforting regularly. I was the one who took her side at dinner table arguments. I was the one who inherited her night owl behavior. I also inherited her worry – and boy, did she worry.
I am my mother’s son, and always will be. Talk to me long enough and it becomes obvious.
That’s also influenced my relationships with women though, and this is where we begin to get psychological. Maybe it’s why I am a serial monogamist. Perhaps it’s the reason I constantly seek the presence and approval of a woman in my life since I grew up always having one: my mother. Since she’s been gone, I haven’t had a backup. It’s girlfriend or nothing. I don’t think about it consciously too much, but it’s pretty obvious when I step back. No woman should ever have to fill some void left by my mother. It’s unrealistic and unfair. It’s there though, and I’m learning how to deal with it.
Potential brides, this is your heads up.
The great thing about OHD is that it’s helping me work through that issue all the time. I’m more aware of my reliance on female companionship and validation. I’ve always thought that I was fine on my own, but in truth, I was rarely ever on my own. I’ve almost always had a strong female presence in my life, whether it is my mother, a romantic partner, or a close friend. They’ve all be great supports, and I should have them, but I shouldn’t rely on them the way I do. OHD is waking me up to that reality.
It’s been seven years, but my mother’s death is something I live with every day. It permeates my life and plays a role in everything I care about from improv to travel and to those around me. OHD is a huge part of my life right now, which means my mom is a huge part of OHD. I don’t want to hide it away. I want people to feel free to talk to me about it. I want to continue to learn from my mother because that’s what I’ve been doing for over two and half decades.
Thanks for listening.
I love you, Mom.