As teenagers, Rachel and her siblings go to a diner with their father and argue about what to put on the jukebox. Now that they’re older, they’re spending much less time together—and their mother is busy dating and working. They see their father every few months, and Rachel yearns to connect with him and work through her teenage angst. But at the diner, she doesn’t say anything. Instead, she thinks about watching her mother date a series of mediocre men and pictures the look of fear and exhaustion on her face after her failed dates.
Rachel’s previous flashback chapters showed that her early childhood was relatively stable and enriching, but this one makes it clear that her family relationships began to fray as she grew into adolescence. Moreover, the distance she feels from her father as a teenager is remarkably similar to the distance she goes on to feel from Beth as an adult. In fact, this suggests that her decision to ride the buses with Beth is really about far more than just repairing their relationship: it’s also about Rachel relearning to connect with, trust, and love others in the first place. Similarly, her despair about her mother’s dating life helps the reader understand her adult ambivalence about dating men like Rick after her breakup with Sam.
Rachel believes that, once people find happiness, they stay there and never let go of it. The best way to find it is through love. Rachel dated a boy last summer, but she constantly feared that he’d break up with her—and he did. She’s afraid of turning into her mother.
Rachel’s teenage fantasies about perfect love help her cope with her parents’ divorce and unhappiness. But they also set her up for failure, because they lead her to put unrealistic expectations on her relationships. Indeed, it’s possible to attribute her adulthood to date after her breakup with Sam as evidence that she still doesn’t know how to accept any form of love that falls short of her impossible ideal.
In January, Rachel’s mother tells the children that a new man has asked her out—but he’s a hard-drinking ex-convict, and she isn’t planning to meet him. Then, three days later, Rachel finds this man smoking and drinking at the dinner table, and her mom says that he’s moving in with the family. Rachel runs upstairs to write a letter on the typewriter her father gave her.
While Rachel and her siblings find their mother’s dating life completely incomprehensible, readers can easily see that her despair and loneliness contributed to her poor romantic choices. Of course, Rachel’s mother’s poor choices help explain why Rachel refuses to enter into relationships and instead suffers through loneliness and isolation as an adult.