monica_lewinsky1My coworker came into my office and asked if I’d related in any way to Ashley Dupré, the prostitute on the receiving end of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s amorous attentions. “It’s OK. You’re among friends,” she said.

It struck me as a question I might have been asked a dozen years ago when I worked at Cosmo, not at Parenting, where she and I are employed. We’re both moms, she of a toddler, and I of two almost six-year-old girls. We spend our days researching and writing stories on food allergies and sibling rivalry, not the proclivities of powerful, risk-blind men with impulse control problems. But she quickly made it clear why she was asking, and her reasons weren’t merely prurient.

My friend wanted to know if, when I was 18, had I been stranded in Miami because I was no longer getting along with the girlfriend I’d traveled with, would I have opted to call my parents to wire me money so I could come home? Or would I have done something like what Dupré did, which was to hop on the Girls Gone Wild bus, and allow myself to be filmed showering and making out with other women in part so that I could get a ride home? It was that decision, it seems in retrospect, that launched Dupré’s dubious career as a sex worker-slash-aspiring pop star-slash-Page-Six darling. “Seems to me, if your first instinct isn’t to call your parents when you’re stuck in Miami, something went off the rails a long time ago,” she said. Indeed.

I didn’t have to think about that one long. I’d have called Mom. Even though our relationship wasn’t always perfect, she was cool. I didn’t have much to rebel against, and I knew that even if she didn’t have the money she would have found me a way home that didn’t involve me flashing my hooters.

My colleague, a sharp, bespectacled, down-to-earth military wife admitted that back when she was young, she had a smidge of La Dupré in her. I, on the other hand, related much more to Monica Lewinsky–the Nice Jewish Girl with apparent dad issues who obviously did well enough in school to land a prestigious government internship and was enough of a people pleaser to tell all to the evil Linda Tripp.

I’m only six years older than Lewinsky, and when the whole scandal broke, my main thought was if you’re going to have oral sex with some guy who’s going to not call you again, it may as well be the Leader of the Free World. Why was I wasting my time not being called by some drummer in an unsigned punk/ska band who still lives with his parents in Queens? I should probably find someone a bit more impressive not to be called by. I didn’t think she was an inspiration, exactly, but I didn’t think she was a big fat loser, like many in the media were billing her as. She was just a girl doing what she probably would have done whether she was working at the White House or at the White Castle–hooking up, trying to find a little connection wherever it found her. She was still young and impressionable, albeit legally able to make her own (very poor) decisions.

Are you Formerly a Dupré, or Formerly a Lewinsky, or, hopefully, Formerly neither? This could almost be a Facebook Quiz, like Which Classic Screen Star Are You? Instead, it’s Which Young Fucked-Up Female Who Found Herself at the Center of a Sex Scandal Are You?

Of course, my colleague and I didn’t sit down and cook up the perfect strategy for raising children that wind up  together enough as young adults not to act like either Lewinski or Dupré. I’ll let you know if we do.

But I like to think that having been Formerly a Monica will help me notice if my own girls start to go wild. Being a Formerly when you have kids is not a bad thing, I’m finding. You’re old enough to know better, but young enough to remember your own major missteps.

Photo by Helene Stikkel, Office of the Secretary of Defense CC