Mother Of Slain Wayland Teen Explains ‘Cardinal Rule’ Of Healthy Breakups

BOSTON — Lauren Astley’s father has said that two lives were lost when his 18-year-old daughter was killed — not just Astley’s, but also the life of her former boyfriend, Nathaniel Fujita. Fujita, 20, was sentenced this month to life in prison. He murdered Astley in their hometown of Wayland almost two years ago when she met up with him after their breakup. Now Astley’s parents hope some good will be done in their daughter’s name.

They’ve created the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund, which sponsors programs to help prevent teen dating violence and promote healthy teenage relationships. It also supports the arts and community service, which were a big part of Astley’s life. WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with Astley’s mother, Mary Dunne, about what lessons she hopes other teenagers will learn from her daughter’s death.

Mary Dunne and Malcolm Astley, parents of Lauren Astley. (Ken McGagh/MetroWest Daily News/AP Pool)

Mary Dunne and Malcolm Astley, parents of Lauren Astley. (Ken McGagh/MetroWest Daily News/AP Pool)

Mary Dunne: Breaking up in public. Making your friends aware of the fact that you are going to be breaking up with them. Sitting down with a third party if you have to. Nate didn’t want to talk about this breakup at all. He did not want this. And this one little nugget of not seeing your ex alone, particularly when the breakup has been difficult. If every girl has that in their head right now, if they had had that in their head, then they would have dissuaded her from going alone. If one of them had been in the car with her — I mean, it might have happened eventually, but it wouldn’t have happened then. If that’s the only thing people learn right now, every girl, teenage girl, who’s in a dating relationship: that you don’t do that. That needs to be the cardinal rule, like buckle your seat belt.

Sacha Pfeiffer: So if you’re a friend and you have concerns about another friend’s relationship, what can you do or what should you do?

Well, one of the things is so simple. If you are in the hallway and you see sort of an aggressive conversation going on between two people — this seems really silly to me, but I think I’m beginning to think nothing’s silly any more — dropping something nearby and going to pick it up to sort of defuse the situation. That’s like the very simplest, immediate response that one might do.

A tension breaker?

Exactly. And then the spectrum goes all the way up to actually going to your guidance counselor or having some anonymous kind of way to report your concerns about a friend.

What kinds of warning signs should other kids be looking for in their friends who might have a relationship that isn’t as healthy as it could be?

Well, I think that the signs you’d be looking for would be the same signs that the adults would be looking for. For me, that was do your child’s friends like the significant other? Does your child and her significant other hang out with you and your friends? Or is he kind of trying to isolate your friend and monopolize her? Which, in fact, was the case in our situation. Lauren’s friends did not like her boyfriend, but I don’t think they knew what to do with that fact. I had sort of spotty talks with Lauren’s friends about it, but I wish I had paid more attention to that. As Lauren’s mother, I really feel like I did not get to know Nathaniel. Even though they went out for two-and-a-half years, he was very difficult to engage.

Even if you, as Lauren’s mom, had recognized that for what you now think it is, or even if her friends had and spoke up to her more, do you think that would have changed Lauren’s view about her relationship?

That’s a great question. Teenagers are very single-minded and think they understand everything and know everything. I would like to think that had we all been more vocal, she would have. She had an incredibly tight group of girlfriends and they spent much more time together than she ever spent with Nate. I think kids are going to listen to their friends way more than they’re going to listen to their parents.

Lauren’s dad has used this analogy that just as we wouldn’t put our young kids in a car without a seat belt, maybe we need to be giving them emotional protection to be better able to deal with breakups, especially first loves. Do you feel like kids do need that more than we give it to them now?

Absolutely. How to have a breakup with somebody. They don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re also getting involved much younger and much more deeply than they used to. And I think once you become intimate with somebody, everything changes. And it gets more intense and there’s this more of an ownership kind of piece to it, I think, for some people. I think that he felt entitled and like he might have owned her.

Each time [they broke up], there was a renegotiated truce — something — a new version of “us.” You know, “We’ll go out Friday but not Saturday night” or, “I get to pick.” That kind of thing happened a lot and, in retrospect, I think he was not allowing her to break up with him. He was exerting power and control over her in very subtle but distinct ways.

Let’s say you did know Nate better and he did spend more time at the house. What do you think that could have changed in your relationship with him or his relationship with Lauren?

Well, maybe if I knew Nate better it would have been harder for him to do what he did to my daughter. I feel like, really, the closer you are and the more relational you are to people, the harder it is to do something nasty to them. And I felt kind of anonymous with him, and so that might have made it easier for him to do what he did.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/megan.mchugh.984 Megan McHugh

    My heart breaks for the Astley family, and I’m glad they’re speaking out and trying to help young people have healthier relationships. However, the “golden rule” of never seeing an ex-boyfriend alone teaches girls to fear men, and fails to hold men fully accountable for their actions. Growing up female, we are taught in so many ways – both directly and indirectly – that we are vulnerable, far more vulnerable than men. Men, in fact, are the perpetrators and aggressors we are on guard against. A generalized fear of male assault already operates over us in so many ways; yes, we need to educate girls and teach them to protect themselves, but let’s also hold boys 100% accountable for how they treat women. If we develop golden rules for girls, there needs to be a corollary for boys. Unfortunately, there’s so much about masculine culture in this country that’s rotten…where do we begin?

    • Anna

      Megan- Your advice seems quite naive and contradictory. Women, young and old, need to be wary of men because they are, in fact, the perpetrators of violence against women, children and other men. Those are the stats. They are bigger, stronger and more volatile because they are more emotionally fragile than women. It’s how they deal with it. Holding them ‘accountable’ is too little, too late. Sending Nathanial to prison for life is how we, as a society, hold him accountable for murdering Lauren. But that doesn’t bring Lauren back; and it doesn’t stop the next bf in a jealous rage from doing the same thing. Perhaps women need to stop trying to ‘fix’ men with problems and instead, heed all the red flags waving in their face. Not all men are violent but when they are, heed the signs and get out. Listen to your intuition, your friends and yes, your parents. Masculine culture may be rotten but it’s ultimately up to women to protect themselves and their children. You cannot count on men to respect women, especially when they’re in a state of impossible rage.

      • Cai Phillips-Jones

        “they are more emotionally fragile”

        You hurt my feelings. No irony intended. This is what men were saying about women 100 years ago.

        This generalization is akin to saying that mexican people are more violent than Americans. When in fact, it is their environment that makes the statistics this way. Which is why you don’t say “mexicans are a violent people” but instead “Mexico’s violent crime rate is very high”. Do you understand the difference? Please try to use less inflammatory language in the future.

      • http://www.facebook.com/megan.mchugh.984 Megan McHugh

        I absolutely agree that women must protect themselves against harm. It’s important for us, as a culture, to acknowledge that women must protect themselves against men – once we start specifying that it’s not amorphous and undefined “danger” that we’re on guard against, we can further the conversation about safety, accountability and ultimately, how to curtail male perpetrated violence against women. My point, of course, isn’t that women should ignore common sense precautions – but we should aspire to move our culture to a place where we DO count on men to respect women. It’s a process, no doubt. It will not happen overnight.

      • Chris Cornell

        I’m not even sure how we turned this into a male/female thing. The male should also be protecting themselves in a bad situation, just as the female should, whether it’s from physical abuse, emotional abuse, accusations, or even just gross mis-communication in a heated moment. If you have any reason to question the good faith and reason-ability of the other party, you should have a third party present. Gender is irrelevant. Even it being a romantic relationship is irrelevant, I would apply the same rules to a friend, family member, coworker, neighbor, or anyone else

  • Joe0230

    Unfortunate that a grieving mother is used for propaganda purposes.

  • http://twitter.com/Yaicha_Maus Yaicha Maus

    You’re effeminate values and worthless. Men take what they want to take; most especially from an un-married-whore secular daughter.

  • http://twitter.com/Yaicha_Maus Yaicha Maus

    War rape.

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