Archive for Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Valentine’s a SAD day for many teens

February 13, 2007

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John: For unclaimed blessings like myself, tomorrow is the most atrocious day of the year. While our dating classmates might enjoy their steamy text messages and sultry glances, my unattached brethren are left to mourn their extended singleness. I, for one, have never so much as held hands with the opposite sex. Yet our schools find it appropriate to pollute the halls with pink paper puffers and naked angels, as if all the population were bonded in blissful amour.

Enter Single Awareness Day (SAD): an alternative holiday founded by and for the forlorn. Whether you've just left a relationship or never have had a romance at all, tomorrow is the day to celebrate your SAD situation. Like every good holiday, SAD is rich with rituals. Instead of hoping for a treat from that special someone, why not treat yourself? Fifteen percent of women send themselves flowers for Valentine's Day, so why not engage in self-indulgence?

Better yet, invite some fellow Lone Rangers over to celebrate your misery. Forget sappy date movies - tonight you're watching "Terminator." Instead of preparing a candlelight dinner, break out the Funions. Don't bother opening doors or complimenting appearances; friends don't need these facades. Be selfish. Be a slob. Be everything a partner can't.

But crass hedonism is only half the fun of SAD. Too many teens despair over how they will find love in the future, and even more dwell on the great relationships lost in the past. Singles Awareness Day is a time to change that mentality, to be open to new opportunities while content with the blessings you already have. Confidence is ranked as a major factor for both men and women when deciding who is attractive, and you can't be confident if you dwell on what you can't change. So go out and meet new people, or catch up with old flames you forgot about while dating. This is the most surefire way to change your relationship status come next year.

But in the event you are still single come tomorrow, allow me be the first to wish you a very Happy SAD.

Dr. Wes: Wow. John's dirge to Valentine's Day illustrates the best and worst of times for teen love. It's also a reasonable opportunity for some out-of-the-box dating advice. The happy couples can ignore this information - or store it for their own future SAD.

First, one must assume there is someone for everyone or, more accurately, several someones. If love can find Napoleon Dynamite - despite his best attempts to ignore it - then it can find anyone. Keep a hopeful outlook. It often takes time to find real love, and that's exactly the way it should be. This is easy to say and hard to do at 16, but true nonetheless.

Next, assume that finding love is like finding a house. What matters is location, location, location. Teens think school is a great place to meet and date their peers. But an informal poll of teens I know suggests that high school may not create a very healthy environment for romance. This is due mostly to drama over who is dating who, who's sleeping with who, who's cheating on who, and who's breaking up with who.

As we mature, we find that dating is not a public matter, yet in school, love plays out in a very big fishbowl. Often, a teen has shared with me a recent breakup resulting not only in the loss of the relationship, but also a splitting of friendships, embarrassment and rumors in the hall - a bright line preventing him or her from dating anyone that ever happened be in class with the former partner, and a host of other problems that make the loneliness and loss much worse.

Instead, I suggest juniors and seniors consider dating someone from a different school, or even freshman or sophomores in college. While parents may be fearful of exposing teens to a world of fraternity parties and other college influences, many mid-teens face similar issues on any Saturday night in Lawrence. It all depends on the teenager and the partner. The big rule in dating "up" is this: The older the partner, the more perfect she or he has to be. I also suggest keeping the age difference within two years, and allowing post-high school dating only after the teen has turned 16.

Next, let's consider the issue of method. Simply put, don't substitute hooking up for dating - or anything else for that matter. I understand that many teenagers don't feel bound by "old-fashioned" rules regarding sexual activity. However, the best relationships I see - hands down - are those that respect sex. They may not wait until marriage or have only one partner in a lifetime, but they take it seriously and engage only within exclusive relationships. It's not that difficult, and it goes a long way toward building healthy partnerships.

Finally if it is USED CAREFULLY (read this again before proceeding) the Internet offers help for the lovelorn. One has to be 18 to do online dating (21 for eHarmony), but it is now one of the most common forms of introduction. It raises the probability of success by broadening and systematizing the dating pool. For mid-teens, social networking sites can introduce them to people from other schools in the area who share their interests. Of course, it is crucially important in cyberspace to be sure people are who they say they are, and to allow real-world meetings only under the most careful of circumstances. If you feel any need to hide an online relationship from anyone, especially parents, then something just isn't right.

Next week: In one of many letters on the subject, a former foster child adds her thoughts to our column on aging out of custody and gives us all something to think about.

- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. John Murray is a Free State High School senior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues to doubletake@ljworld.com. All correspondence is strictly confidential.

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