Wes: We usually see adolescence as a time of coupling, as young people explore the new realm of romance and sexuality. Indeed, the research supports that view, and the consequences of those unions can range from extraordinary and life-changing to disastrous and irreversible.
Clinically, I’ve found over the years that most of what we believe as adults about love and sex, accurate or foolish, we learned before the age of 18. But there’s another side of the coin that’s less often discussed: Singleness.
Because of natural biological and social forces among the 13-to-21 crowd, being outside the dating pool usually carries negative connotations, like social awkwardness, low self-esteem or physical unattractiveness. In fact, many parents seek counseling for their kids, fearing they’re being left behind in the natural stream of the dating world.
But as Ben points out below, many young people choose to remain single for good reasons, while countless others enter relationships for bad ones. I see each teen romance as necessary practice for those that will come later and advise kids to practice what they want to become good at. Equally important, however, is to practice being single so you learn how to support yourself emotionally rather than having to depend on someone else to do it for you. In fact, some of my best dating advice is to never be in a relationship with anyone you have to be with. And the only way to avoid ending up on one of those co-dependent situations is to be as comfortable alone as you are with a partner. Easier said than done, I know, but Ben offers some good ideas on how to get started.
Ben: It’s hard to be the only one, especially when you’re the only lonely one. It’s not always self-pity; sometimes it’s just loneliness. Here are some tips on how to deal.
First off, let’s lay this bedrock: if you’re looking for dating to fix your life, forget about it.
Relationships have a way of bringing things out of you. Yeah, the right girl might make you a better guy, but at the same time, flaws you never knew you had will become painfully obvious against the backdrop of caring for another person. So don’t wait for Prince Charming to solve your problems; he won’t.
Secondly, wait for the right person. Don’t buy into the lie that you have to date because of everyone’s doing it. Most of the relationships you see happening will end; a good handful of them will end badly. Someone out there is great for you, and you don’t want to find him or her while you’re chained to someone who isn’t.
Thirdly, enjoy your freedom in the meanwhile. Want to know a secret? Some of the people who you envy for their relationships are actually jealous that you’re single. So go forth and enjoy a social life that isn’t controlled by the rules or bounds of dating.
Singleness is all about mindset. It’s not a prison, and it’s not a vestibule for a relationship; it’s a totally legitimate part of life. Don’t waste it!