Dear Dr. Wes and Ben: My parents don’t like that I’ve been dating the same guy since September. They think we’re “too serious” and that we “spend too much time together” so they won’t let me hang out with him as much as I want, but they let me hang out with other people. My grades are good and I’m a sophomore, so I think they are being strict for no reason. Do they want me to be like my friends and get with a new guy every week?
Ben: Commitment is a great thing; clinginess is not. I don’t know what your relationship is like, so maybe I’m wasting my breath, but there are a lot of high school relationships that mistake “commitment” for simply being together all the time. We’ve all seen a “whipped” boyfriend or the “obsessed” girlfriend whose weekend plans can turn on a dime if their significant other has an idea. The unfortunate thing is that we’re often blind to this development when it’s happening to us.
Maybe you’re right and your parents are being unreasonable, but consider what your relationships look like. Where do your friends fit into your life right now? Would you be spending time with them if your time with your boyfriend wasn’t being limited? If not, then maybe your parents are trying to get you to see something you struggle to see yourself. Maybe “too serious” isn’t so much about your relationship as it is about the effect your boyfriend is having on your other relationships.
Always be willing to take a second to step back, take a look and be honest. It will help you, your boyfriend and your parents down the road.
Wes: Having been down this road more than twice, I think you and Ben may not be reading the full meaning behind your parents’ concern. Usually this idea comes from two beliefs still held by some parents: a) too much time together increases the likelihood of sexual activity; and/or b) teens are better off with multiple relationships before settling in on anything serious. In fact, neither of these things is true.
At the risk of sounding crass, if that is the goal, it doesn’t any time at all for teens to find their way into sexual activity, and far too few confine such expressions to monogamous relationships — a point I’ve lamented several times before. Thus if your parents are actually trying to engineer your dating relationships toward the “less serious,” they may well be promoting something very different than what they intend — hooking up without commitment or intimacy. While I agree that everyone needs a balance of exploration and exclusivity in adolescence, your folks need to spend some time updating their understanding of how teenagers couple these days. Believe me, it’s changed a lot in the 18 years I’ve been seeing clients, becoming more complex and at times ambiguous.
So if you think I’m supporting your position on this, you’re right. Radical coupledom at your age is no panacea, but if given the choice between that and the 2011 version of dating around, I gotta go with your theory, hands down.