Dear Dr. Wes & Kendra: I go to a small school, where everyone knows everyone else. It gets too close for dating at times, and things get really awkward in a hurry. What do you suggest to avoid this problem and still have someone to date?
Kendra: There may be ‘plenty of fish in the sea,’ but at small schools, you’re fishing in a mini pool, making dating a lot like "The Bachelorette," with your peers acting as audience. Although this can seem discouraging, it’s safer than any other dating style. While everyone in school will know your dating history, you will also quickly discover the best prospective partners.
Here are some tips on how to avoid an awkward dating environment:
1. Be honest. In a small school, there are no real secrets, so be truthful about who you’re interested in, and what you’re looking for in a dating partner.
2. Avoid unnecessary PDA. You don’t want the reputation of being the "make-out couple," and in a small school, with everyone together constantly, you’re sure to make everyone uncomfortable.
3. Never cheat. While this applies anywhere, in a small school, every one of your classmates will know, and all potential dating partners will be wary.
4. No sex until monogamy, as Patti Stanger on "Millionaire Matchmaker" says. In small schools, relationships get muddled when lines are blurred. If you choose to draw the line at a monogamous relationship, you’re more likely to get dates rather than just hook-ups.
5. Stay friendly. If you do date an individual and realize he or she is not your perfect match, don’t have a dramatic break up. Don’t just plan on staying friendly, make a conscious effort to do so, while giving your ex some space to move on.
Your classmates may know who you’ve picked from the dating pool, but make sure they see you are dating respectfully. And if you find a potential partner who seems to also follow these tips, then hook 'em in.
Wes: Kendra nails the secrets of close-in dating, so I’m going to sing the praises of simply not doing it. I grew up in a small town, and I can safely say that the best advice is to keep your school relationships and your romances as separate as possible. It’s tough enough to avoid drama when you’re dating your classmates in a school of several hundred or even a couple thousand. It’s darn near impossible in a smaller school. In addition to Kendra’s excellent visuals of intra-high school dating as a bad reality show, here are a few reasons I’ve seen to avoid it if at all possible. Most center not on the dating itself, but the inevitable break-up:
Politics crushes romance. A common way that high school rivals (and occasionally, siblings) gain advantage is to undercut each other’s relationships. You may find yourself worrying constantly about assaults on your true love, whether warranted or not.
It’s too easy, especially in a small school, to get into situations that you can’t get out of. Sure, it’s cute when couples move into lockers together or sign up to be lab partners in biology. But if I had a dollar for every time a couple crashed in the middle of sharing a critical school project, I’d buy my own lab.
Who gets the friends? There’s always a complicated social network in high school. When a break-up occurs, the tapestry frays in a hurry, leaving friend groups divided. And when there are only about 30 or 40 friends to choose from, someone’s going to get left out.
Out of sight, out of mind. Although social networking is a big culprit here, having to see your ex every day in the hallway makes it a lot harder to move on, particularly when he or she is being asked out by your best friend, or your worst enemy. You’ll get to see that a lot if you do not heed this advice.
I realize that some relationships are hard to resist, but if you’re not in one yet and you’d like to be, consider dating in another area school. Not only will you avoid these pitfalls, you might make a whole new group of friends, while keeping the ones you already have.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com. Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.