Wes: Periodically, I rant about teen ethics. Actually, many of our columns are about that topic, some more explicitly than others. Ethics define how we should treat others and ourselves toward a greater good. Nowhere are they more critical than in learning how to love and be loved.
Unfortunately, this message of humane conduct in romance is getting lost, especially with regard to fidelity. Maybe divorce reveals the disposability of love. Maybe shortened attention spans emerge from the high give, low take nature of Internet and television. Or maybe, as we’ve noted in Double Take for nearly 10 years now, there’s a profound change from coupling to hooking up — a trend that favors casual love in small doses. Whatever the cause, teens and young adults now have a really difficult time being in one relationship at a time.
Here are a couple of points on monogamy fresh from my forthcoming book on ADD and ADHD — though they work for everyone else, too. Nobody is making anyone commit to anyone. Exclusivity must be given freely and comes not from the heart, but from the head. Nobody is born to be monogamous, nor is it really learned. It’s something you choose because you believe in it. And it’s not a choice you make once, when you agree to date or say, “I do” on your wedding day. You have to get up and say it every day and you have to mean it.
If you don’t want to be monogamous, don’t say that you do. If you think you want to and then find out that you don’t, take that as a life lesson and don’t hold yourself out as interested in monogamy until you really are. And if you don’t value the ethic of fidelity simply because it’s the right way to treat someone, perhaps you’ll consider it from the perspective of karma. Inevitably for those who cheat, what goes around comes around.
Kendra: At an age where teens are already filled with self-doubt and insecurity, being cheated on by a partner can be especially detrimental. However, experiencing infidelity at a young age can be a perfect warning and helpful guide when you’re trying to choose a life-long match later on.
A close friend recently had to deal with unfaithfulness in her relationship. I watched as she pulled herself back to her normal self, reminding me how damaging cheating can be to developing teens. As she re-emerged as the bubbly individual I know and love, her situation offered a great example of how to recover from infidelity. Here’s what I learned:
1. Get out quickly. In marriages and marital-style relationships, couples may work through cheating. In high school it’s safer to simply walk away. Unless you and your partner have explicitly stated you’re not exclusive, cheating is never justified.
2. Don’t blame yourself. Cheating shows a lack of maturity and commitment from your partner, not you. Although the breakup isn’t your fault, it does give you the perfect opportunity to work on you. High school is all about practicing for adulthood, so just be a kid for now.
3. Keep busy. Although time doesn’t necessarily heal anything, spending your time wisely can. To avoid dwelling on the infidelity and breakup, plan events with friends each weekend, and keep your weekdays booked with school and extra curriculars.
4. Don’t revert. Being alone is far better than being in a one-sided relationship. So as much as it may seem appealing to always have a date for dances or someone to bring you chocolate on Valentine’s Day, the cheater will never be your perfect match, nor even someone worthy of a casual relationship.
As the big day in February approaches, it may seem like the perfect time to be in a relationship, but be sure to hold out for the right person. You have the rest of your life to claim your share of the $2 billion spend on chocolate every V-day.
On the Air
Catch the podcast of Monday's Up to Date With Steve Kraske. Dr. Wes and guests discuss how to make good decisions about where to go to college and where to live when you get there. It’s available at www.dr-wes.com or at KCUR.org.