Monday, October 3, 2011

Dating Culture: High School

     For a description of the dating culture in high school, begin with my description of junior high dating, and subtract a few more boundaries. Now add cars, cell phones, make-up, birth control, higher academic and athletic standards, access to alcohol, and plenty of hormones.
     The dating culture of my high school years was tacitly divided into three categories: single, couple, or hooking up. To their chagrin, the majority of students were single. I was single too, but I came to appreciate it, which has been beneficial both in and out of a relationship.
      “Hooking up” is an all-encompassing term for any sexual experience, usually outside of a committed relationship. Hooking up can refer to anything from French kissing to sexual intercourse. The girls who hook up usually gain a reputation for it, and are invited to a lot of the big parties. Hooking up often involves alcohol and a lack of adult supervision (or the “supervision” of adults with the philosophy that if their kids are going to party, they ought to do it at home). After singleness, hooking up was the next most common.The minority of students was in long-term, monogamous, boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. There isn’t much of a pursuit: a boy and a girl are single/just friends, then “talking,” then “official.” “Ken and Barbie are talking” is an ambiguous way of saying that they are paying extra attention to each other as they develop mutual crushes. “Talking” meant more flirting in person, on the phone, and via AIM instant messaging, which has been replaced by programs such as Facebook chat and Skype. In the past few years, “texting” has etched its way into becoming a sub-phase of talking.
     Talking was and still is the last step before dating/going out/being official/being boyfriend and girlfriend/being a couple. That usually consists of “just hanging out” and doing “whatever.” That could mean watching a movie at his or her house, inviting other friends over, walking around the mall, or anything.
     Couples enjoy one-on-one time whenever possible: between classes, at lunch, in study hall, after school, at parties, at each other’s houses, etc. There is no actual dating, except occasionally taking a date to a dance (and even then, you might be going as “just friends”). Although we had the means—some spending money, access to a car, etc.—real dates of any sort were and are very rare in high school.
     This post may seem verbose and/or downright confusing. That is because so many words in the dating vocabulary are used interchangeably. One word could have multiple meanings or no real meaning at all.
     The high school dating culture is ambiguous and fueled by hormones run amok. Need proof? If you ever go to the girls’ restroom during a high school dance, you will find that there is always at least one girl crying in there. It is the strangest thing! After spending time and money to look red carpet ready, Wendy McWeeperson finds herself surrounded by 3-5 friends, comforting her, re-applying mascara to her puffy eyes, and telling her, “You’re face isn’t that red. If I hadn’t seen you crying, I definitely wouldn’t be able to tell.”
     As I dived deeper into my faith, I became increasingly aware of how many talented, beautiful, unique, kindhearted girls in my school were looking for love, but wouldn’t have recognized it even if they’d found it. Every day brought stories of “He cheated on me,” “Did I tell you what happened at the party Friday?” “That blueberry has too many calories,” and “I heard they hooked up…”
There is absolutely hope for the high school dating culture. However, cleaning up that mess will require strong teens who know themselves, are committed to strong values, and desire the freedom that comes from establishing and maintaining boundaries.


Paul said...

If spending time alone and trying to be one-on-one when possible isn't a real date then what would a real date entail.

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Kelly O'Brien said...

@Paul great question. What I mean by a "real date" is when a guy asks a girl to spend quality time with her, with the intention of getting to know her better. A real date entails a plan: what will we do? Where? When? With whom?
All too often, "hanging out" adds to the confusion (Was that a date? Is she interested in me? Are we just friends or something more...?).