On Loving While Young


On APW, we spend a lot of time talking about women’s cultural conditioning for relationships. Which makes today’s post from Bec particularly interesting. She’s an educator of teenage boys, and she sees first hand the way we fail to teach and model what healthy relationships are and can be for men. But perhaps more powerfully, she makes the point that we, as a culture, undervalue teenage relationships. We write them off as meaningless because hey, they’re not “adult.” Which is flat out bullshit when you think about it. Like Bec, I married someone I fell in love with in high school, so I find the idea of valuing all relationships, for people of all ages, particularly important. If we were all taught to value all our relationships, romantic and otherwise, from a young age, how would that shape our lives?

—Maddie for Maternity Leave

On Loving While Young | A Practical Wedding

A couple of months ago, I married the man I have been with for the last nine years. It is also coincidentally eight and a half years since I graduated from high school.

There’s much to be said about marrying the first person you meet and start dating and the conflicting messages that go along with it (Great! Good! Fantastic! You’re not a slut! But what’s wrong with him? Did he get a chance to sow his wild oats? Sigh.), but what I want to write about is my job and how it changed my view on marriage—and how my impending marriage changed how I approach my job. I teach at an all-boys school where I am in a distinct minority; there are roughly thirty female teachers out of staff of more than one hundred. Compounded with a thousand plus students, it has been an interesting experience for a reasonably vocal feminist and educator.

Boys and young men have an incredible capacity for compassion and consideration. In the lead-up to getting married I was overwhelmed by offers of help and support from a demographic best known for epic Diablo 3 sessions: sneaky (and illegal, per school policy) cans of Diet Coke whenever I looked frazzled; taking my co-curricular teams for training whenever I had a mishap to iron out; or offering to sing or film at my ceremony were genuine and heart-felt offers of love from young people and they have made my job feel ever that more worthwhile.

From mentoring and working with young people I’ve observed a real shortcoming in pastoral care with how we teach and model marriage and relationships—particularly when it comes to boys. The ones I work most closely with are the same age I was when I started my own relationship, and in them I can see the same anxieties, fears, and hopes I had.

I don’t shy away from who I am and what I believe, both in my employment and in my relationship. If young people ask me a professionally appropriate and respectful question about human relationships, they deserve a sincere response. In the process of teaching them, I’ve learned plenty about the gaps in their education, and in a way, my own; there were no adults willing or able to tell me, in my final year of school, that sometimes a day spent stuffing around with your boyfriend is actually more beneficial to your mental health and happiness than a day studying, or that the flaky friends who enable your bad habits and who ditch you when you find love are actually not worth crying over. Or, especially, that you don’t have to listen to adults who are in crappy, dysfunctional relationships who try to tell you that you are just infatuated, and that it’s lust, and not love, driving your bond.

These gaps aren’t only for teachers to fill; they’re for parents, and friends, and extended family too. They’re for people who coach, mentor, and nurture the young because they think that it’s a valuable investment in our shared futures:

They want you to support and validate the very concept of building relationships. Young people are going through what is likely the most trying experience of their lives. They are expected to know exactly what it is they want to do for a career and to focus on achieving this to the exclusion of all other things (apart from co-curricular pursuits or familial obligations). There’s a good chance they are going to hear the word ‘socialising’ being used in a disparaging manner by both parents and teachers alike.

There’s a lot of dialogue about suicide amongst young men and how our boys are neglected emotionally, but I become increasingly irate when the same voices complaining about this are the ones telling kids they need to stop wasting time talking to people online, or going out with their friends, so they can study. Building and sustaining quality relationships on any level—romantic or otherwise—is vital for quality of life and for preserving good mental health and connectedness. (And I won’t even go into the shitbag of sexist connotations associated with the word ‘socialise’; men ‘bond’ or ‘network’ and it is VITALLY IMPORTANT, but not too often, whereas women ‘socialise’ and fritter away their time. Don’t even get me started on it.) Extending on this…

They want you to support and validate their own relationships—the ones that start when they are young and still in school. Perhaps I wouldn’t hold this position if my own life experience didn’t give testament to the potential for high school relationships to blossom into worthwhile, life-long partnerships. There are plenty of young people who happen to find the person they care for and connect with while young, who don’t get or stay together just because of status or sex. For them, rituals, shared experiences, and compassion drive and motivate them to build the partnerships they’re in. They want to recognise special dates and create meaningful traditions as a couple. They want their relationships to be recognised with the same validity as adult relationships. Many of them go through the same hardships as adults, helping their boyfriend or girlfriend deal with grief, loss, stress, mental and physical health concerns, disadvantage and poverty, or it may be that they’re dealing with these things themselves.

The young people in your life are going to hear plenty of disparaging comments about the instability, lustfulness, or superficiality of their love; I know I did. They don’t need it to come from you.

They want you to support and validate the concept of romantic relationships, and to be vocal in affirming your own. You may be the only adult in that young person’s life who can provide any sort of role modelling. There are plenty of kids growing up without a decent male figure in their life—and probably the same number without a decent female figure. They don’t want you to make crappy nineties sitcom jokes about women loving shopping or husbands forgetting anniversaries. They want to hear from you that loving another person is worth the time and effort, and they want to learn strategies to nourish and strengthen a relationship. On a recent school camp I went on, I overheard some older male colleagues joke about how their wives wanted to ‘waste all their money’. I’m not particularly good at keeping my comments internal, so I blurted out, “How could you talk about your spouse like that?” They responded that they were just joking, and the phrase you’ll understand when you’ve been married as long as we have may have come into play. These are good guys who do love their wives, but do they not get that the seventeen-year-old boys around us hear and absorb those messages about women and normalise them? I was honest, and said that I would be heartbroken if I ever learned that my fiancé had made the same comments about me, and likewise for him.

Young folk, and particularly young men, deserve a great deal more than the platter of turds served up to them by the patriarchy, and they deserve a better world view than the one on offer from Dane Cook and Tucker Max. They deserve to hear that relationships and marriages can be far rosier than the bleak pictures painted by angry men’s rights activists and jaded cynics.

And if you value quality human relationships, they want to hear what you have to say. I know I did.

Photo by: Moodeous Photography (APW Sponsor)

read the comment policy before you post

  • http://safarimama.blog.com Manya

    This is a really interesting post. I grew up in a house full of girls, and have had the joy of interacting with my step sons. The oldest had his first love and heartbreak this summer, and I was the one there to talk him through it and mop him up with the special closeness/distance that stepmotherhood at its best can provide.

    I am a professional sex educator (among other things) and have developed youth programs. I found what you have, that young people are desperate to talk with adults about sexuality, relationships and their futures. All we have to do is ask: you want to talk about it? The vilification of the stereotypical grumpy teenager our society loves to perpetuate does a disservice to the deeply thoughtful young people who are trying to find their way.

    Thank you for reminding us about how important it is for all of us to consciously help in building a healthy society and marriages.

  • http://smittenimmigrant.wordpress.com Pluis

    I love this post!

    A week ago my colleagues and I ran a day-long project in a group of teenagers on the subject of relationships. We talked about love and friendship and about the feelings that come with them. We wrote short stories, made drawings and poems and saw them open up about the people they feel special connections with.

    Research shows that teenagers (in my country) encounter partner violence regularly, are often uninformed about relationship decisions and sometimes have trouble expression emotions and setting boundaries with partners and friends. At the same time, they’re very interested in the subject of relationships (we offered these teenagers all the subjects we’d written about in the book they use in class and they picked this subject themselves) and have a lot of interesting stories to tell.

    It would be so awesome if ‘relationship-education’ (in the wider sense of the word) would just be a standard part of the curriculum in schools.

    • rys

      Relationship education! Yes.

    • Amanda L.

      I love the idea of relationship education. I have always said that if I have ever have children, one of the things that I will find most important to teach them is the value of good romantic relationships. When I was in my teens, I thought it was the end-all, be-all to have a boy like you. Looking back, I wish that I had realized that they were two-way streets. Those relationships are the way you learn who you are, what you want, what you definitely DON’T want, and what you need. I spent too many years trying to be what others wanted, and then trying to desperately hold on to relationships that were just wrong.

      I cannot wait to teach my (someday) children the joy of a good relationship, and especially the good that can come out of a relationship ending, even if the breakup was a difficult one.

  • KEA1

    “Exactly” to this whole post, and I really hope that there are more people like you in the world to serve as mentors to our kids/teens/young adults. Your point about validating younger people’s romantic relationships particularly resonates with me; I didn’t marry my HS sweetheart, but I appreciated so much that the adults in my life basically were *not* dismissive of it as “just” a HS relationship. It still was awful when it ended, but at least people didn’t treat me as though I was crying over nothing. I shudder to think about what that kind of heartache is like for people who were never given the acknowledgment in the first place that the relationship mattered to them.

  • Laura

    THANK YOU! I’m in a similar situation as you were. I’ve been with the first person I started dating since high school…we’ve been together four years now. I hear a lot of, “You should date other people to find out what you like.” And I’m just like, “I already found it…”

    • Emilie

      I get this ALL. THE. TIME. Sometimes the world can be really unaffirming of the most fruitful things.

      In regards to figuring out what you like, a lot of my single college/post-college friends have running lists of what they want in a spouse: musician, bilingual, loves travel, at least 4-year degree, at least as tall as me, liberal-main-line-protestant, must make a minimum of 60,000/year, must love cats, etc. I totally get it (Virgo here!) because in the broadest sense this approach is a helpful tool to name your needs. But at the same time, I haven’t seen this work out to well (albeit yet) practically. I think falling in love young can help save you from a jaded approach to dating where you emphasize IDEAS of a successful marriage over an actual RELATIONSHIP where partners grow together. Because I fell in love with my partner in high school we both grew into our relationship, grew into loving each other. If we hadn’t met till now would we fall in love? Honestly, probably not. Because through those awkward teenage and unstable college years we adjusted, changed, settled into, and prioritized the relationship we experience now. I guess we just made the choice, the commitment, of being in love at a young age. Still figuring out if we knew it at the time or not.

      By the way I’m not claiming that falling in love older than adolescence is bad; being in healthy relationships regardless of age are ALWAYS something to be celebrated. Just speaking to particular strengths I’ve seen in young-found-love.

      • k

        The thing that always bothers me about those lists is that “is nice to me” never seems to appear on them.

        • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

          Hmm…I put trust and patient on my most recent list. Not quite the “is nice to me” but more of thinking what I wanted that to look like.

          It is fun to compare the lists I make at different (single) life stages. I wonder what my list would have looked like if I’d made it while in Relationships.

      • Caroline

        “Because I fell in love with my partner in high school we both grew into our relationship, grew into loving each other. If we hadn’t met till now would fall in love. Honestly, probably not.”
        This is so true for me. My partner and I have been together sInce high school, and we’ve grown and changed together. I think if we met now, instead, we probably would not have fallen in love (I don’t think we would have started dating), whic would be sad, because our relationship is awesome. I love that we’ve grown up together, and continue to shape parallel life paths.

      • Alexandra

        Those lists have always made me wince. I wandered into a sub-reddit the other day on relationship advice, and after reading one story about a relationship that fell apart, it seemed the kid’s only conclusion was “My next girlfriend must be an extrovert, and must fit into the standard mold of a housewife, because I did so poorly with this feminist introvert.” I cried a little inside. (And I do realize that being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t be a girly housewife, that was just this kid’s conclusion and reasoning.)

      • Copper

        ehh, the thing that happens with those lists a lot of times is, nothing. One day, you meet someone, you feel the magic, you get to know them, realize they don’t meet some of your listed criteria (though they probably meet some of it, as the criteria usually range from really important to pretty trivial), but you want them anyway. So you throw the list out the window.

        • Not Sarah

          Very true! That’s why I’ve become a huge fan of the “must-have” list that only has 5 items on it. That’s far easier to use as a check list than some of my long-winded ones :)

  • BB

    I can very much relate to you as a woman who started dating her fiance in high school. I get sad, almost pitying looks from people as if I was too insecure to move on from “young love” to a mature form, never bothering to ask about the trials we have weathered, and how we have really grown as individuals and a couple. And yes, so many comments about how he “didn’t get to sew his wild oats.” I even hate the term “high school sweetheart” because it makes me feel like people are rolling their eyes at us, as if we married directly after high school graduation. I am not saying that is bad, but for heaven’s sake, at least acknowledge that we have been together for 7 years and survived long distance relationship, and moved cross country together, and survived and thrived during difficult job and financial and school conditions! We are adults now, even if we weren’t when we started our relationship. It hurt for years how my parents, especially my mom, would flippantly refer to our relationship, and even tried to convince me that I should break up with him before college, that I was making a grave mistake!

    I also agree that there are so few healthy male relationship role models in the media and it makes me very sad.

    • Not Sarah

      My mom tried to pressure me into breaking up with the guy I was dating when I left high school and moved away to college. My parents didn’t like him at all. So what if he has terrible social skills? He absolutely loved me and treated me really well. It drove me nuts. We did eventually break up, but it really, really saddened me that I don’t think my mom ever saw how deeply he cared about me. I’m sorry that your mom wanted you to break up with your fiance before going to college as well. Is your mom happier about him now? Does she welcome him into the family?

      • BB

        Yes, thankfully, she is much more welcoming now! She was never rude to my FH, but she wasn’t very warm toward him for a few years. It took years, but I think after we moved across the country and began to live together, she “got the picture.” Strangely, I still feel moments when my mom looks at us as kids rather than adults, but I supposed that is the right of a mother.

  • http://minnesota-chic.com PAW

    I hope that I don’t forget just how observant children and teenagers are. They’re so alert to emotions, and can often see right through things that adults take at face value! So when an adult says, “I was kidding around,” often a kid will have heard real emotion behind the “joke” and gets very confused and conflicted.

    As an only child, and being female, I’m often worried about the idea of raising sons, and just not knowing how to be a good role model. This has eased my mind a bit! Thank you!

  • Anne

    It’s so interesting you write this because I teach at an all girls high school and have long been thinking about writing a post on the importance of relationships here.

    Thank you for this. It was lovely.

    • melissa

      do it!

  • http://misshappnstance.wordpress.com Miss Happ

    I think the plight of the young man is vastly underexamined. We talk about girls going through puberty and the pressure of image leading to eating disorders and slut vs saint dichotemy – but young men often feel the same pressures, they may just manifest strain differently. Thank you for speaking up, and for being an open role model and honest adult in their lives.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    I myself wasn’t really interesting in dating or relationships until after high school, so in some senses I was lucky in that I was spared from that sort of judgment. At the same time my husband was my first serious relationship in large part because I didn’t put relationship level effort into people who I didn’t feel a real deep connection with. In that respect I did, from some directions, get the same pressure that the first person I fell in love with shouldn’t be my lifelong partnership.

    My younger brother on the other hand dated a lot in high school, and looking back I really have to applaud how my mom handled that. If he treated a relationship like it was serious, so did she. There was never any suggestion of his being too young to be serious and she later confided in me that one relationship in particular she expected to lead to marriage.

    • Catherine

      Just seeing this, and yes, same here. I was never into dating or anything because I only wanted THE ONE and was always focused on my career (even as a kid ha). I met my love at 20, she is a bit older than me, and we have been inseparable ever since. I too sometimes feel guilty and have to fight those feelings of “this is too good to be true! how can my first real relationship be my life partner?!” can i really have it that good? I just have to trust what we have together and not let external narratives play in my head. love is beautiful and rare and you should be able to enjoy and respect it ! Hopefully others will too!

  • http://www.palindromeathome.com Melinda

    I love this post. I don’t have teens in my life at the moment and hadn’t even thought about these issues, but I love the thoughtfulness. I’ve seen this issue but didn’t put enough thoughts together to understand it. Well done APW and Bec!

  • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

    This post is so wise. I think the dismissiveness towards such relationships between young people is often just a facet of the attitude society has towards teens in general. How many times have you heard someone say ‘Oh you’re much too young to do/feel X? Sometimes made me feel like an oddity because I was doing or feeling X thing.

    I think we pay far too little attention to the messages we send to young men and women. We need to be able to model, and discuss, healthy relationships (and not just romantic ones). I’ve been blessed to know that I could discuss any aspect of a relationship with either of my parents if I had to, who tried very hard to educate me in the matters. It saddens me to know that not everyone has a wiser person in their life to help guide them through growing pains.

    • Not Sarah

      My mom has finally gotten better at this now that she sees me as an adult (within some timeframe of my graduating from college). When I was in high school, her relationship advice was terrible. But now, she sees (I think) better that I am serious about the relationships I’m in and she actually offers quite valuable advice. Sometimes her ideas are different than mine, but it’s great to hear her perspective, even if I don’t take her advice all the time.

      My sister moved in with her boyfriend this year and I’m so glad she did it first. I was expecting our parents to really care and think it’s a terrible idea, but they’re totally cool with it. They are cool with our boyfriends coming on family vacations, coming home for holidays, sleeping in the same room at their house (they just don’t want to talk about it lol), etc. So apparently my parents are far cooler than I thought they were!

      You know what? I still get people saying “Oh you’re much too young to do/feel X?” and I’m 24. It drives me crazy. “Why would you want to buy a house/condo/townhouse at 23?” “Why would you want to contribute to retirement at 22? You have years ahead of you!” Just because _that person_ didn’t do those things at 24 doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be doing them!!!!

      • Cleo

        “My sister moved in with her boyfriend this year and I’m so glad she did it first. I was expecting our parents to really care and think it’s a terrible idea, but they’re totally cool with it. ”

        I can totally relate! I moved in with mine this year and was nervous about telling my parents — they didn’t live together before getting married and they gave me some major talks on cows and free milk and all that jazz when I was younger. But before I could tell them about my decision, they said, unprovoked: “We’re totally cool if you want to move in with N by the way. We know times have changed.”

        and ps…Bravo on contributing to retirement at 22. That’s a smart move!

        • Not Sarah

          Yay for having awesome parents!! Mine did actually live together before marriage…in a house they bought together! Their parents weren’t very happy about it, lol.

          They were big on me finding a career and settling in a city with that before finding a serious relationship, but I’ve accomplished that, so I don’t think they really care anymore.

      • http://www.twitter.com/babyinabar Shotgun Shirley

        ” “Why would you want to contribute to retirement at 22? You have years ahead of you!” ”

        EHRMEGEHRD that’s so dumb. What age do we learn about compounding interest? The years ahead of you are *exactly why* you should contribute to retirement at 22!!

        /rant

  • Jaime

    “They are expected to know exactly what it is they want to do for a career and to focus on achieving this to the exclusion of all other things (apart from co-curricular pursuits or familial obligations).”

    This line really resonated with me because I think it applies not only to teens but also to adults. There is so much pressure to have some crystal clear idea on what one wants as a career (and not wanting a career is met with comments about how “lazy” you must be and what a shameful and bad feminist you are). The expectation seems to be that you are pursuing it constantly and always thinking about ways to get there or improve it. The career is supposed to take precedence over everything and I frequently get hell for having not done so.

    Now I’m staring down the barrel of actually making a huge move that will land me a career and you know what? I’m glad I didn’t prioritize it earlier. If it hadn’t been for my fiance, this career path would never have occurred to me.

    Sorry that was a very off point rant! Guess what I’m saying is that I wish someone had been more supportive of my socializing and relationships; it might have saved me from a lot of heartache over the years. While I’m (finally) ready at twenty-five to start my career, maybe things would have been different.

  • Ashley B

    Yes! Yes! A million times yes.

    I found one of those rare gems of a man to marry. One who was taught love in marriage by example and respect for women by a mother who demanded it. Coming from a broken home and absent father situation, I am incredibly grateful for my husband’s convictions and excited to break the cycle and instill these values into our children. This is a perfect reminder on respecting our (future) children’s relationships and how to foster future great men and women.

    Thank you!

  • Granola

    I’m not in school anymore and I didn’t meet my husband in high school, but man do the crappy sexist marriage comments irk me. No, I am not a “ball and chain” now that we’re married. And some jokes just aren’t funny. Let’s suspend the narrative of men forgetting anniversaries and women being frivolous spenders. We lean on these crutches because we’re trying to share a common experience, but it really just supports tropes that benefit no one.

    • Amanda

      Granola-

      Are you said these sexist remarks (“ball and chain”) to your face? In front of your partner? Or are they said to your partner, who then relays them to you? I wonder about this, as I have heard this term used often (TV, media, jokes when I was younger), but not in reference to my own marriage – at least not to my face. And it’s refreshing! I expected it to be a big deal that my relatively young husband was going to get married first amongst his friends and most of his colleagues. But we just haven’t heard/seen any negativity. That’s not to say it isn’t being said behind our backs (ugh).

      One thing I am actively doing to prevent such things being said about me (and about our relationship) is to get to know my husband’s friends and colleagues better, and spend as much time with them as I can (although the video games get tiring!). I present myself in a non ball-and-chain light, and I think I am changing any preconceived notions these guys might have about relationships. So much so that my husband has told me that a few of his peers have told him how lucky he is – not to have a “great wife” – but that he has a great RELATIONSHIP. And that makes me so happy. We’re modeling as best we can, as we know we have younger siblings and close friends who could use the reminder that marriage (and relationships) don’t have to be one sided, ball and chain, type. And that we are a team. Anyway, sorry for the hijack. I guess I just want to say that maybe the negative comments you are hearing are from people that shouldn’t matter? And that if you listen closely to what your close friends are saying, hopefully they aren’t perpetuating the stereotypes. And if you are hearing such BS to your face – I say eff ‘em. We ought to come up with a great come back for any future jokes that aren’t funny.

  • http://theincompleteidiotsguide.blogspot.com/ Alyssa

    I am so glad you wrote this post. I met my FH 2 months after I graduated from college and we have had a strong intimate connection since the day we met, however my mother has always scorned my relationships and told me any relationship before you’re 25 is pointless, you just need to casually date a lot of people when you’re young. Finding a husband is a numbers game, and you need your 20′s to be single and live it up. The thing is, I’m not really a partier, and honestly I don’t WANT to date anyone else. I have a man who I love and trust and can confide in and really understands me in a way no one else does. And we have a great relationship. Why would I want to give that up to live some sort of societal expectation?

    Anyways, we moved in together after a little under a year, and my mother hasn’t spoken to me since, even though she adores my FH. How’s that for a role model for relationships? Possibly bitterness at her own struggling marriage? I once read that you should only take advice from people who are living a life you would want to live.

    • Catherine

      oh my gosh!! I am just not seeing this and can i just AMEN this a lot! Wow, yes, I am in a very similar situation. I did not plan on marrying young, or knowing I wanted to be married young, or meeting someone older than me at age 20. My whole life I was never into dating or boys (well there was a reason for that one!) I was always more focused on my career and just figured I would meet the one and that would be it. I’m a very black and white person and wouldn’t want to spend energy or effort into a relationship that I wasn’t sure of, so casual stuff never interested me. I’ve been with my SO for two years now, and have a wonderful grounded foundation that only supports and embraces my career ambitions. I’ve gotten a lot of “opinions” from my mother, very similar to what you mentioned. and I totally LOVED your last quote about only trust people’s opinions with lives you would want to lead. My parents have nothing like the kind of relationship I want, they barely have a relationship at all, and it has always frustrated me that my mom is so comfortable scolding my life choices..

  • http://brusselsproutblog.blogspot.com Cassandra

    Agreed. So very, very much in agreement. I came across this while working in a summer camp. I really had to challenge my own tendency to be flippant and disregard it as “just” whatever was going on. Like, seriously, are people sub-human until they reach a certain age? “Your feelings, hopes, dreams, and desires aren’t worth validating until you turn 21… unless they happen to jive with my own!” Nuh-uh. I don’t think so.

    A big message I got in my teen years while in a very serious relationship (that has now led to we’ll-be-married-in-five-months, thankyouverymuch) was that, because people change and grow so much in their teens and early twenties, you really can’t know what you want. Like, “Oh, you’re in a relationship now, but you’re going to change so much that you won’t even be the same person, and you guys will probably grow apart…” Yes, I did change, but I’m still me. I like the perspective I’ve seen in several comments about how, despite being in those changeful years, they grew together and grew into a deeper relationship. I mean, really– are you suddenly going to go into stasis once you hit twenty-five? I think not. Dramatic changes are possible at any life stage.

    That being said, I have a definite interest in neuropsychology, and an idea I’ve found again and again in my research (i.e. reading other people’s research hehe) is that the teen and young adult brain is not fully formed in ways that will enable them to consistently make wise, long-term decisions. (Though we all know some adults who have the same problem…) It’s there, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not thoroughly refined. (Off the top of my head, the pre-frontal cortex would be the most dramatic example, though the teen brain goes through some crazy stuff with synapse production and destruction as well.) While I’m in no way saying that teens and young adults cannot make good, solid, wise decisions (because that is OBVIOUSLY not true!), it shows the value and necessity of having those solid role models to provide counsel and good examples. (Please, please don’t get me started on crappy nineties’ sitcom jokes…. Ugh. Stereotypes.)

    • Marina

      As another person who’s married to my “high school sweetheart” (got together when I was 17 and he was 19) I absolutely think my partner and I weren’t ready to make long-term decisions like getting married at that point. But one of the things I learned in this relationship is that relationships aren’t about a single decision of “will we stay together forever or not?” Relationships are an on-going, constant decision of “will we stay together right now or not?” And teenagers and young adults are perfectly neuropsychologically capable of making that decision.

      My own story is that I actually tried to break up with my now-husband twice, because I was so concerned with whether he was The One, and because I didn’t think I was ready to say we should stay together forever, that meant we should break up. My partner kept bringing me back and saying, “Ok, so what’s not working right now? What can we do to fix it?” Which, in retrospect, is exactly what keeps our relationship going now, ten years later.

    • http://twitter.com/itsradishtime Taylor

      My thoughts exactly. I get a lot of flack (even here sometimes) for marrying at 22 to a guy I met at 15.

      Criticism ranges from “you don’t know who you are yet, you don’t know what you want yet” to “if you’re the only girl he’s ever slept with, he’ll end up cheating on you.” but all in all is a giant bunch of “you’ll seeeeee”s, As if, once I’m 30, my “fully human” switch will flip and I’ll be all “I’ve made a huge mistake” (in my best Gob Bluth voice, of course)

      I think invalidating the decisions, ideas, emotions of the young is so destructive on multiple levels. Like Bec mentioned, it distances teens from their adult role models and break really important lines of communication.

      I was only 16 years old when I knew I wanted to marry my fiance, but I felt like I couldn’t talk about how we felt to anyone, because you just laugh at a 16 year old when she says that. I wish I could have felt comfortable talking to my parents about him, but I could tell that they thought he was bad news and distrusted him just because he was a teenage boy. We had a really strained relationship for several years because of that, because I didn’t feel like I could talk to them about how much he cared for me and how well he treated me.

      five years later they love the guy, but my parents and I (like a lot of teens and their parents) had to rebuild our relationship that was damaged because I didn’t feel that I could talk to them and be taken seriously.

      • Pippa

        I found myself in a similar situation to yours, Taylor.

        Although I wasn’t as young as you were when I figured out how much this person meant to me, I was 19 by the time I knew I wanted to marry my boyfriend. And my parents didn’t take us seriously not only because he was my first relationship or because I was so young but because he was five and a half years older than me. Which starts a-whole-nother complicated argument abut the validity of relationships with an age-difference. Like, “what the hell does a 25 year old want with someone your age aside from ONE THING.” Which meant that no, I didn’t feel comfortable at any stage talking to my parents about him or us because I knew exactly what they thought about him.

        Like you, we are now 5 years on from that time although the judgement and criticism is still there. Only this time it manifests itself in comments like “You’re too young and immature to move out of home”, “You’ll never survive out of home with him because you see the world through rose-coloured glasses” and “You have so much growing up to do.” At 24.
        Now that we have moved out of our respective family homes and in to our new home together (woohoo!), I seriously hope it’s only a matter of time before my family starts seeing our relationship for what it is now (mature, confident and filled with love and mutual respect), rather than what it was at the beginning (young, new and filled with growing pains). Heck, I’m so grateful to be in a relationship that HAS made mistakes along the way, that has evolved and grown as we have, one that we have learned a lot from. It makes what we have today so much more special and real.

      • Caroline

        “I was only 16 years old when I knew I wanted to marry my fiance, but I felt like I couldn’t talk about how we felt to anyone, because you just laugh at a 16 year old when she says that. ”

        Same here. We knew we wanted to get married someday at 16 and 19. We’re 22 and 25 now, been together almost 7 years and getting to the point where we’ll probably (hopefully) get married in the next year or so. But I remember a conversation with my mom at I think 18, (we’d been together, long distance, for two years then) telling her I was someday going to marry him. In the VERY SAME conversation, she told me that she wanted to be there for me for my first breakup and she hoped it would happen before I left for college that fall so she could be there to help. It was so hurtful, to feel like she hadn’t listened to a word I said. (She is now very supportive of our relationship, but I’m petrified to tell her when we decide to announce an engagement, because I feel like she’ll flip out about me being too young. But she doesn’t get to make these decisions, I do. That said, not less scary.)
        Definitely made me take teenagers more seriously when they tell me how they fell.
        Yes, the brain is not as fully developed, but teens are still full people, who feel how they feel, and plenty of teenagers actually know what they are doing and are incredibly mature, capable people when you let them be.

  • Briggs

    I loved this post. Thank you for this perspective.

    I did have a “high school sweetheart” that I dated through college and beyond, and everyone assumed we would be married some day. Thing is, we did change a lot and eventually grew apart. Now, I’m marrying a fantastic man, and am very grateful to both my previous long-term relationship and the year or so I had of casually dating before meeting my future husband.

    HOWEVER. I’m about to become a stepmom to 4 sons. The oldest is 16 and just starting to date. I have almost no idea how to deal with this, since I was raised in a primarily female household and focused a lot on a feminist perspective during school, and assumed I would some day raise girls (for some reason…).

    This post really spoke to me. A lot of my family, including my future husband has started the teasing comments in relation to my oldest stepson’s new dating status. I haven’t been really comfortable with it, but couldn’t articulate why. This post gave me the words I’m going to need to express to my family and my stepson how I feel about this aspect of parenting and being a role model. Thank you a million times!

    • http://www.karinajean.com kari

      I made a point recently to tell my stepson (he’s 13) that I would NEVER tease him about any relationships – friends, girlfriends, romantic, heck, BOYFRIENDS, whatever.

      My husband (their dad) told him the same thing. It was awkward and 13 was uncomfortable, but I badly want 13 to know he can stay open with us and doesn’t have to worry about OUR reactions to this very normal part of his life.

      I also told him that I think adults who have to joke and tease about this kind of thing are boring, uncreative, and sometimes a little creepy.

      And as a stepmom to two boys I find that I do have a few blunt and awkward conversations with them every year but for us, it’s much easier to just get it all out there. boys can be subtle, but not very self-aware. there’s no point in beating around the bush hoping that they will eventually pick up on your cues. just lay it out there “like a dude.”

  • Anne

    I feel happy reading this post. My husband and I have been married for almost two years now and first began dating when we were both in high school. Of course, we’re very different people 12 years later, but the seeds of our marriage were sown before we could vote.

    I have a wonderful aunt who was my go-to adult as a teen. My husband and I chose to attend different colleges. I was concerned that our relationship couldn’t withstand the difficulties of distance. My aunt told me, “If it’s meant to be, you’ll find a way.”

    We all need, no matter what the age, supportive people who truly listen and validate feelings and experiences.

  • Rebecca

    This post speaks to me so much – I met my now-husband just shy of my 16th birthday. We were together through high school, somehow (despite it often being tough, and often questioning if it was worthwhile) made it through long-distance during my undergraduate study, and have lived together for the past five years as I’ve been working through Honours and PhD programs, getting married and travelling along the way. I’ve heard pretty well all the “jokes”. Eurgh.

    I also have a fifteen year old brother who has begun over the past year or so to call me for advice – on school subjects, career prospects, parent problems and tech advice for now, but I imagine the relationship stuff will not be far off. It’s hard to believe he’s nearly the age I was when I met my husband – he seems so young, though that’s changing so, so fast! This is a really valuable reminder to talk to him as an adult about all this stuff – thanks Bec. Your students are lucky to have you.

  • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

    The number one gripe I hear from teenage boys about their teachers is that the teacher wants respect from the students, but won’t show it to them. They are hyper-alert to being treated like kids, so of course if adults won’t take their relationships seriously, they’ll stop talking to those adults. My fiance would come with me to basketball games and other school events, so the students knew I was in a relationship and would ask me about him. And I would tell them that it took me far too long to learn that the most important thing I should have been looking for was someone who was kind.

  • JC

    Love. This. I don’t have much perspective on being a young boy (having never been one) but as a girl who started dating her fiancee at 16, the first boy I dated, I got a lot of this. In fact, it was a very difficult transition when he went to college a year ahead of me and we DIDN’T break up. His parents were the worst offenders. They never took our relationship seriously, and when I stuck around even though he was 1,000 miles away they were terrified. And mean. It really hurt my feelings! I was a good girl, and their son loved me, but they thought you had to meet your spouse in college like they did and that I was just getting in the way of him finding THE ONE. Well, the joke’s on them because it is 7 years later and we survived 5 years of long distance through his schooling, and now he lives with me while I finish vet school and we are engaged (!!!).

    I think the best compliment we’ve gotten on our relationship so far is that my little sister (4 years younger than me). now in a long distance relationship (at 19), says that she knows it will work if it’s meant to be because we did it. I love that we can be a role model for successful relationships. We never really had an example of a high school relationship that worked long term, and so always gave it a “Well, it’s still working right now so I guess we won’t break up yet”. I did get super nervous when I went to college that I was missing out on some great life experience by not casually dating, but was never willing to give up my fiancee just to see if there was anything better out there, and I am so glad that I stuck it out!

  • KH_Tas

    Oooh, the old ‘it was just a joke, that makes the terrible thing I just said ok’ defense. They got off lightly with you, I probably would have blown up at them; I hate that defense so much. Some things just aren’t right to say, even as a ‘joke’.

  • ItsyBitsy

    I love this whole post. While I broke up with my high-school-into-college-freshman boyfriend because it was, in fact, a very bad relationship, I think that this topic is so, so important.

    I honestly think that the reason I was able to leave that toxic relationship (however belatedly) was because of the adults who talked to me like I was an adult in a meaningful partnership. Those who completely devalued it made me feel like crap (stupid, naive, foolish…) and didn’t actually give me any real help. Those who glossed over everything and acted like everything was lighthearted and fun because we were young were just as bad. When adults that I really respected talked to me in real terms about what a true partnership should look like without judging me… that’s when lightbulbs and warning bells started to go off.

    All this to say, rock on!

  • Anna

    Wonderful post and truly thought provoking. I have to admit I have been guilty of devaluing other youth relationships which is an absolute hypocrisy given how young I am (ehem .. 24) and how much flack I took for getting married at 23. Thank you for shedding some light on this and making me rethink how I’ve approached other people’s relationships!!

  • Lauren

    I think this post and its comments should be required reading for anyone who ever got into a relationship while “young.” I was extremely fortunate that my parents treated all of my relationships (started going out when I was 13, met my fh at 14, started dating him at 15/16) while some of my friends and companions were definitely not as lucky.

    I live in a large Southern city, but my area of town has a small-town vibe where everyone knows each other. It just so happened that many of the kids in my school-age range, so 2-3 years above and below me, have been in serious, stable relationships since they were 15-19 years old. Many of these are now speeding towards marriage in the next year. It’s funny, because all of the “kids” have been sure of their relationships from the get-go, but the adults are just now getting on board.

    • Caroline

      ” have been in serious, stable relationships since they were 15-19 years old. Many of these are now speeding towards marriage in the next year. It’s funny, because all of the “kids” have been sure of their relationships from the get-go, but the adults are just now getting on board.”
      That would be us! We’re hoping to get married pretty soon (maybe next year? we think so), and in addition to getting to the point where we were ready to get married now, rather than say we are getting married someday, I will admit that part of our process has been coming to a point where a) I’m sure that we are ready regardless of what our parents think of our age and b) that we are closer to the socially acceptable age for marriage in our social circles and thus my parents are more comfortable with us getting married. They are starting (I hope) to get used to the idea that we will be marrying soon, but they have in the past couple years gotten used to that we WILL marry someday. Took them years longer to accept this than for us to realize it.

  • Miss Moneypenny

    Thank you so much for this post. My youngest brother is in his senior year of high school and the last time I talked to my mother, she mentioned that he had a new girlfriend that he was serious about. I laughed and told my mother “How serious can it be? He’s not even 18!” This post really challenged my assumptions about young love and this is why I keep returning to APW and RW :) I’ll be calling my brother tonight to congratulate him on his new relationship and make sure he knows that I’m in his corner.

  • Jessica

    Reading everyone’s stories, I feel incredibly lucky. Both my parents and my fiance’s parents are high school sweethearts, so neither of them batted an eye when we started dating at 15 and got engaged at 22. In fact, my father told me when I was 17 that he expected me to marry “that boy” someday and I was emphatically told by my future MIL that I could stay the night whenever I wanted around 18.

    However, I will admit to having a huge freakout about 7 months into dating, because I was completely convinced that a) I was totally head over heels in love with this boy and b) that I was way to young to know what I was talking about. Eventually I got over it, but I was afraid of being in love too young, even though I had nothing but support around me. Just goes to show that teens really do pick up on things subconsciously.

  • enchanted

    This conversation is so interesting!

    My question to you all is slightly off topic but related (about the effects of negative perceptions of young relationships).

    What do you do when you have been in a relationship since just after high school (7 years, half long distance, half living together), but you’ve internalized these ideas of about first relationships and find it hard to commit? Has anyone else been in that situation? I love my partner, love spending time with him, love living with him, etc etc. But there’s always this question in the back of my mind, “how will I know if he’s really the person for me if he’s the only one I’ve ever been with”? It’s hard to tell if these doubts come from myself or from others.