Dating Advice for Young Gentlemen Part II: Being Somebody's Boyfriend
When we last talked, I told you what I knew about getting to know girls you don't yet know well, and deciding whether you want to spend time with them. In this installment, we'll talk about how you ought to conduct yourself while you're escorting a lady, whether for a few hours only or as part of a longer arrangement. We'll also talk about how to deal with the (very probable) dissolution of the arrangement, whether you or your lady friend decides to end it.
Nothing here will make your life easy, but it may make things slightly less difficult for you.
The last thing I told you was that...
Parents: You Have Your Own Responsibilities Here
We’ve already talked about remembering what it was like to be a teenager and respecting your kids’ feelings. Now I need you to examine your own feelings. Specifically, you need to decide how you feel about the very real possibility of your son sleeping with his girlfriend some night. You’ll want to sort out your feelings on this before you talk about it with your son.
Seriously, you need to think about this, and have a discussion about sex with your son, preferably before he actually has sex. If the idea of talking to your son about his hypothetical sex life makes you feel uncomfortable, well, congratulations. That’s part of being a parent. If it helps, your son will feel at least as uncomfortable as you will. Also, if the idea of just talking to your son about sex makes you uncomfortable, imagine how you’ll feel in a couple years if you don’t, and your son impregnates his girlfriend or catches a disease. You need to have this conversation.
You might want to forbid your son from having sex while he’s under your roof. And you know what? That’s okay. If you don’t want him to be having sex, it’s good to make that clear. In fact, even if you pride yourself on your broad-mindedness, you might want to consider telling your son that he ought not to have sex while he’s still a teenager. This is because not having sex is the only 100% fool-proof way to guarantee that he won’t make anyone pregnant or catch a disease.
At the same time, however, there’s no 100% fool-proof way to stop your son from having sex if he finds a willing partner. You owe it to your son to explain exactly how pregnancies occur. You owe it to him to explain how diseases get passed around. And you owe it to him to explain how he can take steps to prevent both pregnancy and disease—even if you don’t think he should be having sex. Put a condom on a banana to demonstrate how it’s done. You also need to explain that if he does have sex, and his partner does get pregnant, that he will have to grow up a whole lot faster. You will need to talk about the real possibility that his girlfriend might choose to end her pregnancy, and that there won’t be much he can do to influence that decision. You will need to talk about the possibility that his girlfriend might give the baby up for adoption, and how he’ll feel about that. You will need to talk about the real possibility that she will keep the baby and raise it—and what his responsibilities would be in that situation.
You also need to make another thing clear to your son: he must respect girls’ limits. He must never think it’s even a little bit okay to keep touching a girl if she doesn’t want to be touched. It doesn’t matter how she’s dressed; it doesn’t matter if they’ve been dating for months; it doesn’t matter if she suddenly changes her mind—if she says “Stop,” then he must stop. No excuses. Note that this counts for hugging and kissing and hand-holding just as much as for anything that requires the removal of clothing. It's best if you've already laid the groundwork for this conversation when your son was young, but it's never too late.
These won’t be easy conversations to have. But being a good parent isn’t meant to be easy.
You’ll Probably Go on Several Dates and/or Have a Girlfriend at Some Point Between Your Freshman Year and Graduation
The chances of this happening are a lot higher if you pay attention to your appearance. I don’t mean following the latest trends or being a slave to fashion. That can help catch someone’s eye, but that’s about it. Rather, think about making sure your hair is washed, your fingernails are trimmed, you shower regularly, your teeth are brushed, and your clothes are clean. Even if you’re kind, smart, and wear cool clothes, nobody is going to want to sit next to you in the movie theater if you smell bad. Assuming you’re not a jerk and you observe some basic rules of hygiene, you’ll probably meet a girl you like who likes you back, and you’ll agree to spend a lot of your free time together. This is sometimes known as “dating.” When you do it, you'll probably discover that....
Being Someone's Boyfriend is Really Nice
It’ll feel wonderful to know that the girl you like likes you back. You’ll each have someone to go with to school dances. The way her face lights up when you walk into the room will make yours light up in response. The days will seem brighter, food will taste better, birds will singe more sweetly. And of course, getting kissed is good, too. Enjoy your time together.
It can be easy to start taking your relationship for granted after the initial euphoria wears off. This is natural, but you shouldn't let it go too far. Specifically, don't stop paying attention to your personal appearance and hygiene. Smelling bad is a great way to drive someone away. Also, try not to assume that your girlfriend will always be available when you want to catch a movie or a concert. If she's an interesting person, she'll probably have interests of her own, and sometimes those interests will conflict with something you'd like to do together. This is okay. Be cool about it, and be open to learning about her interests. If her interests really don't interest you (maybe she's into herpetology and snakes creep you out), then be gracious when she wants to go to the reptile house at the zoo. You have your own interests, too, and they might not be your girlfriend's cup of tea. You won't appreciate being told to choose between skateboarding and your girlfriend, so you shouldn't ask your girlfriend to choose between her community theater group and you. Plus, if you do ask her to choose, you may not like her decision. It's much better to respect her interests, even if you don't share them. Really, respect is important all around. If you treat your girlfriend with respect, you won't go far wrong.
It's also good to be honest with each other. If snakes creep you out, don't try to hide this fact from your reptile-loving girlfriend. You won't have fun on your visit to the reptile house; you'll be on edge the whole time, and she'll probably notice. Even if she doesn't see how nervous you are in the reptile house, that doesn't mean you're home free. She might want to introduce you to her pet snake Reggie! Just tell her that you don't like snakes even a little bit, and you'd rather not be in the same room with one if you can help it. She'll appreciate the honesty, and may be relieved that your strange behavior at the reptile house had nothing to do with her. Now that all this snake-related awkwardness is sorted out, maybe you can move on to a little hugging and kissing.
Oh, And About the Hugging and Kissing?
Those are only fun if everyone involved wants to be hugging and kissing. This should go without saying, but it's not okay to keep touching anybody who wants you to stop touching them. This is true even if the person concerned is your girlfriend, and it's still true even if she seemed really enthusiastic about the two of you touching each other until just now. If she changes her mind, you must respect that, even if it's confusing and frustrating for you (and it will be). If you keep touching a person who wants you to stop, that makes you guilty of assault, even if you never see the inside of a courtroom.
Knowing this, and knowing that you want to be a good person, you need to pay attention to what your lady friend is saying. If you're not sure she's into what you're doing, you should back off. Her right to control who may touch her is far more important than your desire to touch her. It's much better to be frustrated for a while than to become a bad person.
But as long as you respect your girlfriend's limits—and she respects yours!—there's no reason you won't both enjoy some hugging and kissing from time to time. It's really nice.
You might be worried about how well you kiss. This is something most people worry about. And guess what? Your girlfriend is probably just as worried about it as you are. The more worried you are, the more awkward the moment will feel, and awkwardness is not very romantic. Try to relax and enjoy the moment, 'cos you really don't want to miss it.
As nice as being half of a couple is, though, it’s important to remember that just like anything else, it’s a learning process. You’re figuring out a lot of things right now. You’re learning what you enjoy doing, what you don’t enjoy doing, what kind of music you like, what kind of career you might like to have, what you’ll put up with and what you won’t. You're also learning what you want in a companion—and your companion is learning, too. One of the things you'll probably learn is....
Balance is Important—and Hard to Achieve—In Relationships
One of the perils of any relationship (whether you're young or old) is the eventual discovery that half the couple seems less invested in the relationship than the other half is. Not that you should be keeping score; that would be obnoxious. At the same time, though, you may notice that you don't look forward to seeing your girlfriend with the same excitement, or that she doesn't seem to be as happy to see you as she used to be. You might find that one of you has become increasingly busy, with less and less time to spend as a couple. This is okay.
No, really! It's fine for your first waves of passion to calm down after a while. If you're constantly obsessing over each other, well...that may seem romantic, but remember what happened to Romeo and Juliet? There's nothing romantic about a double-suicide. It's good to have interests that don't include your girlfriend, and vice-versa. As long as you respect and trust each other, you can still have a good relationship even if you don't have a ton of time to hang out together. Extracurricular activities usually go in cycles. Sooner or later, the cross-country season will end, or the Spring musical will close, or finals will be over, or whatever, and you'll have more time for picnics in the park.
The important thing is to know that the wonderful first few weeks of a relationship do eventually settle down into something less exciting and more...stable. In fact, sometimes people who meet while they're in high school end up staying together for the long haul, getting married, raising a family, and having happy lives together. It happens. It's also very rare.
More frequently, one or both of you will eventually get a little tired of the other. You might start noticing that she's still too busy to spend time with you even after the end of cross-country season. Or you might start scheduling more and more rehearsals with your band to have an excuse not to see her this Saturday. This is okay, too. It won't feel good when it happens, especially if she gets tired of you first. But it does happen, and it happens more often than not. Remember, you're still figuring stuff out and so is she. One of the things you're trying to figure out is the sort of person you want to be with. It's okay for one of you to decide you don't want to be together anymore.
We'll talk about ways to deal with that next time.