Also the stuff that makes us want to pull our hair out, scream at the top of our lungs, and declare all-out emotional warfare. Young, old, male, female, gay, straight…when we are asked about our greatest hope or goal in life, our response usually centers around obtaining a stable and loving relationship with a romantic partner. But what I want to explore in this chapter is that transformation from the loving bonds we share with our parents and family to the passionate union we seek in a romantic partner, and which we seemingly need for survival as individuals and as a species.
What is love, anyway? Certainly, the context in which we consider this emotion matters: I love to read; I love Chinese food; I love my mother. To be clear, I am interested in how we develop and pursue the takes-my-breath-away, euphoric, romantic love that is so sought after.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists various definitions: As children, we experience love in the form of unconditional care and affection from our parents. That is indeed love, but does that concept somehow shift as we get older? When we become teens, is one form replaced by another, or is it the same construct on some blissfully complicated continuum? There are two problems with this line of reasoning: Romantic love is basically intimacy with the added bonus of sexual attraction and passionate commitment—the beautiful sexual icing on the delicious intimacy cake, if you will.
Second, most researchers contend that, instead of anyone being replaced or made unimportant, as we get older and expand our social network, new targets of intimacy and affection are added to old ones.
I propose that the same thing happens with love. Not only does our concept and understanding of love shift from that which we feel for our parents, siblings, dogs, and so on to a richer and deeper feeling for another person outside our familial circle, but it also cumulatively adds to the concept of love that we began with. I realize that many parents labor over if and when to allow their teen to begin dating.
I clearly recall, when I began to show interest in dating boys, my father saying something about putting me into a convent until I was thirty! In past generations, dating in high school or college, for at least some, served a very specific function: Because marriage today, if it occurs at all, is happening much later in life the average age is around twenty-seven for women and twenty-nine for men dating for high school students has now taken on an entirely new meaning.
To help you put things in perspective i. What are they really doing? Most often, dating during early adolescence involves exchanging contact information i. By the age of fifteen or sixteen, teens move toward qualitatively different and more meaningful romantic relationships; certainly, by the time they are seventeen or eighteen, they begin to think about their romantic relationships in a much deeper, more mature, and long-term way, with significant growth in both emotional and physical interests and commitment.
These older adolescents tend to form more adult-like versions of romantic love and attachment , and stay in relationships that last over a year, on average. This is, whether we like it or not, when things get real. You recall me stating earlier that dating during the teen years serves as a type of practice for future relationships?
In fact, in addition to helping to develop intimacy with others, dating serves many purposes for our teens. This is good news, really. Dating not only helps teens establish emotional and behavioral autonomy from their parents, it also furthers their development of gender identity , helps them learn about themselves and their own role as a romantic partner, and establishes social status and perhaps even popularity in their peer groups.
Having said all this, I should note that there are a couple of potential pitfalls when it comes to teens in the context of romantic relationships. By getting involved in serious relationships, spending virtually all their time with only one person, teens can run the risk of missing out on other types of social interactions building other types of relationships, practicing intimacy, gaining different perspectives, and simply having fun with other friends!
This can prove limiting to them in terms of achieving their full potential of psychosocial growth and development. Conversely, research has also shown that adolescent girls, specifically, who do not date at all may tend toward underdeveloped social skills, excessive dependency on their parents, and feelings of insecurity when it comes to meeting romantic interests or potential partners. In sum, allowing our teens to date and explore romantic relationships in moderation is a good thing.
So, the next time you cringe at the prospect of your teen dating and possibly even becoming romantically involved or falling head-over-heels in love with another teen, remember that it is yet another way for him to grow and develop into the well-rounded, caring person you want him to be, particularly in the context of long-term, loving relationships.