Column: Singled out

Do you have a boyfriend yet? 

That’s the question posed by my countless family members at every family event ranging from cotillions to birthday parties. They’re not asking about school. Or my future plans. Or impending student debt. They envision me sitting on the Ferris wheel with the star quarterback of our school, sharing a lemon shakeup with two straws.   

But all I’m thinking of is how I am going to fund my future.  

While they picture me in a movie montage, I’m worrying about the grade I’m going to get in AP chem. And AP lit. And AP government. Keeping up in school has left me little time to date. It seems almost impossible to make time to go on a conventional date.  

I’m not sure why Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Bill look at me with sad eyes when I tell them, yet again, that there is no guy in the picture. But there is no room for tears because I can still go out to movies, and festivals and even prom, contrary to Aunt Sonya’s beliefs, with my friends.  

It’s not just my family. It has become a societal norm for teens to start dating around the age of 15. Teens who don’t date are often seen as abnormal, and are believed to be socially inept. Teens who don’t date are perceived  to be emotionally stunted and lacking strong sense of self-identity. We are viewed as antisocial misfits who cringe at the thought of human contact.  As if dating is the only way to measure success. 

People have believed dating to be an adolescent’s way of growing socially and developing leadership skills, but there is no proof that teens who do not date lack these things. In fact, sometimes not dating can be beneficial.  

The Journal of School Health released research that shows people who did not date during their teen years are less likely to develop depression later in life. Their social skills are stronger or equal to those of their peers who did date in their teens. Unlike Uncle Jebidiah, who started dating at age 13 and is a card-carrying member of the Flat Earth Society.  

It seems as if teenagers are defined by their relationship status. They’re referred to as “so-and-so’s girlfriend” instead of their name. The truth is, right now we barely know who we are. These are some of the most defining years of our lives. We should spend them figuring out who we are and what we stand for before getting caught up in trying to find a relationship so we don’t end up like Aunt Emma who parrots the beliefs and crude mannerisms of every guy she dates.  

We should be using these years to have fun and experience as many things as possible. Focusing on being in a relationship may hinder us from going out and living our lives. Gaining someone else’s attention should come second to doing things we may never have the chance to do again.   

Society puts pressure on teenagers dating, which seems silly because few high school relationships end in marriage.This is even more reason not to stress too much about not being involved in a romantic relationship as a teen. Unlike Aunt Tammy and Uncle Amos who started dating at 14, were married at 19, and haven’t read anything more than the side of a cereal box since.  

Those who do not take part in romantic relationships during their teen years often start to think of themselves as unlovable.They begin to think that not dating will define the rest of their life. It doesn’t help that aunts and uncles are constantly reminding them that all the cousins, and even the dog next door, all have significant others. 

While there is nothing wrong with dating, society–and my relatives–should normalize teenagers not dating. Instead of being encouraged to date, teens should be encouraged to go live their lives as much as possible. There is plenty of time to find a romantic partner after high school.  

So Aunt Emma, maybe at the next family get-together you can focus on fixing your relationships instead of judging mine. Because the problem, quite frankly, is not me. It’s you. 

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