What Teenagers Want to Know About Romance

Jasmine: During Valentine’s Day, Andrew and I decided to conduct Civics lessons for our classes based on the theme of romance and relationships! Our lesson structures were pretty similar- we invited our students to scribble any question they might have about romance or dating, and we would collect these papers and answer them as honestly as possible.

Here are some of our favourite questions posed by our students:

1. When is the correct age to date?

Jasmine: I could give you the whole "there’s no correct age and when you’re ready, you’re ready" spiel, but to be honest, there are certain ages at which one definitely should not date. Ages 16 and 18 are a no-go because if you’re a Singaporean, chances are you’ll be sitting for high-stakes exams in those years. Very bad idea. (The dating, not the exams.)

I’m an old-fashioned girl and I believe in dating with the intention to marry. By this I mean that you should carefully consider whether this is a person that you could imagine spending the rest of your life with, given both his strengths and his weaknesses, before even entering into the relationship.

Think about your ideal age to get married,  bearing in mind that you should have completed your higher education and have worked for long enough to save some money for the wedding (let’s say 27, but probably older for guys). Then subtract the number of years you deem suitable for a courtship (let’s say 3). Give or take a couple of years and that could be the approximate age at which you start dating.

Andrew: When I offer this answer, I’m not saying that those who are currently already in relationships should end it now and focus on ‘what is important’. What’s more important are the reasons behind why that is an ideal time to start dating.

I firmly believe that the best age to start dating is when you start working. One very practical reason is that that is the age when you become financially independent and no longer need to depend on your parents for money. This is especially important for guys as you don’t want to be using your parents’ money to treat your girlfriend to dates and buy meaningful gifts for her. It also means that you are ‘dating within your own means’, which starts the relationship off on a more realistic, practical note.

Jasmine: I couldn’t agree more. Nothing is worse than a cheap date or a guy who is still living off his parents’ money. I’m blessed: though  Andrew and I are both financially stable, he loves to treat me to dinners and movies and plays (and the occasional scrapbook supply).  For Andrew, it is his way of "providing" for me and I do find that very manly.

Please girls, always offer to pay your man back. If he refuses to take your money, find an opportunity to treat him back. It does not have to be an equivalent amount but it should show that you aren’t taking his generosity for granted.

Andrew: Another key reason why it’s good to start when you start working is that you are generally a more stable person then. The JC and University stages of your life are the times where you really start becoming aware of the options available to you and you specialise and discover who you are, what you are interested in and what you want to do. These are times too of great change in your character and personality and you are more certain of the kind of person you are when you start working. If you start dating when you start working, it also means less transitions to manage as some might go to different countries during the university years and then there’s NS for guys.

What is definitely not a good time to start dating is now (as I was speaking to JC2 students). If you are not in a relationship already, then please do not start now because it will be distracting and takes your focus away from your major exam this year.

2. How do you know if your guy friend likes you and what should you do?

Jasmine: You’ll know if he begins treating you differently from other female friends. For instance, calling you often, messaging you "for no reason" or teasing you especially frequently.

If you do not feel the same way about him, don’t lead him on! The worst thing you can do is to keep entertaining his attentions. Men tend to see your responsiveness as an encouragement to proceed. When guys tried to get too close in the past, I would make rather pointed statements about what a good friend he was and how I wished we’d remain friends for a very long time 🙂

Andrew: Indeed, if a guy starts smsing you ‘just to chat’ or ‘because he is bored’, then you know that he probably has some interest in you. He will also do subtle things to show that he pays special attention to you, like commenting if you have worn something different or letting you know that he’s noticed you like a certain drink/ colour/ type of food etc. The guy might suddenly just treat you ‘for the fun of it’ or buy you something just because he ‘thought you would like it’. At the heart of it all, all the guy wants to do is to show you that he is paying attention to you and he wants to make you feel that you are special and unique to him.

Well, what you should do – if you like him, then respond to his smses and kind acts positively. Guys might kill me for this, but my advice for girls is not to respond too quickly or too hastily to a guy’s signs of interest. (Jasmine: Could not agree more! If he’s serious about you, he’ll work for it. And strangely enough, he’ll treasure you more when you finally acquiesce.) Don’t let your interest be shown immediately, but give it a while and see how the guy responds to you so that you can see if he’s really interested. On the other hand, if you’re not interested, then don’t lead the guy and you should make your lack of interest known immediately. You don’t have to be harsh and brutal about it. Be subtle about it by simply ignoring or responding in a very neutral manner to the guy.

3. When should a girl initiate a relationship?

Jasmine: Never.

I waited five months for Andrew to ask me out. I’m still glad I did.

My reason is very simply this: I believe that the man should take the lead in the relationship, right from the start. If I initiate the courting, I will always wonder if he agreed to be with me because he truly liked me or because it was just convenient/ flattering that a girl would ask him out.

Andrew: Well, I have to say I really agree with Jasmine here. I firmly believe that the guy should be the one initiating the courtship and leading the relationship eventually. Call us traditional, but that’s what we believe in – the guy should be the one pursuing and the girl should be the one being pursued.

4. What should we do when we quarrel?

Andrew: For guys, the most important instinct to resist in a quarrel is to be solution-oriented. What guys must learn is to do is to be patient and sit down and listen to how the girl feels about a certain issue or what you all disagree about. A girl really wants to be heard and she wants to know that you are willing to listen to what she has to say. When listening to the girl’s perspective, resist the desire to interrupt her or to offer a differing perspective. (Jasmine: All women, say amen!) It is useful to double-check that she has finished what she wants to say before you speak. Frankly, a guy will never be able to fully understand how a girl feels or what she goes through, but it is important that you make the effort to try and listen to her.

For a girl, it is important that you know that guys are wired very differently from girls. You need to explain very clearly how you feel to a guy and state the reasons why you feel this way. I know it sounds ironic, but you have to try to explain your emotions logically. I feel that my girlfriend has done very well in this area. You need to be patient as well and expect that the guy will take a while to understand your perspective.

Jasmine: I think my Mr Chong has provided a really thoughtful and balanced perspective on this question, so I will just supplement his advice by offering a few practical approaches for conflict resolution.

  • When you are both ready, share your feelings honestly and calmly,  without pointing fingers or laying blame on the other person. For instance, you could say, "I felt really shocked/ upset when that happened". Simply put, your sharing should focus on your feelings and reactions rather than his flaws and failures.
  • Sit side-by-side, holding hands (a good friend taught us that). It may be a minor detail but the physical touch helps ease any atmosphere of confrontation. Sitting across a table and glaring at each other seem more like a face-off than a discussion.
  • When appropriate, also affirm him for things that you appreciate him for, even if he was in the wrong this time. It takes alot of humility for a man to acknowledge that he screwed up, so help him along by being supportive and encouraging, even if you’re still mad at him. Which brings me to my last point:
  • When you close the matter, you close the matter. Do not ever bring up past incidents, no matter how great the temptation or how striking the similarity between both events.

Andrew: In terms of more practical tips, when you sense that the argument is getting too heated, it is useful for one of the two of you to recognise it and stop talking for a while. Call for a time-out of at least 30 minutes to an hour before you continue conversing again. When arguments get too heated, we are responding based on emotion and not working out issues in a fair and reasonable way. You don’t want to end up saying things that require even more damage control in the future.

What has really helped my girlfriend and I is the support of more experienced couples too. When quarrels reach a point where we can’t resolve it, we often go and find our church leaders to help us work through the issues. For some of you, you might not have such leaders, but you should have someone, maybe your parents or a close friend, whom you can trust to help both of you work through your issues. It should preferably be someone who is already married or experienced in counseling. Relationships is something that everyone has an opinion on and very few opinions out there are actually reliable. Those that are reliable are only from those who have first-hand experience or experience dealing with a wide range of relationship issues.

5. What is love? (Yes, a fourteen-year-old girl posed this question)

Jasmine: Many people define love as a crush or a temporary infatuation, which has given rise to that most cliched of all sayings, "Love is blind".

However, I think of love as acceptance of the other person (all his faults and failures), resilience (to weather storms  together)  and commitment (to love each other even when the infatuation fades). In other words, love isn’t blind- love sees through you and still enjoys the view.

6. Is it a good idea to continue being friends after we break-up?

Andrew: Some might say that it depends on the circumstances of the break-up, whether it was a peaceful or a heated one. It also depends on whether you were the one who initiated it or not. If you were the one who was ‘rejected’, then my advice is don’t continue the friendship, because doing so would only cause more pain and cause the hurt from the break-up to continue after that. My general belief is that for every break-up, there needs to be at least 3 months of no contact before you resume the friendship again so as to ensure that both of you have really let go of the possibility of the relationship.

7. Is there such a thing as ‘the one’ for you?

Andrew: If by asking this question, you are asking about whether there is anybody that is perfect for you, then the answer is definitely no. All couples, regardless of how compatible they are, will definitely have areas where they differ which they will have to work out through the process of dating, marriage counseling and marriage itself (if they get to that stage). There is no relationship where you get into it and you immediately know that this person has been the one you’ve been waiting for all your life. My girlfriend and I have had differences we’ve had to work through, even though we are common in so many other areas. The process of working through it helps both of you to grow and also learn if you are eventually the ‘right one’ for each other.

Jasmine: Instead of asking if he’s The One, be The One instead. To echo the wise words of my senior pastor, the secret to a successful relationship is to give, and when you’re done giving, give again.

What we need to realise is that no matter how perfect he may seem, there is no such thing as a perfect relationship. The idea of The One is a rather static notion that doesn’t take into account that real-world relationships encounter many challenges, transitions and circumstances, and they must evolve and grow to adapt to these new situations. Therefore, I don’t quite believe in The One; I only believe in making a commitment and choosing to work at it with all you have. You’ll become a better person and he’ll love you all the more for it. Trust me.

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