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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Teen

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

I am a 19 year old girl and have never been on a date. I am afraid that if I ever get into a relationship it will not work out because I am so inexperienced. Any advice?

Answer

Making relationships work does take practice, and despite your lack of dating experience I would bet you have learned a lot about relationships. Initially we learn to relate to potential partners by watching our parents relate to each other. These patterns are learned from an early age and can be very difficult to break. Those of us who are raised by parents who have problems in their relationships realize exactly how difficult it can be to change those learned behaviors. The good news is, any behaviors that are learned can be unlearned and replaced with new behaviors. Take a look at how your parents relate to each other and identify any similarities you see in your current relationships at school, work or with friends.

There are many different types of relationships. Historically men were the dominant figures in male/female relationships. That is changing somewhat in today's society, with more relationships having equal partners, regardless of their gender. With these changes the roles of each partner in the relationship are changing, too. In a relationship with equal partners the rigid stereotypes of how men and women are suppose to act, what their respective chores should be, etc. are not as common.

The important thing for you to decide is how you want to be treated, and how you will treat your partner. It does not have to be the same way your parents relate to each other, as long as you are aware of your needs and how to express them in a relationship. You are relating to people of both genders every day. That means you are currently establishing patterns for how you will treat others and be treated in all relationships. If you don't like the patterns you see in your other relationships, chances are you may want to work on that before you get involved with a partner.

Ask yourself these questions. Do people treat me the way I want to be treated? If not, what specific things would I like to be different? Do I treat others the way I want to be treated? Are there things about myself that I can improve to change the way I am treated? Do I need to be more aware of how I treat others? Are these patterns that I learned from my parents? Do I want to be treated the way my mom is treated by my dad? If not, what are the specific things I want to be different in my relationships? Find a couple who has the type or relationship you would like to have and ask them how they do it.

Many people overlook the importance of learning how to relate to and care for ourselves. It is very important to be okay with who you are, know how to identify and meet your own emotional needs and be your own best friend. Once you have mastered this, you should be well prepared for a relationship with a partner. People who feel whole as an individual are much better at being a partner. It is not necessary to buy into the notion that all women are supposed to be married and have children. This is not true now, and it never was . . . but it is more widely accepted now. The truth is, women are now as involved in their careers are men, leaving less time for the more traditional roles of cooking, cleaning and raising children. Everyone has to help out with these tasks.

One of the myths about relationships is that when you find the right partner you will be happy. This is not true for the long term. There may an initial period of floating on air, but it will wear off, trust me on this! Don't fall for it . . . set your goals for yourself and go on about the business of your life.

If you think you need to learn how to be more assertive, or improve your social skills so all of your relationships will improve, sign up for a class or group in your community. If you just want to meet people, many cities have singles groups who get together to do things. Some are church affiliated, and others are not. You can also join a civic group, take a class at the local community college to learn a hobby or start going to places where other people you would like to meet may be. These are good ways to meet other people and practice your "relationship" skills. If you can't find a group or class nearby, look in the "links" section of this web site for on-line resources. There are numerous chats and lists you can join to find others with similar interests. But, if you are otherwise happy with your life . . . don't worry about finding the right partner or getting involved. It will happen as you go about your normal routine if you choose to pursue it. If not, make yourself happy in your life without a partner by being your own best friend and living life to the fullest as a single woman.

3/12/98

LuAnn Pierce, MSW, CMSW
Author of Growing up Sane (in uncertain times)
Seminar Leader Growing Well Adjusted Kids
Editor-in-Cheif Person to Person: Strengthening Youth & Families
Telephone Counselor Affinity Counseling Center
Affinity Books & Resource Center: Your Source for Emotional Wellness

 

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