The rules of high-school romance are much different now than they were in our day.
Technology and changing values have shaken up the courting protocol we old-timers used to call dating. Based on interviews with two groups of girls—juniors Abby, Kate and Maddy from New Trier, and seniors Megan, Claire and Rachel from Loyola (names have been changed)—here’s a peek at teen relationships from a girl’s perspective.
Initial contact is in person.
From the interviews, it appears different high schools have different rules. For example, at New Trier, a new relationship is likely to begin through flirting in class or hanging out in groups. This is a fun, light stage that the girls enjoy—nothing is expected of them and they feel in control of the process, “friend-zoning” boys they aren’t attracted to.
But at Loyola Academy, the main co-ed interaction starts at weekend house parties. “Freshman year, everyone hooked up before they even talked to one another,”Rachel says.
Megan agrees, “You’d hook up, but that would be it. It was so hard to hang out with someone. No one can drive and everyone lives so far away.”
“Hooking up” is a loose term kids use to refer to making out with someone you’re not in a relationship with. It can mean anything from kissing to oral sex or intercourse.
“My mom always asks, ‘Why aren’t your friends in a relationship?’ And I say, ‘Because people don’t do that anymore,’” says Abby a junior at New Trier.
Attraction develops through texts and social media.
The real getting-to-know-you phase proceeds mainly through texting and social media. The immediate back and forth banter is exciting, but the remoteness makes it feel safe. There is little of the awkwardness that a first date or even a phone conversation had in our day. “The point is to see where this goes,” Abby says.
The girls try to nicely deflect guys they aren’t interested in. They respond most to funny, verbal guys who are easy to talk to. “He could own a charity for dying puppies, but if he can’t hold a conversation or make you laugh, he’s not getting anywhere,” says Maddy of New Trier.
Hanging Out and Hooking Up
The early emphasis on communication and being selective is important to the girls, because once a guy and girl begin to spend time alone—a big step that usually involves friends as go-betweens—the assumption is that things will become physical fast. At this point, the girl is emotionally invested, but the boy isn’t there yet. This flip-flop of the physical relationship developing before the emotional one is probably the biggest change from prior generations, and the girls I spoke with aren’t all that comfortable with it.
Kate puts it this way: “Girls don’t want the relationship to stop there; they want to be committed. Most girls look for commitment over physical-ness.”
The thing about being “together” …
When a guy and girl stay in the hang-out/hook-up stage for a while, they become known as being “together” or having a “thing.”
“A ‘thing’ is a guy’s ideal, because he gets to hook up without doing all the extras—thinking what the girl wants and making her happy,” Maddy says.
In a thing, the relationship progresses physically, but the couple isn’t committed. The girls would much rather “DTR” (Define the Relationship) and move to the safety of an official relationship, but they agree that’s a rare occurrence, mostly because the guys don’t want to go there.
Claire says, “The guys call most of the shots in a thing. The girl never turns it into a relationship, that’s up to the guy.”
“For the most part, relationships pretty much end as a thing,” Megan says.
Committed relationships are serious.
If a couple makes it to the official Relationship, a.k.a. Going Out or Dating phase, it’s a big deal. “It means you both really like each other and are sure about it,” Abby says. At this point, the couple is public and official. Boys are now expected to please the girls by “holding hands and doing fun things like baking or going to a movie, not just hooking up,” Kate says. The girl can relax, trust her boyfriend, and feel more secure about exploring things physically.
What girls want …
This group of Loyola girls decided relationships aren’t worth pursuing, at least not among their classmates. “We’re all too good of friends,” Megan says. “And dating or hooking up would be weird for us after.”
The New Trier girls are interested in boys at their school, but they wish guys would consider a wider scope of activities when getting to know them.
Maddy advises them to, “Be more direct. Girls don’t really base liking a guy on his appearance; they fall for personality. So be more open and easier to talk to.”
“Guys, instead of just hooking up when you’re alone, talk to the girl and build the relationship before you go onto anything physical,” Kate says.
Abby agrees. “Boys should give girls more respect and be more considerate of their emotions and not just use them to get what they want.”
Beth Levine, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who counsels a lot of teens on the North Shore believes that kids suffer by short-changing the dating process. “By dating, kids learn how to have healthy relationships,” she says. “If they think hook ups are norm, they’re not going through the practice stages of having a relationship.”
Photo: Being in love by Bigstock