The Exhausting Heartache of Teenage Dating, part 1

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As the school year comes to an end and summer swings into effect, many thoughts naturally turn to dating, relating—and hopefully, not mating.

Real Talk!

In my almost 30 years of dealing with teens, I have not seen one issue as destructive to the lives of teens as the issue of dating and relationships. There’s something about this drive to that we as humans have to connect that is so powerful, but when you pair it with the hormone poisoning that happens to teenagers it’s like mixing nitroglycerin and gunpowder (the combination for dynamite)!

This issue of sex, sexuality, and addictions (relationship, drugs, alcohol, food, cutting and eating disorders) have the potential to ruin a promising and budding young life or imprison somebody—either literally or figuratively!

“Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit” (Galatians 6:7, 8, NLT).

In my countless conversations with teenagers, after the relationships had ended, they have never admitted that the relationship was a good idea. In 100% of these situations the teenagers, themselves, wished that they hadn’t dated at all.

Frankly, Teen-Age Heartache is Exhausting

Teenagers, naturally tend to be aware—even hyperfocused–on this issue, even if they are too busy or lack the self confidence to act on their wishes or impulses. However, when the school year comes to an end, and they have more time on their hands and less supervision, structure, and schedule, the vast majority of them, will decide to take the plunge into the unpredictable—even dangerous—waters, of the teen dating world.

Now normally I would begin with a captivating personal anecdote of a teen’s experience,  however, I know that I’ve got your attention. How do I know this to be the case? Because every teenager, and I mean every teenager, always feels uninformed and ignorant in this area, and is constantly wanting to learn as much as they can about it.

Again, let me be very clear about my position on teens dating exclusively:

Teens should not be dating exclusively (one person) until they get to college. All the research shows that it’s an incredibly bad idea! Now I don’t have a problem with large or small groups of people going out to events or outings. In fact, it’s prudent for people of the opposite sex to know how to interact appropriately and respectfully with one another and the only way they’ll know how to do that is to interact with one another, but never in a “one-on-one” dating scenario. That’s a clear recipe for disaster! I say this for two reasons:

1. The latest physiological brain research now shows us that teens don’t have the internal brain structures necessary to be able to make good decisions. Specifically they lack full function of decision-making, problem-solving, conflict management, impulse control, and they tend to participate in risky behaviors. The research goes on to tell us that a teen’s brain won’t be fully developed enough for them to be able to really deal well with these issues until their early to mid twenties (by the way, that’s why companies won’t rent cars to people until they’re about 25, because they’ve also read the same research)!

2. The whole purpose of exclusive one-on-one dating (typically called “courtship”) is to try people on for size to see if they are good fits for marriage. Bottom line: if marriage is not your goal—and it shouldn’t be when you’re in middle school or high school, then all you’re doing is spinning your relational wheels and permanently damaging your sensitive and unformed personalities and characters!
In fact, by the time individuals are in college—the time when they typically have the cognitive and reasoning skills formed to begin seriously looking for a spouse–they unfortunately are already jaded, negative, cynical—and yes, even traumatized, due to a long string of failed relationships, difficult breakups, shattered hopes and dreams, and, unfortunately, (more and more commonly) sexual involvement, involving sexual assaults, as well!

Don’t Shoot the Messenger!

This is the topic to which that I receive the most emotional responses response. Let me just plead with you, at the forefront of our time together: “Don’t shoot the messenger!” Try to remember that I am not your enemy. As this information begins to hit home, as it inevitably will, please don’t stop listening to me and place me in the camp of the middle-aged counselor who doesn’t know anything.

I’ll be honest with you: I seriously dated from the time that I was in elementary school until the time that I got married, and I have dealt with a lifetime of serious negative consequences and my share of trauma. I don’t want that for you. I’m simply sharing this information with you in the hopes that it will help you to have a better, happier, and less complicated life.

When God says: “Don’t!” what He’s really saying is: “Don’t hurt yourself!” and no issue more clearly proves this saying more than this one. As a general rule of life, people who do life God’s way tend to be happier and healthier: “And the LORD our God commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear him so he can continue to bless us and preserve our lives . . .” (Deuteronomy 6:24, NLT).

The Blind Leading the Blind

Sometimes I even see girls who tell me that they’ve sworn off guys because they’ve just been hurt over and over and over. Let me ask you a question: if you get mad at a newborn baby because he can’t jump hurdles, whose fault is it? The same thing happens over and over again; I have teens in my office with puffy red eyes because they’ve been crying their eyes out because of something totally brainless, selfish, thoughtless, or just plain mean, that some guy said or did—either purposefully or accidentally! And more often than not, my answer is “sweetie, they’re just not mature enough yet…neither of you are!”
I don’t understand why teenagers get so upset at the fact that other teens act like they have half a brain—it’s because they literally do! Teens dating and especially dating other teens, is literally like the blind leading the blind.

Why Date?

So the logical question is why do so many teenagers get involved or want to get involved in dating? The answer lies in the three “B” words: biology, bad stuff & boredom.
Teenagers get interested in dating because it’s a natural and normal curiosity, during puberty. Teenagers can also have a strong pull to date due to bad stuff that happens to them in their life, or trauma. It might interest you to know that the more unresolved trauma that someone has had in their life the stronger the pull to get involved in dating at younger and younger ages becomes. Simply put, the reason why this is is that the traumatized person is unconsciously seeking to get their unresolved emotional needs met from the person(s) whom they will inevitably date. And the danger of trauma is that the more unresolved trauma a person has, the more unaware they are about the actual harmful things that are controlling them.
The last reason why teens get involved in dating is simply because they’re bored and think that this might be an awesome way to spend their time.

“TED Talk” Alert!

I’ve got to warn you, some of the content that I share will be pretty science-heavy; you’ll actually feel like you’re back in science class again. Honestly, there’s just no way that you can understand the extent of the power of what is happening in your bodies and brains without it. I share this information with you because once you understand what’s happening, you can be ready for it and control it better. Knowledge is definitely power and I don’t think I’m being over the top when I share that, for many of you, this information may very well save your life or the life of someone you know and love.

So let’s get started. There are three issues that I want to explore:

The basics of a relationship are like the pillars or foundation stones of a house. All must be strong. If you try to make up for one weak pillar by strengthening another, the whole structure will be out of balance and will either slowly crumble or will come quickly crashing down!

The Four Pillars
1. Love: This is expressed through giving safety and security, support, sense of belonging, care and acceptance.
2. Trust: is an attitude of healthy dependence upon another person for some result or outcome. It is the most fragile of the four pillars
3. Respect: can also be defined as honoring somebody else. It is basically recognizing and acknowledging the other person’s worth or value. Out of all pillars, it is most neglected.
4. Understanding: can also be defined as knowledge. Out of all pillars, it is most often short-circuited and takes the longest to develop.

Next, let’s explore why we seek emotional connections and relational intimacy as much as we do.

Our Emotional Foundation
In order to effectively understand why we do what we do, there are two crucial points that we must cover:

1. God is a relational being.
2. We were all made in God’s image.

Genesis 1:26-27 “God said, Let Us [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] make mankind in Our image, after Our likeness. . . So God created man in His own image, in the image and likeness of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Therefore, if God is relational and we were made in God’s image, we are meant to be relational. What does that mean? Bottom line: we were created for intimacy. But how do we define intimacy? Well, a good definition for intimacy is: for us to understand, accept, and love another person deeply and honestly and for us to be known, accepted and loved deeply and honestly by another.

“Is it True Love?!”

The most asked question that (mostly) young women ask me is “Like I really, really like this person. Actually, I think I might love them! How do I know if it’s true love or something else?”
Well, Song of Solomon 8:6b says “The passion of love bursting into flame is more powerful than death, stronger than the grave” (CEV). So it is clear that both love and lust are strong emotions. So how, then, can you tell the difference between love and lust? The short answer is time.

Lust is the enemy’s cheap imitation of God’s beautiful love. Lust is passionate! Now true love can be passionate at times as well, but true love calms down and is characterized most notably by it’s staying power. Lust is short-lived, several months, at best, and the newness wears off and you get bored!

Lust is ultimately a selfish emotion. If you were into cooking metaphors, you could explain it like this: love is like a crock pot vs lust is like a microwave.
Upon first glance it may seem like you’re all involved in another person, but a closer examination will clearly show that the person who is lusting after the other person really is focused more on how the other person makes them feel about themselves! When I ask those teens why they “love” the other person, they say things like: “oh, he makes me feel special” or “he looks so good” or my favorite “he’s just a great guy!” There is no specificity to their responses and the responses show no depth of knowledge for the other person’s life, goals, dreams, strengths, or character, for that matter.

The bottom line is this: research now shows that it takes a minimum of two years before you see the real person come out in any type of relationship. Two years is a long time. You might think it’s a bad thing, but it’s actually a good thing. I would rather someone know somebody as a friend or close friend for two years and find out the truth rather than to get physically involved with them or even worse—to get engaged or married to them and spend a lifetime of regret!

True love is like a flower: it takes a combination of the perfect seed, sunlight, water and TIME. It takes time to grow and blossom. A relationship is no different. Your parents are right: good things do come to those who wait.
Again, we want to turn to God’s Word, the Bible, to see if He has anything to say about this topic. He actually does! According to the Bible, true love has 15 specific components:
“Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always ‘me first,’
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end” (1 Corinthians13:4-7, MSG).
Wow! That’s pretty clear. It’s God’s checklist for true love!

Tomorrow, the worst relationship ever, from the Bible’s original Love Triangle Saga, and how it relates to our love interests and choices today.

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