Teenage Courtship Dance

“Many therapists will recognize this common pattern in a relationship, a ballet of approach and avoidance, where one partner needs reassuring closeness and the other is more comfortable with distance. One draws close, seeking assurance, while the other, feeling invaded, draws back, raising the anxiety level of both. In the latter’s need for protective space is the desire to do what the child could not do, that is, keep the intrusive” other” at bay and preserve a fragile psychic integrity”
James Hollis, Ph.D. (4)

The day after sourcing the above quote I went to see a series of one act plays. One was written and performed by a group of teenagers from a local College. Amongst the explosive action and teenage angst peppered with screams and expletives came a silent, beautifully choreographed expression of a teenage view of relationships.

One couple danced showing how much in love and in tune they were with each other. In another dance, the male tried to control the movements of his partner and restricted any attempt by her to express herself. The third were dancing a more extreme version of James Hollis’s couple. At times they were both turning their backs on each other and then trying to find acceptance.

… Let the dance begin

So you’ve reached your teens, a comparatively new concept as it happens. Before the 1950’s the majority of teenagers would be at work or at war. Even as far as 1960 young men could be called for National Service from the age of 17. So up until then the default pattern was going from childhood to a steady job and marriage with no clear boundaries between. The word “Teenage” was first found in the Oxford Dictionary in 1941 but really came into popular use in the late 50’s with Teddy Boys and later Mods and Rockers. At this time a host of relationship situations came into being and set the style for what is happening today – a practice run before the long term relationship begins.
Throughout our lives we experience different types of relationships each one teaching us important qualities on how we develop relationships, these are basically made up of:
Family * Friends * Acquaintances * Intimacy/Sex
These relationships play a large role in forming our development and identities as an individual.

Families

This is where we first learn how to interact with others ideally in a loving, caring relationship. Our family is made of our parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and step parents. Families today can be made up all sorts of diverse groups … traditional, single parent, blended (more than one family together in the same house), gay, lesbian couples, mixed marriages, adopted, fostered children and so on. Whatever the makeup of your family, there are going to be good times and bad times but having a healthy relationship with your family is important and can also be difficult.
Your family is where, ideally, you should learn to communicate with each other, developing ways to value boundaries and build trust and respect.

Friends – What is a friend?

“A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, trust and respect, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations.” Oxford Dictionary (5)

Every one of us needs friends. As you get older some of your friendships start to change, your feelings for some may grow deeper, the circle of peers you know may grow bigger (although not all will be close friends), peer pressure may be a major influence with certain groups.
“Feeling vulnerable in a group of peers usually means that this relationship is not in balance.”
Making and keeping friends in the teenage years can be tough with the changes in relationships, although natural, being very difficult to fathom at times. By understanding the basis of a good friendship and your expectations and needs, gives you the natural tools for a good romantic relationship when it comes along. One mark of a good, healthy friendship is that you can say “No” to each other and remain friends. Friendships play a major role in our lives.

What makes a good friend?

True friends …
* Listen to and respect each other.

* Offer mutual support

* Encouragement

* Co-operation

* Compromise

* Consideration

* Are able to talk openly, even if you disagree, but while
respecting your friends opinion.

* Can say “sorry” and truly mean it!

* Can make you laugh with all your heart

* Just get you

Acquaintances

Relationships with caring adults, including teachers, mentors, coaches, GP’s and so on are important for adolescent development. These relationships set examples, teach interpersonal skills and develop trust and respect.

Intimacy/Sex

What does it mean?
How far do we go and when?
Do I have to have sex?
What will happen if I do?
Will he leave me if I don’t?
What will my friends say?
What will my parents say?

It is important to realize that there is a big difference between being intimate with someone and having sex. An intimate relationship is one whereby you can truly be yourself with someone and be confident with a person you respect and be respected in return. It is an emotional connection with someone that you are close to that does not need to be romantic or sexual. An intimate relationship allows both of you to grow as an individual.

Romantic relationships, sadly, are not always intimate. In a healthy, romantic relationship, both partners respect each other and have their own identity. Just as pressures among peers can impact the relationship in an unhealthy manner, so too can an imbalance with partners whereby one can overpower the other with their wants and needs … resulting in an imbalance in the relationship.

As preteens become teenagers and then adolescents, relationships start to change, friendships start to alter, attractions start to manifest and new relationships emerge. These changes are natural but sometimes the emotions involved are not always easy to deal with.

As with the other areas we have explored with teenagers, it is important to look at what is ideal in preparing them for sexual exploration. It is good if they are able to openly discuss sex with a parent or appropriate adult or acquaintance.

Teenagers need to know…

  • That they can say “No” to sex, if they wish to do so.
  • The importance of having respect for their own body and those of others and respect for their own feelings and those of others.
  • How to protect themselves if they want to have a sexual relationship and for them to know the contraceptive options available to them. Ultimately the outcome of unprotected sex can result in pregnancy.
  • The effects of drugs and alcohol on sexual inhibition and safe decision making around sexual practices.
  • That sex is potentially dangerous if the spread of disease is not considered.
  • The consequences of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) such as gonorrhoea, herpes and chlamydia.
  • About potentially life threatening diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

When exploring the teenage years of yourself or a client it is useful to see all the above as a benchmark, an ideal. However, when it can be seen that something has interfered with that process and impacts on the current and/or past relationships then you have highlighted an area that needs to be explored.

During the teenage years it is a time to learn the steps to the relationship dance. In an ideal world both partners will know when to step back before treading on toes. Sadly, this does not always happen and even if it is your partner and not you that “treads on the toes”, an unhealthy relationship can make it difficult for you when you enter a long term relationship.

Many things can interfere with your ability to form healthy relationships; abuse, bullying, diversity issues and even how your sexuality is perceived. The way that homosexuality and bisexuality are portrayed in the media makes it very difficult for some people to be comfortable with their sexuality.

On an optimistic note, a fourteen year old student of mine recently said “Why do gay people have to ‘Come Out’? It’s like me saying ‘I am heterosexual and am proud to tell the world’”.

Part of this teenage phenomenon is the study of both our physical and intellectual response to relationships. The emotional part of ourselves, which we have discussed earlier, has been running since our birth.