Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Teenaged Dating Mind Lives On

Dismissing people through crude judgements is a favorite past time of daters these days. A relationship falls apart and the partners place all the blame on each other. A first date doesn't turn into a second date, and the people involve tell their best friends about the "bitch" or "asshole" they spent the previous night with. Dating bloggers who bandy insults around and peg people into judgmental categories get loads of readers. It's so much more fun, apparently, to blame and commiserate in victimhood with others than to take a good look at yourself, and also consider how adults become the way they are.

A friend of mine posted this brilliantly insightful article written by a 13 year old boy about the sexualization of girls, and the peer pressure boys feel to seek out "perfect" girlfriends. I encourage folks to read it in full, but here's a large segment that I'd like to comment upon.

When guys at my school and at my summer camp talk about girls, they mainly mention their looks and bodies. There are often raging debates (like the one above) in the boys’ locker room at my school, and probably schools all across the country. All of these arguments basically discuss the same three things: a girl’s facial features (glasses, braces, acne); a girl’s curves (usually a girl’s lack of curves); and finally, a girl’s waistline (“Ew no, Maria is not skinny enough”). Now you may have different ideas about why boys discussing a girls’ bodies is so common, but I believe it is for the same reason that Ben brought up: in the media, mostly in magazines and commercials, guys are seeing images of women with perfect complexions, huge breasts and unnaturally thin waists. In fact, guys are so constantly bombarded with these images, that what we see becomes our idea of the “perfect woman.” So, whenever guys see girls who don’t fit that description exactly—which is every single girl they meet—the boys think the girls look “fat,” “flat-chested” or “flawed” in one way or another. But even the models don’t actually look like their pictures in the magazines, thanks mostly to the incredible deception powers of Photoshop.

Since girls are ridiculed if they don’t appear like the models, I think many girls feel that their only way to be accepted is to conform to what they see. This pressure is clear to me in the clothing choices of my female friends. Even if we’re just hanging out in the park or going on a school field trip, my friends always try to dress attractively and “sexy.” Spaghetti strap and strapless dresses, pencil skirts, tight spandex for gym class, and “booty shorts” in the summer. From what I see, magazines make girls think they have to dress alluringly and show off their bodies in order to avoid criticism from the gender those same magazines set up to be their judges: boys.

I’ve also noticed that girls are starting to shave their legs earlier and earlier. My school recently had an end of the year ceremony where the fourth graders attend their first Middle School event. It’s a formal event, so many of the fourth graders were wearing dresses. I noticed that many of them had shaved their legs already. Fourth grade! I told this to my mom, and she wondered why any fourth grader would want to get started with such relentless body “upkeep” so soon. I mean, if you think about it, it’s kind of a simple equation, really: since the boys think that the models are hot, and the models have smooth legs, then these girls think that shaving their legs will make them look hot in the eyes of the boys. These fourth graders are shaving their legs because there is a lot of social pressure for girls to look attractive and sexy all the time—at any age.

I distinctly remember being attracted to two girls in high school that didn't "measure up" to the media-driven "standards." They were both cute, but not "hot." The thing is, I wanted to date both of them, but was afraid of what my male friends would think. It was bad enough when I dated a girl a year younger than me. "Robbing the freshman cradle" type comments were frequent, although some of the same friends were jealous that I had someone and they didn't.

Being on the shyer side, I often found myself internally calculating how much potential damage an action might bring me. It's painful to think how much other people's opinions controlled me back then. And given how fraught with confusion and landmines teen dating is to begin with, the idea of putting up with a bunch of flack for dating a girl who wasn't "a hotty" just wasn't worth it in those two cases. Which is sad, because not only were both of those girls actually plenty cute, but they also were both kind, intelligent, and friendly.

Meanwhile, I also recall being attracted to another girl who was more stereotypically "hot," but who was also stereotypically mean. Those of my generation might think of the movie "Heathers." Even after she unceremoniously agreed to a date with me, and then rejected the idea, all in the same lunch period, I continued to long after her for weeks. Was she playing hard to get? Or was she really not interested? I don't know. But already, the "hard to get" narrative had been planted in my teenage mind, and I figured that it was up to me to figure out how to get her to pay attention again. The fact that I couldn't gather the guts up to really respond ended up being translated into a "I'm not good enough" story, which got reinforced by other high school dating situations, and followed me into young adulthood.

For most of my college days, I dated women who chose me, but who actually weren't great matches. Happy to be wanted, I overrode the fact that I was settling for women who I didn't have enough in common with, and didn't feel that much attraction to.

It took a lot of reflection to get to the point where I realized all of this. I was twice the age of the boy who wrote the article above. And yet, the majority of men it seems haven't done the kinds of reflection needed to unearth these early experiences, and the forces - internally and externally - that helped shaped those experiences. More women seem to "get it" about this stuff, but plenty still don't, and end up repeating the same old patterns over and over again.

Going back to the opening paragraph, the main reason why I reject the blame and blast games is that it impedes our ability to see into ourselves. You don't learn why you keep dating people who aren't good for you by judging their every last move, and running those stories endless in your head, and in your conversations with others.

If it's all about them, you will never see the real you. You'll probably keep choosing people who aren't good matches for you, and/or will stay with someone far too long because you can't see your way out.

The teenaged dating mind lives on in many adults, responsible for much of the poor behavior and confused decisions. If you don't understand the kinds of experiences that led you to where you are today, odds are you won't figure out how to have a better, more fulfilled tomorrow. With or without a partner.


  1. I'm always amazed, when I'm reading dating blogs and comments, how much emphasis is still put on looks by people in the 30's and older. These days, women seem just about as superficial as men. Until I got online, it never occurred to me that "mature" people would still think that way. The media indoctrination is severe, indeed!

  2. It's pretty scary, isn't it? I actually see a lot of "teenaged" thinking going on with people who are twenty, thirty years past those days. They're stuck, and the media reinforces being stuck.

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