Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Teen Romance Myth

It's Teenage Week here on Seraphic Singles as I ruefully survey my own teenage years and my adult conclusions that teenage dating is pointless, stupid and risky.

Yeah, good morning to you, too.

My friend Lily and I have an ongoing argument as to whether it is better to have dated a lot, which teaches you much stuff about relationships (says Lily), or to have dated only a little, which leaves you less jaded about the whole thing (says I). Personally, I think you can learn a lot about relationships just from having a lot of acquaintances and friends, male and female. There is no need to start going on dates at fourteen or eighteen or whatever. 

My thoughts keep returning to my leafy suburb in the 1980s and my assumption then that teenage dating was the norm and having a boyfriend would be simply heaven on earth.  I suppose it started in elementary school and "going around." From about Grade 5--which is to say, when my classmates and I were ten--life would be enlivened with rumours that Jennifer, say, was "going around" with Jason. "Going around" generally meant that they paid each other marked attentions, to the increased social status of both. 

I now grind my teeth at the fact that couplehood increased social status from the age of TEN. That's how it was, however, and it's not like it was anything new, for even Tom Sawyer had a girlfriend back in 1873 and Anne Shirley was, of course, greatly admired by Gilbert from the age of  11 or 12.  

To tempt girls into reading, my elementary school library stocked many teen romance novels. They were very enjoyable. They provided the script to teenage life--with one problem. They did not at all reflect teenage life as many of my friends and I would live it. Naturally, I assumed our lives were wrong, not the romance novels. And I waited for the teen romance script to start unfolding in vain.

One of the marked differences between the novel-world and the real world was that the girls in the novel-world all went to co-ed high schools and my friends and I went to girls' high school. I would not have exchanged my school for a co-ed school, but it did limit the opportunity to be friends with boys. I am sorry for this because I think it would have been better to see boys as colleagues and friends instead of as Potential Boyfriends.  

Potential Boyfriends could be found at boys' school dances, and such dances were the highlight of my teenage life. I cannot think of anything in adult life that approximates the glamour and excitement of a Catholic boys' school dance.  Not that I ever got a boyfriend from such a thing. I could have, but I was never interested in the boys interested in me and the boys I was interested in were never interested in me, and that's how it was. I never went on more than one date with the same guy until I was 18. 

In case you are now feeling depressed because you did not go on any dates in high school, I should underscore that this was in the 1980s in a city with a huge and varied immigrant population. Immigrant populations are by nature conservative and old-fashioned. Courtship behaviour--as opposed to just hanging out and getting as much as you can get--is conservative and old-fashioned. Which, now that I think about it, makes the fact that I asked guys out ("Of course you can ask, ladies, it's the Eighties!") all the more stupid.   

As you may have noticed, it hurts one's feelings never to get to a second date, and so I thought there was something seriously wrong and unattractive about me. Alas. What was mostly wrong is that I was too busy looking for signs that a teen romance novel was about to start to notice the details of real life.

Real life for friends who had boyfriends often involved sexual negotiations that the romance novels, pitched for twelve year olds, forgot to mention. And luckily for highly idealistic me, who believed firmly in the morality of Much Ado About Nothing (i.e. better to be thought dead than a sexual sinner), I did not have to cope with this until I was 18.

It would be terribly funny to make a teen novel out of dating Iqbal. I am not sure it would be suited for the American market even though Iqbal hated the mujahideen* as much as he hated the Russians (i.e. the Soviets). On the other hand, it could be a Canadian Literature classic, since I am sure the Canadian Left would absolutely SWOON over the idea of dating a 22 year old Muslim refugee. Thanks to the bizarre new affinity of the Left for Islam, be it ever so fundamentalist, there is just something so CBC about Iqbal remonstrating with a friend in the CN Tower Revolving Restaurant for drinking a beer. Obviously I was ahead of my time. 

Why am I telling you this stuff for free instead of winning the Giller Prize? I shall have to keep some details to myself. At any rate, Iqbal appeared in the café where I worked after school and put a lot of change in the tip jar, while mentioning that charitable giving was one of the Five Pillars of Islam. I had only heard once before of the Five Pillars of Islam. Back then Islam was just one of the Great World Religions, which I associated with the baklava-like pastry whichever Catholic elementary school classmates handed out during their class presentation on Islam. 

Iqbal followed up his charitable giving later by offering to walk me home, so we had a nice walk up Yonge Street, arguing about whether or not men were more intelligent than women. Iqbal's principal argument was that the Koran said so, and eventually I went looking for the Koran in the school library to find out if it did, and after a very long and boring search I found out that it did.  

 In hindsight I wonder why I got involved with someone who so adamantly believed that men were more intelligent than women, but it may have been because I promised to help him with his English. And also I found Iqbal very attractive although for the life of me I could not tell you why. Maybe it was his older brother's cologne, which he stole on a regular basis. Of course I felt sorry for him, too, as he had been in a Red Cross camp in Pakistan after climbing over mountains out of Afghanistan and suspected that his mother was dead and his siblings back in Kabul were hiding this from him.

Total Giller Prize. Seriously, I should be charging you money today.

Anyway, to return to the theme of the perils of teen dating, nobody had told Iqbal that NCGs don't put out, as I assumed the whole world knew. To my horror, I discovered that he was very confused by this concept, for he had had a Catholic girlfriend in Montreal and she had certainly put out. How mad was I that there were some Catholic girls who had fallen so low as to wreck our chaste reputation and necessitate us having, like Protestant girls, to give The Talk. Iqbal did not seem to take The Talk very seriously, and accused me of having slept with someone else, so I slapped him. 

Slapping men is generally a bad idea even though it always works in the movies, and if the guy protests Humphrey Bogart is there to say "You'll be slapped and like it." But this occasion, however, it actually worked like it does in the movies and although momentarily annoyed Iqbal was vastly amused.  Now that I think about it, the most effective way to communicate with Iqbal was not like a well-brought up Anglo-Saxon Torontonian but like a Shakespearean drama queen. 

"Do you see this bit of paper?" demanded the Shakespearean drama queen who, don't forget, was only eighteen and believed completely in the moral message of Much Ado about Nothing

"Yes," said Iqbal.

I dropped it on the dirty pavement and ground it under my heel. Then I picked it up and illustrated its grubbiness.

"That would be me if I agreed to sleep with you," I trumpeted.

"Ooooh ahhhhh," cried Iqbal, taking away the piece of paper and trying to de-grub it by brushing it with his hand. "Oooccchhhh! Nooooo!"

Now that I am 39+ I certainly don't believe that although I think it very helpful to my general health and well-being that I believed it at 18. I am not sure Iqbal believed that either, since he hated the mujahideen and came from an educated family. However, he did start thinking about marriage at that point, ROFL.

Being a Shakespearean drama queen, although/because the epitome of emotional honesty, exhausted me, so I broke up with Iqbal rather soon after that and firmly decided that I would date only boys who (A) were unlikely to need The Talk and (B) spoke fluent English. 

Dear me, what a long post. Feel free to chat in the combox about your experiences with either teenage dating or foreign men, i.e. foreign to you. 

*The Taliban back when they were still just soldiers and everybody--except the Soviets, educated Afghans and my mother--seemed to like them.


MaryJane said...

Foreign men are honestly an absolute puzzle to me. Domestic men (is that the term?!) are certainly different, but I have come to appreciate the masculine difference and at times, even to anticipate it. But foreign men use entirely different rules of engagement! Friendliness, flirting, dress code, eye contact... it's all a giant free-for all, as far as I'm concerned - I have been able to discern no order whatsoever! Or maybe one: no foreign man wears a baseball cap and jeans or khacki shorts and sneakers. Anywhere.

Seraphic, maybe you should write a teen romance novel that actually has to do with real life.

Rose said...

I think the potential problem with dating as a teenager is that you don't know yourself well enough to know what you are looking for, and you can also lack the self-confidence to be yourself and draw lines where you should.

I definitely got sucked into the teenage dating ideal, which wasn't helped by a close friend getting married at 18. I was also convinced I'd be married by 21, and was quite concerned that nobody was asking me out. The result of this was dating the first guy who expressed interest when I was 20, having to have The Talk a week in, and realizing three months later that the whole relationship was a lousy idea.

It was a great relief to go away to college and discover lovely girls who also hadn't dated much if at all. (It wasn't just me!) Of course, now that I'm over 30 and a lot of us still aren't dating, I'm starting to question what the men are doing, but I'm also far less concerned about it overall.

Jam said...

Seraphic, I really hope you have YouTube access, so you can watch this "film produced by the Navy that demonstrates proper dating etiquette for officers" from 1967 -- http://blogs.archives.gov/mediamatters/2013/05/01/dont-shut-your-date-in-the-door-military-dating-dos-and-donts/ -- apparently it won an award for wasteful government spending, but I think it's worth every penny :P

I remember already when I was 11 or 12 being consoled by friends about "never having had a boyfriend". Although I was always confused about those boyfriends; I mean, according to Archie comics, don't you need a jalopy to go on dates?

Urszula said...

When I was a young teenager I was worried that I would have to turn down guys because my parents wouldn't let me date until I was 18. Well, let's just say that fear was completely unnecessary because I never got asked out until I was 22 (and then, for some reason, the avalanche started).

In terms of foreign men, I've both lived abroad and dated men who were not native to the places I lived. My family jokes that I've dated somebody from every continent. I honestly don't know if it's a recent immigrant/non-immigrant thing but I don't find 'foreign' men all that foreign. Men all around the globe seem to have similar psychological motivations and at least in my experience the only difference has been how they present themselves and treat you. But the motivations underlying certain behaviors are pretty much universal.

Jo said...

I had never intended to date as a teenager, but instead ended up dating for most of my time in high school. This happened not primarily because I was keen on dating, but because as a teenager I found making good male friends much easier than forging close female friendships (for the most part it actually did make life more drama-free). In retrospect, I believe that there was also a subconscious element of seeking male attention and approval through dating, as my father has always been very reserved and avoids discussing personal things, and was also battling some depression during that time. i.e., he rarely came to school events or told me how proud he was of me. I think I learned some valuable lessons from teenage dating, but I wouldn't have minded waiting until later, especially because as a girl I naively over-estimated the maturity and piety of most of my male peers.

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