There was a time in my life when I would have died before admitting that my parents had given me good advice. I can still remember that moment when I suddenly realized that my parents’ advice could be a little extreme. I realized that enjoying certain TV sitcoms was not the next step to moral suicide, and that if I listened to rock ‘n’ roll it wouldn’t cause my heart to uncontrollably beat off kilter.
I began to second-guess all the advice I was given all the time. Especially the “You’ll be so much happier if you wait to date until you get a little older.”
Even though I’m sure my parents had some hidden ulterior motive besides just wanting what was best for me (that was a joke if they happen to read this), I believe following this advice was beneficial to my overall happiness and sanity. Call me a traitor if you like, but I encourage all young teenagers to think twice before throwing themselves into superserious relationships.
The reason I’m saying this to you may be different from any other reasons you’ve heard before. I don’t think hormones have to take over your body, “forcing” you to have sex before you know it. I don’t believe that God expects you to wait to date until you’ve met “the one.” Believe it or not, it was some crazy psychological theory I learned about in my college freshman psych class that made me thankful I had waited to “hook up” seriously—it was Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development.
Erik Erikson (1902-1994) taught that throughout a human’s life there are seven major life issues faced, each of the seven being the strongest at a certain time of life. Each issue is a struggle between two opposing ideas or forces. Before you can progress to the next level you have to conquer the present level.
The issue we primarily struggle with as teenagers is Identity vs. Role Confusion (the crisis of “Who am I really?”). Erikson taught that until you have established your identity, you are not prepared to deal with the next issue, the primary struggle of young adulthood: Intimacy vs. Isolation (the crisis of “Who’s the guy/girl for me?”).
Erikson uses a lot of big words so this is going to be my interpretation of all his psychobabble. As teenagers we have this huge pull in one direction to fit in, and we also have this great desire to be our own person, to shock the world with our dazzlingly clever originality.
We are consumed with this struggle. In this search for ourselves we experiment. We dress differently from year to year, change our opinions constantly on politics, religion, etc. We hate ourselves often for getting suckered into doing things we know we shouldn’t, for not standing up for ourselves, for focusing on copying others instead of being comfortable with being ourselves, being different.
When we are young we often take on different roles at different times to keep things easy and peaceful, just so we don’t stand out as a little weird. Crazy changing moods and inclinations seem to sporadically take over, and sometimes they’re good, sometimes not so good.
So why not attach to a “lover” at this time? Erik Erikson taught that since most teenagers are especially impressionable, a teen is more inclined toward becoming the person the “lover” wants him or her to be. He taught that unless you know who you are, what you want and what you stand for, you cannot succeed in an intimate relationship. In fact, without your identity you cannot truly be intimate. Being intimate includes always telling the truth, making yourself vulnerable, not being afraid to disagree, and trusting yourself and your “lover.”
When you are still at that stage where you desperately need people to approve of you to give you meaning and security, you are more apt to compromise truth and your own beliefs, needs and desires to make yourself more appealing to someone else. What a dangerous time to commit to loving someone!
Of course, there are high school sweethearts who have very meaningful relationships, and I do not mean to diminish the very memorable relationships we experience at a young age. All I am proposing to you is that before you let the allure of your emotions drag you into a “pretend marriage,” where you try to pretend you know more about yourself and life than you really do, ask yourself, “Is this me?” Extend your present situation; see yourself with your current “somebody” for an extended period of time, and if you get an uncomfortable gagging feeling, be secure enough to go it alone. Experiencing life is always exciting, and when you are single it just means you have more time to develop yourself, make more friends and date around so that you have a better idea of what you need. There is one question I ask myself often. “If I met the one for me, would I be the one for him?” And, well, as old as I am, as old as I get, I know I’ll never be quite right; so if I find myself dumped or alone I can always improve myself for the next disaster … oops, I mean, relationship.
One final thought to leave you with: Erik Erikson taught that you build on your identity your whole life, so don’t think you have to have it all figured out before you take a chance at life, at love or at any obstacle or challenge. A big factor in identity is acceptance. It’s seeing yourself as who you really are and not committing suicide because you realize you may not turn out to be an Einstein or a Shakespeare or a Britney Spears (ahh!!!).
Someone told me that if I included a warm and fuzzy personal experience story, you all would pay more attention, so here it goes. Once upon a time, I met a handsome, charming prince who swept me off my feet and carried me to a magic world. It seemed like he was the answer to all my questions and all my problems. I thought nothing could go wrong for us, that he would be my everything. So I forgot about the real world with all its real people, because I thought I would stay in the magic fantasy world forever. I was wrong. As we grew older the prince and I drifted apart because a magic fantasy world is difficult to maintain. One day I met this normal guy. He was sweet and smart and funny, but he wasn’t quite a handsome, charming prince. Sometimes he was insensitive or rude or boring. But on the other hand, he wasn’t afraid to live in the real world, and he helped me see that the real me was even more desirable than the fantasy me. He was my best friend. The charming prince couldn’t compare to the best friend, because I could never be myself with the prince.
The more I stayed with the best friend, the more he seemed like a charming prince. I realized that the charming prince was just a normal guy too, but that I had built him up to be someone he wasn’t, just as he had done with me. When you are living in a fantasy world, and you’re looking for a charming prince or princess, you will easily find one. But one day you grow up, and the real world is all around you. Are you waiting for a fantasy, or searching for a best friend? VT