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Dating

What is dating?

Dating is a term that may mean different things depending on where you live. In Australia, a term we commonly use for dating is "going out". When you are officially "going out" with or "dating" someone, it usually means that you are in an exclusive romantic relationship. Wikipedia defines dating as:

'A form of courtship consisting of social activities by two persons with the aim of each assessing the other's suitability as a partner in an intimate relationship or as a spouse. While the term has several senses, it usually refers to the act of meeting and engaging in some mutually agreed upon social activity in public, together, as a couple.'

When should you start dating?

datingThere really isn't a right time to start dating, the main thing is not to feel pressured to start going out before you're ready. If you are young, it can sometimes be better to hang out with a mixed group (boys and girls) of friends and do things together like going to movies, swimming, sporting events, bike rides. If you start going on dates too early, you might find yourself in sticky situations, such as your date wanting to start having sexual contact that you're not ready for. This can also be particularly tricky if you are dating someone who is older than you.

Generally, most people would agree that in your teen years, it's best to go out with someone who is no more than two years older than you. This varies of course, but the reason is that you will have more in common with someone of a similar age.

People will have different ideas about how old you should be before you start going out - especially your parents or carers. Do your parents have rules about when you can start dating? If you don't know, it might be a good idea to talk about it before you find someone you would like to date. Your parents might not know how to start the conversation so it could help them to know you're thinking about it and are interested in their thoughts about when you should start going out on dates.

Online dating

If you search on Google for dating, you will find that you come up with lots of internet dating sites. It's becoming more popular for people of all ages to try cyber (online) dating, which can happen through using email, web, Facebook etc. Although it has become pretty popular to meet and start dating online, there are some important risks to be aware of. Because you can't see the person, they can pretend to be whoever they want you to believe they are, they may not be the age they say they are and they may be dangerous, so remember never to give out any of your personal information unless you know for sure who the person you are talking to is.

Online Dating Website Law

If you are interested in online dating you should know that you need to be at least 18 and some websites require you to be 21 years of age and older. Websites that closely stick to the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) have a program at their dating websites that will verify the applicant's age. One such tool is the BirthDate Verifer.com technology which makes it possible to screen prospective members and makes it impossible for minors to join sites.

Being in a relationship

Whether you call it dating or going out, and whether your relationship is face-to-face or online, there are some things that are important to remember about being in a dating relationship. Dating provides an opportunity to get to know someone you feel attracted to, on a more personal and potentially intimate level. Being in the relationship should be a positive experience for both people. The relationship is more likely to be enjoyable when it is a healthy relationship. There are some key elements that will be present in a healthy relationship, including:

  • Open communication - being able to talk openly about problems with each other without shouting or yelling. You listen to one another, hear each other out, respect each other's opinions, and are willing to compromise
  • Respect - valuing each other as you are. Culture, beliefs, opinions and boundaries are valued. You treat each other in a way that demonstrates the high esteem you hold for one another
  • Trust - you both trust each other, and the trust has been earned
  • Honesty - you are both honest with each other but can still choose to keep certain things private
  • Equality - you make decisions together and you hold each other to the same standards
  • Enjoy personal space - you both enjoy spending time apart and respect when one of you decides to have some time with other friends or just need some time alone
  • Make consensual sexual decisions - you talk openly about sexual decisions together. You both consent to sexual activity and can talk about what is ok and what isn't. If you both decide to enter into sexual activities, you talk about the possible consequences together, such as pregnancy or STD's. You decide together how to address these things, such as through condoms and other birth control methods

Of course, when you start going out with someone these elements won't all automatically be there, but they are important areas to work on together. For example, trust comes as you spend time together and learn that the other person is honest with you, and that then helps to increase your respect for that person.

Abusive relationships

When you start dating someone, you also need to be aware of some of the warning signs of an abusive relationship because not all relationships will be healthy ones. If you have any doubts that a person may be abusive, it is best to trust your instincts and not put yourself at risk. Dating abuse doesn't just mean physical abuse. There are lots of ways that a relationship might show signs of being abusive. You might even think that some of the behaviours are a normal way that boyfriends and girlfriends are supposed to act. To help you identify some of the warning signs of an abusive relationship, here are some things to look out for:

  • He/she constantly checks in on you - different to checking in about how your day's going, an abusive sign is when you are expected to give a detailed daily report on where you've been and who you've been with, or they constantly send you text messages to see what you're up to
  • He/she lies to you - because honesty is vital in a relationship, if that honesty and trust is broken by lies (particularly about important things) then this indicates something to be concerned about. What sorts of things might be important to you that would not be okay for someone to lie to you about?
  • He/she won't let you talk to other guys/girls - it's important to maintain relationships with other people when you are in a dating relationship. If your boy/girlfriend doesn't like you spending some of your time with friends or family, that's a concern. It's not okay for someone you are in a relationship with to control your behaviour
  • He/she threatens serious consequences for breaking up with them - threats from a boy/girlfriend about really bad things happening if you break up with them usually arises from fear of being alone and a lot of dependency on the relationship to fulfil all of their needs (for security, comfort, status etc.). It goes without saying that both people in a relationship need to want to be together for the relationship to be happy and healthy
  • He/she loses their temper quickly - everyone gets mad sometimes, and that's okay. But if your boy/girlfriend snaps at you over the tiniest things and blames you for those things (that aren't your fault), then something's wrong and it's not you
  • He/she embarrasses you in public - no one who cares about you should ever make you feel bad about yourself. Doing it in public, - by calling you names or making fun of you when other people are around, indicates a lack of respect or regard for you, which may be sufficient to ask questions about whether this is a good relationship for you
  • He/she pressures you to engage in sexual contact - a sexual relationship can involve a lot of different activities including oral sex or even just touching (petting). If you are feeling pressured to do anything physical that you aren't comfortable with, you don't have to do it! If you say no, and your boy/girlfriend continues to keep pressuring you that could be a sign that they are more interested in meeting their own needs than caring about yours
  • He/she keeps you away from your friends and family - if someone is being abusive in a relationship, they won't want your friends (or family) to know. Because your friends and family care about you they would probably tell you to get out of the relationship. Pushing your friends and family away is a way that abusers can protect themselves
  • He/she looks at your phone - the person you are dating does not have the right to monitor your calls and texts. You have the right to choose whom you want to be in contact with. Stopping you from having contact with people is a way of trying to control you, and that's a form of abuse
  • He/she does anything that scares you in any way - this could mean physical violence, the threat of violence, harsh words or dangerous behaviour of any kind. If you feel scared when you are on a date, that's a big warning sign that you are not in a safe relationship and you should take care of yourself and not be alone with that person.

If you have any concerns about a person you are dating, if there are warning signs that the relationship is not healthy or may be abusive, don't ignore how you are feeling. Talking to someone can help you get perspective on what's happening. If you can't talk to your parents/carers about what's happening, who else could you talk to that you can trust to be objective? You could try talking to a teacher you trust, your school counsellor or chaplain, or call Kids Helpline and talk to a counsellor there.

Breaking Up

Breaking up is as much a part of a relationship as getting together is. Even though a relationship may have been a positive, healthy one, not all relationships will last a lifetime. Coming to a point where one or both of you decide it's time to end the relationship can be a difficult decision. When one person wants to breakup and the other one doesn't, coping with those feelings can be really, really hard. Even if you both agree that it is time for the relationship to end, this does not mean that breaking up will be easy or without pain. Ending a dating relationship can be a major loss of something that you invested a lot of yourself in. You may also feel a sense of relief or release at being 'single' again, particularly if the relationship has had its problems.

If you are the one that was broken up with, try and keep things in perspective and don't be too hard on yourself. Breaking up can be as hard on the person ending the relationship as it is on the person being broken up with - don't assume that because a person has broken up with you that they no longer care about you - caring about you and wanting a romantic relationship with you are not one and the same. Also, being broken up with does not mean that there is something wrong with you - it just means something is not working in the relationship.

Break ups are often followed by one of the parties starting a new relationship and that can make a break up even more difficult to deal with. Feeling mad, angry, betrayed or humiliated are all common feelings people express when faced with these kind of circumstances. Allow yourself to experience these feelings and express them in a safe way. Although you may be angry, acting on your anger after a breakup is never a good idea. After being broken up with don't get caught up in spreading mean or spiteful rumours or betraying former confidences by telling old secrets to others. If another person was involved in your break up resist the urge to slam them behind their back. Acting vicious makes you look bad and any satisfaction you may feel will be short lived. In the end this sort of behaviour can hurt you and cause you to feel worse.

Coping with a Breakup

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the breakup, chances are you will feel sad and miss parts of being in a relationship. When the break up first happens, the hurt, anger and loneliness can make breaking up feel like the worst thing that has happened to you. Those intense feelings can be really hard to cope with and the pain may feel like it will never end.

If you are going through a breakup, there are some things that can help.

  • Surround yourself with good friends - go see a movie (perhaps avoid seeing a sad or romantic movie in the early stages of the breakup). Try catching up with some of your friends that you haven't seen or done something with for a while
  • Try not to dwell on 'things' - those special songs, photos, gifts, the person's family, letters or cards... do your best not to focus on those things too much after you break up. In time, you will be able to handle them with fond memories, but while you're in the early stages of coping with the break up, these things can make the 'getting better' harder and longer
  • Talk to someone - there may be someone in your support network: parents, older brother/sister, relative, teacher, chaplain or counsellor etc, who can help you sort through those feelings you may be confused or angry about
  • Write it down, or say it to yourself - this gives you the chance to say the things you couldn't or didn't say at the time of the break up and might help you start to feel better in the healing process
  • Try to think about what you might have learnt about yourself after having been in the relationship - caring for someone and being in a close relationship helps you to find out more about yourself. This can include what you value most, what are your most important goals, what you like and don't like and how you want to be with other people. However this relationship ended, you will have learnt some things that will help you in your life, and in future relationships
  • Moving forward - when it first happens, breaking up can feel like you're stuck in one place that is totally miserable and uncomfortable. But you are actually on the move through a natural grieving process. It takes time, but know that you will eventually feel better again and you will also have grown as a person

Breaking up is never easy. You will have good days and you will have bad days, so take one day at a time. Be kind to yourself. It's important to cut yourself some slack after a break up as you will likely be feeling vulnerable and even a bit fragile emotionally. Let yourself mourn the loss, but remember that that relationship was only one chapter in your life's story. What will come next?

Perhaps you have been through a difficult breakup and found ways of coping during that time when you were managing the pain of the loss. What things helped you go through that time? Was there anything in particular that helped you feel better? Maybe you have questions about dating and relationships that you would like to talk to someone about but aren't sure who you can talk to. You can call Kids Helpline and talk to one of our counsellors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or use our web or email counselling services, if you want to talk about relationships or respect. No problem or concern is too big or too small to talk to our counsellors about.

Published: 16 August 2011