The Good, the Bad, and the Snuggly: Are High School Relationships Worth It?

5 mins read

We all know that one friend who fell so deep in love with their partner that they forgot all about you… and then three weeks later you had to console them after that whirlwind relationship came to a bitter end.

High school relationships are everything; they’re wonderful and horrible and inspiring and messy all at once. Yet the question remains: are they worth it?

After nearly four years of watching my peers venture into the world of young romance (and dabbling in it myself), I’ve got some thoughts that I can’t hold back from bubbling over.

High school relationships can be valuable opportunities for personal growth, but most are not, largely due to a culture of romantic hype. In addition, the way we think about them in absolutes encourages poor matchups and bad habits that can set students up for trouble in their love lives down the road.

But Dylan, you might ask, how can you be so cynical? Haven’t you ever felt the indescribable joy of falling in love? No. I have not. And I don’t think my life would be that much better if I had. 

I’ve spent most of high school focused on building genuine friendships, pursuing my passions, and otherwise investing in my personal and social development. Overall, I would say I’ve had a pretty positive experience, and I’m glad I was able to devote my time and energy to self-improvement—academically, socially, and emotionally.

I think it’s true that you can also improve your ability to maintain a romantic relationship by dating people in high school. However, based on my personal experience, I would rather forgo a high school relationship and miss out on that potential growth because I believe it’s more important to focus on other aspects of self-improvement, especially given that many high school relationships are glorified distractions—there, I said it—and can instill negative attitudes towards dating.

I’ve dated two people during high school, and both times were the most distracted I’ve ever been. Relationships take time and effort out of students’ already-busy schedules. In addition to homework, extracurriculars, and hangouts with friends, I was always texting, snapping, DM’ing, or calling the people I’ve dated, meeting up with them, thinking about them in class, staying up late to talk to them… Sometimes it seemed like they were the most important part of my life (which was quite troubling to me, as I like to think I’m a very independent person).

There were certainly very positive aspects of my relationships, like the excitement of the chase or the elation of the first kiss. However, I also spent less time with my friends, screwed up my sleep schedule, struggled more in school, and still felt like I wasn’t putting enough work into my romantic relationship.

Looking back, I wish I hadn’t seriously dated and instead continued to focus on working towards personal successes and deepening my platonic bonds, which by and large brought me similar levels of joy to my romantic relationships but lacked that similar pressure.

However, even if many students would personally rather focus on themselves than find a partner, high school culture can make it hard to remove yourself from the dating scene.

Just look at pop culture: almost all teen movies, television shows, books, and songs include romantic storylines. Dating has become a quintessential part of the high school experience, and those who don’t date can feel insecure or abnormal.

The idolization of high school relationships hurts our romantic growth in two ways. 

First, it encourages us to date people for the sake of dating alone. After my talking stages end, I usually feel like I was just forcing myself to like them because I was bored and wanted to spice up my love life. 

Recently I’ve begun to realize that I view dating as a way to liven up my life largely because high school culture puts romantic relationships on an atmospheric pedestal. I’m starting to realize that I find healthier excitement in my friendships and personal passions, and should turn to them in times of discontent instead of trying to use someone else as an entertaining fling.

Second, when high school students feel pressure to get into a relationship, they tend to look for people who are readily available and socially convenient—we judge romantic partners by their proximity instead of their quality.

I want to wait for someone that truly makes me happy. They don’t have to be perfect, but they do have to meet all the baselines (nice, funny, respectful, etc.). I fear that too often I have lowered my standards based on the principle that having someone is better than no one, even if I’m not sure I actually like that someone. But romantic relationships are serious investments, and I don’t want to invest any more effort into people who I really only see as friends.

In addition, students sometimes seem to forget that relationships are always complicated, especially at such an early age. We’re all still figuring ourselves out, which can make it hard to adequately meet other people’s romantic needs all the time.

Just recently, I asked my mom how long it took her to realize she wanted to marry my dad. Honestly, I expected her to say a month or two, because in my mind I want to believe in love at first sight and all that crap. My mom told me she had dated my dad for about a year until she knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. And that’s natural!

I often find myself slipping into this mindset when thinking about romantic partners: if they do something wrong, then they’re toxic, and I should break up with them; if they do something right, we’re meant to be, and I should devote loads of my time and energy to our relationship. Yet both sides of this attitude are destructive.

When someone immediately sees their partner’s errors as indications of utter romantic insufficiency, both people lose out on learning how to maintain a relationship. If someone treats minor flaws and miscommunications as dealbreakers, neither they nor their partner will learn how to work through relationship problems, which is the most important part of dating in high school.

Wow, that was a lot of ranting (and hopefully some good advice sprinkled throughout). And while it may seem otherwise, I promise I am not anti-love. High school relationships can provide comfort, joy, and many other amazing things. They can teach you what you want and need in future relationships, as well as how to deal with common problems.

However, we need to recognize that relationships are not the end-all-be-all, and that developing yourself as an individual is always a constructive pursuit. Romance should be about searching for someone, not something. Look for a person who brings you comfort and joy, not for someone who you can use just to have a relationship.

If I had to sum up my approach in a single phrase, it would be this: focus on yourself and live your life with personal purpose, investing in people you truly care about and only adding romance as it arises, instead of focusing on romance and developing all else on the side.

While you will miss out on certain experiences if you choose not to date, you will give yourself more time to grow as an individual, which will allow you to reach greater satisfaction and success. You will also be a better romantic partner in the future by establishing your own identity and goals now.

That being said, my ex just hit me up, so I might have to change my tune.

Dylan is a senior who primarily covers education and breaking news. He also writes for News Not Noise, PUNCH Magazine, and InMenlo. In his free time, you can find him at the beach or on a (shaded) running trail.

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