Dating and Mating

This post originally ran on Tuesday, December 5, 2006

A mother of a twelve-year old, six foot, athletic son lamented that girls are calling him day and night and chasing him down like a dog on the scent of a rabbit. At the same time, she is acutely aware that the mothers not only think it is okay, but talk about which girls would make the perfect match and cutest couple with her son. The mother asked me, “What is going on with these mothers?”

This is the open to my chapter Dating May Be Dangerous to a Girl’s or Woman’s Health which I have condensed and provided for you below. The full chapter is included in Finding Center: Building Identity and Confidence in Girls and Women’s Lives to be published by New Horizon Press in February, 2007. Google it at Amazon books!

What has your experience been with dating and do any of these issues I discuss below ring true for you? I would love to hear from you!

Warning: Dating May Be Hazardous to a Girl’s -Woman’s Health
From Finding Center: Building Identity and Confidence in Girls’ and Women’s Lives
New Horizon Press, February, 2007

Maureen D. Mack

A mother of a twelve-year old, six foot, athletic son lamented that girls are calling him day and night and chasing him down like a dog on the scent of a rabbit. At the same time, she is acutely aware that the mothers not only think it is okay, but talk about which girls would make the perfect match and cutest couple with her son. The mother asked me, “What is going on with these mothers?”
What is going on is what has been going on for centuries. The mothers are match making. They are acting out a ritual that is associated with the “old world” and is not generally considered to be part of western culture. They also know what research substantiates. Well over ninety percent of all adults will marry. Men with the best social and economic capital will get the most choices and the women who are the most attractive will be picked by the most desirable men.
Enter into this mix the issue of girls’ developmental differences from boys during early adolescence. On the average, girls’ bodies are transformed from little girl’s bodies into woman-like bodies seemingly overnight. Boys will also go through this biological maturation, but for most of them, this stage begins closer to the mid-high school years. It is no wonder why girls look at boys their own age and lament to their parents that boys their age are babies. They become much more interested in boys older than they are and for some older boys and young men, they are equally interested in the twelve to sixteen year old girl, but for different reasons.

What Girls Want—What Boys Want
Preteen girls and their mothers may have one thing in common. It is entirely likely that they possess a naïve distortion of what dating is all about in today’s preteen and teen world. As a mother marches her daughter towards the inevitable first date night, she may have a vision of the experience that sounds something like this if she were to share it with her female friends:
James came to pick up my Katie at seven o’clock. I had spent the day shopping with Katie for just the right first date outfit. She bought; I mean I bought for her, a short skirt, with a soft sweater with a scooped neckline, and shoes with two inch platform heels. She spent hours on her makeup and her hair. They left the house and they looked so adorable. You know he comes from such a good family. His father is a lawyer and his mother is in advertising. I know that Katie is just thirteen but she is really mature for her age and James is such a nice boy. He’s a bit older, sixteen and in high school. Katie said they were going to a movie and then out for a pizza. I told James that Katie needed to be home by midnight. I heard her come in right around midnight—I called to her from my bedroom and asked if she had a good time and she said yes—she’d talk to me tomorrow.
Then, there is the description of how the date really went. The sexual scenario described below is factually based upon “Teen Sex That’s “No Big Deal’” published in Lilith magazine.
Katie and James walk from her house to the car. Once inside, James tells Katie that there has been a change in plans. A friend of his has invited them to a party at his parents’ house. Katie is somewhat put off guard, but wants to give the impression of being mature and sophisticated about the change in plans, so says sure when he asks her if she wants to go.
Once at the house, Katie soon discovers the other girls are somewhat older than she is. Some are coupled off, drinking beer and smoking. Katie declines the beer and cigarettes but hangs with the other girls who are not coupled with boys. As the evening progresses, one of the boys asks if they want to play lipstick. Katie has no idea what lipstick is but since the others do and the boys are very interested in the game, she takes the lead from the other girls. The girls dig in their purses for tubes of lipstick, looking for different colors as well as flavored lipsticks. They apply the lipstick in heavy layers to their lips. Each girl then took turns putting her mouth around the penis of each of the boys, leaving lipstick marks in a different place in order to create a rainbow effect as each girl takes her turn. Katie was humiliated, embarrassed and ashamed. She feels pressured to play along. She came with James in his car. Was she going to walk out when she does not even know where she is?
What girls think they want at this age is a boyfriend who will talk with them on the phone and be seen with them in front of their friends. They are looking for someone whom they can attach their feelings of love, warmth and caring to and someone who will mirror those same feelings of attachment back to them.
Boys want something very different. They experience strong, intense sexual urges which most boys will relieve through regular masturbation and/or physical exercise and sex talk with friends. If girls are available to them, it is friendship and/or sexual release that they seeking. They take their lead from other boys when in a group with boys. However, when alone with a girl, they will rely on a girl to lay down a boundary. If he is sexually active with her, he will more often than not see it as a single event in time, void of meaning beyond the moment and not in the context of relationship language that girls and women come in expect as a result of close intimate contact. For the overwhelming number of boys and young men, it is just sex.

From Dating to Female Relationship Abuse &Victimization
The description of the lipstick party is, unfortunately, not far from the reality that many girls and young women face in their dating encounters. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five high school girls have been physically or sexually abused on a date, or both. Teen dating violence is common and at an epidemic level. A Harvard study reports that twenty percent of females reported that they had been hurt physically or sexually by their date or steady.
Dating abuse occurs at the same rates with ninth grade girls as it does with senior girls. This is particularly troubling as most of us would expect that eighteen year old young women would possess better developed decision making capabilities than fourteen year old girls. What is both sad and troubling is that girls who experience either physical or sexual abuse are not likely to turn to their parents for help.
One conclusion emerges. Many teens go to school with deep fear and anxiety about their safety, both in and outside of school. For sexually abused girls, school can be a field full of land minds. It is common place for abused girls to face their abusers in hallways or in the cafeteria, or worse yet, to be required to sit near them in their classrooms. They may believe they deserve the treatment they receive at the hands of the very one they have chosen as a dating partner. Serious depression, dangerous injury to their self-worth, distress and untreated trauma are constant companions to girls who suffer, and suffer and suffer alone.

New Language of Love
There is cause to be alarmed as the “dating scene” is controlled in a large part by ill-informed boys and young men who believe that today’s culture will allow them to act out every sexual fantasy that he or his boy pack can fathom.
Boys are not to blame for the current state of teen sexual affairs. Absent a strong presence and role of fathers in the world of boy teens and the steady pounding of sexually drenched advertising and sports media, boys and young men are trying to grow from boys to men while attaining some degree of status from their male contemporaries. Boys and young men are left to wander alone to figure out both their posture and obligation as they pursue their interests in meeting and interacting with girls and young women.
Based on the mass of quality research on the teen dating world, girls are in critical need of explicit discussions concerning the current trends and dangers of sexual practices and the harm that can be done by engaging in endless fast cooked microwave relationships. A young girl or woman who is on an endless quest to find her prince on a galloping white horse needs to stop dead in her tracks. The quest she should be on is not to ask if he is Mr. Right but rather she should be thoughtfully asking the question— what is right for me.

Four Rules
If the dating scene is to improve, girls and women alike need to stop making boys and men the author of their play book and write one of their own. The playbook I would suggest would consist of four basic rules that when practiced so well would be hardwired into their cerebral network.
Rule Number One: You come into this world alone with the gift of your life; that is the way you are going to leave. Each girl and woman is responsible for making the most of her life gifts and for determining how she will negotiate life’s path in order for her to develop those gifts. As the scholar, Carolyn Heilbrun advised women, “Let any woman imagine for a moment a biography of herself based upon those records she has left, those memories fresh in the minds of surviving friends, those letters that chanced to be kept, those impressions made, perhaps, on the biographer who was casually met in the subject’s later years. What secrets, what virtues, what passions, what discipline, what quarrels would, on the subject’s death, be lost forever?” To vision a biography at the end of every woman’s path requires each girl and woman to have herself at the center of her life story.
Rule Number Two: There is no prince. There is you. Each girl and woman is responsible for her own life and life choices. There is no one person who will come along and rescue her from the choices she has made or the problems she has created without extracting a severe penalty which almost always cost her independence, freedom and self-worth. No one is coming to hand over to her an easy life with permanent comfort. Many girls and women have paid the ultimate price for pursuing a fantasy without accepting responsibility for their own life.
Rule Number Three: Your spirit, your mind, and your body belong to you. You are the driver, the decision-maker, the chief-executive officer. In life, there are generally two ways to approach choices and challenges. Either a girl or woman can be in charge and direct her own choices, or she can give that power to someone else to make decisions and solve problems for her. To take charge is to reap confidence and strength but to give away is to become an instrument of someone else’s needs and desires and is the path of a perennial girl and eventually, a victim.
Coercion is a common occurrence in the dating and “romance” lives of both high school and college teen girls and women. Most of the offenders are boyfriends or lovers. Sex by its very nature is unsafe. Aside from the very real life long health hazards, hooking up, scamming for sex and other quick sex dates are especially hurtful to girls and women who want close, respectful and nurturing relationships. Sex is worth waiting for. If we care about our girls and young women, we will change the focus of their evolving lives from living for the attention of a boy or young man to creating a life of their own by helping them to construct their own life philosophy, ground rules and boundaries.
Rule Number Four: Find and live your quest plot. If we want girls to find and develop their interests and abilities, we must encourage them to find and live a quest plot, as we have done for boys and men for generations. We need to encourage girls and young women to find some event to transform their lives from waiting to be found to trying something unconventional, something new to them whether that is building homeless shelters or body building. The nature of the event does not matter, but the focus on performing, doing, challenging, dreaming or concocting the eccentric story is. Wise girls and women mold relationships with exemplary women—mothers, teachers, relatives and role models. Friends matter but not when it comes to influencing their sexual attitudes and gender roles. Adult women are important influences in the lives of girls, whether the girls have been abused or not. As adult women in the lives of our girls, we need to build female circles of influence and support in our own lives and then, systematically teach girls and young women that we know to do the same.

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