Teens: Girlfriend/Boyfriend Problems

A break-up can be one of the toughest experiences for your teen, but also a great learning experience.

May 7, 2010 7:11:05 AM PDT
About the toughest time for any teenager is when things aren't going well in a romantic relationship. I mean, it's hard on anyone, but if you're a teen, it's made infinitely worse by all the other physical and emotional changes you have going on.

I can remember feeling absolutely crushed the first time a girl gave me the axe as a 16-year-old. It was as if somebody had dropped an anvil onto my gut; in the twenty-four hours or so after it happened, it was all I could do to keep standing.

The advice my parents gave me at the time was hard to swallow at first, but ultimately right on the money. The first point they made was that, whether I liked it or not, this heavenly creature who had just carved a neat little canal through my heart, was in fact, not the only girl in the world. There were actually millions of teenage girls out there, they assured me, thousands in our township alone, hundreds within a couple of miles who would probably qualify as nice, compatible girlfriends. The idea of there being only one true love out there for each individual soul was a wonderful, poetic notion, but not very realistic.

The second point was that I was hardly alone in my anvil-in-the-gut experience. They explained that everyone goes through this sort of disappointment, and as proof, they pointed out how common the theme of love lost was in all that pop-rock music I was always listening to. There was a reason every other song had that very theme: it was a common teen predicament to which almost anyone could relate.

My parents also suggested, truthfully I think, that experiencing a failed relationship, while excruciating in the short run, made you stronger in the long run, because you came through it wiser and more experienced. In fact, they even suggested, I'd probably be better off over the long haul, having learned how relationships form and deform first hand.

Finally, I was permitted to feel crappy. My parents, basically, told me that what I was going through was pretty lousy, and that I was liable to continue feeling lousy for a while, and that was both normal and okay. But they added that each day would be a little brighter, and ultimately, I'd come through the experience smarter and better prepared for the next turn. They were right. In fact, stepping back and taking a more practical look at what was so emotional an experience helped to get me back on my feet faster than I initially imagined possible. And I did feel more mature in the wake of my troubles, which frankly, is one of the best things about being a teenager: experiencing, learning, and then growing.

I passed along much of this same advice to my own kids when the time came, with one small twist. I anticipated their trials in advance, and had small conversations about how much of a pain dating could be when things didn't work out, well before they had started dating. I spoke freely about my own experiences, too, putting a casual, even comical spin on my early misadventures, a perspective that's instructive, I think, because it shows that over time, even the most formidable romantic trials tend to settle and take their proper place.

The main point was this: yeah, stuff happens, yeah some of it stinks, but ultimately, it all works out. And the lessons learned along the way are part of the reason it's better in the end.