Sad Bastard of the Week: My hazardous chemical teenage romance

Posted at 6:30 AM Apr 27, 2010

By Andrea Grimes


We've been writing quite a bit about prom lately here on HD, but we haven't really addressed that staple of the slow song yet--the high school romance. Lucky for us, one of today's letter-writers to Annie's Mailbox is an 18-year-old with a problem. Unlucky for the letter-writer, well, she's writing into an advice column because her boyfriend seems to be an immature, controlling nut. Or, you know, a teenage boy. It's one part of what seems to be the extreme in high school relationships--either one person couldn't care less while the other pines away, or the two are joined at the hip and scheduled for a serious comeuppance come college.

This is a case of the latter. She writes:

I am 18 and have been in a relationship with "Justin" since I was 15. I couldn't ask for anyone better. Justin would do anything for me. We love each other's families and friends, too. Let's just say I feel married.

But lately, I feel like we should have some space. Justin doesn't agree. He says once we're apart, he will leave for good. He doesn't understand why we need this. He doesn't believe in breaks. However, I think it would make us realize whether we really are meant for each other, instead of wondering when we're much older and it's too late.

I don't want to lose Justin forever, but I can't help the way I feel. Do I stay in this relationship and make the best of it? After all, we do love each other. Or do I take the chance of giving myself some space and risk losing him for good? -- Terrified and Confused in Canada

There are a lot of warning signs, here--he doesn't believe in breaks? Even when someone kind of wants to leave him?--but the biggest warning sign, if you ask me, is the signature. Honey, if your words of choice are "Terrified and Confused" when you write letters describing how you feel about your relationship, you are in a terrible relationship.

Thank goodness, it sounds like this girl already has one foot out the door, so the hard work of convincing a teenager she hasn't found "The One" at 16 seems to have been done. In fact, she sounds fairly wise, except that she appears to be being emotionally blackmailed by a guy threatening to leave her if she breaks up with him. (What?)

I find this letter particularly sad because I see a lot of myself in it--I had the obsessive boyfriend with whom I was also obsessed in high school, and while I won't say it ruined my life or anything, I definitely spent a lot of stupid time thinking about a stupid boy. Going to college halfway across the country is probably the only cure for these kinds of toxic teenage romances, so it's fortunate I did that.

As the world gets bigger for young people these days, I can't see any but the most unusual high school romances working out in the long-term. I teach anthropology to freshmen at the University of Texas, and every fall, I get a small group of students who head home every weekend to see their significant others from high school. By December, I've never known any of them to be attached. But I do have a pretty awesome collection of extremely sad, sob-story letters asking for paper extensions and exam leniency because of the broken conditions of my students' hearts. Teens! Save yourself this trouble and leave high school love at home!

Anyway, I'll get off the soap box now. I like Annie's response to "Terrified and Confused," because it's practical and not patronizing:

Take the risk. If you are feeling boxed in now, it will only get worse over time and destroy the relationship when the stakes are higher. You both deserve the chance to see what else is out there before making a commitment to each other, especially since you haven't had the opportunity before. Justin is issuing ultimatums because he is scared. You've been together a long time, and it can be daunting to give up the familiar for the new. And yes, there is a possibility you won't get back together. But if you don't give yourself some space now, you are likely to regret it later.

Dolls, do you think this high school love has a chance?


bink544 said:

NO, no, and no. I was in the same type of deal at her age. I wanted some space from my then girlfriend to figure some stuff out, but she threatened to kill herself anytime I brought it up. Emotional blackmail is never a good foundation for a relasonship. This girl should run as soon as possible and maybe in a few years, after "Justin" has learned that he won't die without her, maybe they can work it out. Oh, and for the record, you can actually find a person worth staying with under the age of 25. I have been married 8 years to my wife I met at 20.

Susan said:

The truest thing in that letter is when Annie says Justin is acting that way because he's scared. I think it could work out, but wait and see how it goes with a little space. There were a lot of high school romances in my hometown that turned into marriages, so I'm not particularly cynical about it (yet). But yeah, take space if you need space, with or without your boyfriend's consent.

Ethan said:

I think you are unfairly characterizing the boyfriend in this letter. She says that she wants to take a break but he doesn't want to and will probably leave her if she pursue's that course. How does that qualify as emotional blackmail or a toxic relationship? "I want to take a break" is almost always a nice way of saying "I want to end this". It's entirely resonable that that is what he takes her asking for a break to mean.

So why would he agree to just wait around and see if she decides to continue the relationship after a vaguely defined break period? I think she is fair to ask for this break, but he is not being unreasonable in saying if you do this, I will move on. Your response indicates he's supposed to acquiesce to whatever she wants to do and wait around like a good little puppy until she comes back to him. Maybe he should be more open to talking about it, but I think accusing someone in this situation of "emotional blackmail" based on the above information is going way to far.

Nicki E. said:

This is hard because I know a few people who were high school sweethearts and are now married to their first loves, and they're perfectly happy. I think if the girl is having doubts, she should leave. If she was totally in love and not having any doubts, it might work, but the fact that she's questioning it means she should have the freedom to try something new out.

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