awkwardly

Sunday

Found this advice column in Listen magazine. I thought it was created by Christians for teens, but it's actually an anti-addiction magazine founded by the American Temperate Society. Their online writer's guidelines say, "[Listen] bases its editorial philosophy of primary drug prevention on total abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. Because it is used extensively in public high school classes, it does not accept articles and stories with overt religious emphasis."

No mention of their editorial philosophy on sex, but it shows. A section of their History page talks about AIDS. "Thousands of people were becoming infected as a result of promiscuity and intravenous drug use. But some knew how to keep their life risk free. 'I am a virgin,' said Rebecca St. James in 1997, 'and I will stay that way till I'm married. I'm really committed to this, and I encourage other kids to wait.'"

The column that interested me is titled Hey! Nat. Designed to look like a webpage or instant message interface, the column includes a scroll bar along the side. Above the column, it reads, "Nat," then in smaller print below her name, "available." This was in the hard copy that I read, not on www.listenmagazine.org.

Q: My boyfriend of two years and I broke up. Now he's flirting with my best friend. How do I stop her from going out with him?

A: Yikes, talk to her. As her best friend you need to be vocal with her about your feelings on their relationship. ... Explain that it makes you uncomfortable to see them together. Discuss a compromise that you both can agree on without hurting your friendship. Speak to him too. Maybe if he sees your point of view he will back off and give you space.

Value-added critique by Rob: Yikes. Do all friends have veto power over each other's dates? Guys have the expression "Bros before hos," but that's just a funny rhyme. I don't know if anyone really follows it. Dr. Phil probably wouldn't like the phrasing, but the underlying concept about friendship makes sense to me. Friends should stick together and not let their attachments to ex-girlfriends or competition over potential girlfriends come between them. If the break-up is permanent, then it shouldn't matter who else has her. Trying to manage your ex's social life means you think you still have possession of her and you can't get over it. If she's not yours yet, then you have no "claim" anyhow, so stop being a jerk and resume acting like a friend.

It's a safe assumption that the questioner is "uncomfortable" with her ex-boyfriend flirting with her best friend. It's not a safe assuption that the questioner is reasonable to feel that way, or if she's overreacting because the break-up is still fresh. I can see where you might advise this questioner to have a reasonable talk about how you feel and let her know if there were some bad experiences that she should know about. Beyond that, the best friend ought to be able to come to her own decision, and the questioner ought to maintain "Hos before bros" or however you want to phrase it. She should be able to remain a friend without needing final approval of her best friend's dates.

The real "compromise" is that you aren't a friend if you think you should approve or reject someone else's dates. A real friend would talk about how they feel, but remain friends either way. A selfish person would make her friendship conditional on whether she gets to veto your boyfriends, and someone like that is not worth keeping as a friend.

There could be heavier factors, like if the dude had committed some crime or acted really awful. Maybe you wouldn't want to hang out with a friend who persisted in dating a criminal or dangerous moron. But it's not safe to assume that anything horrendous happened in this case, and Nat seems to approve of one friend acting as moderator of the other friend's dates.

I also like the naive suggestion that you should talk with your ex. Maybe he will back off and give you some undeserved space. Maybe he won't tell you to mind your own business. But he should.
Q: My boyfriend and I are going on our first date by ourselves. I'm excited, but nervous at the same time. I think he's going to try to kiss me. What do I do?

A: First, take a step back and ask if you feel really comfortable around him. Exclusive dates are different and often very stressful. Schedule an outing with a group of people to ease that first date tension. You will feel more comfortable and less pressured to do something you do not want to do. If he tries to push you, stand your ground. There is nothing more disgusting than a guy who urges you into a physical relationship. It does not matter how cute or popular he is.

Value-added critique by Rob: First a minor issue, maybe I'm parsing the question differently. When I read "first date by ourselves" it sounded to me like they've already had one or more dates "with a group of people to ease that first date tension." If that's the case, Nat's first suggestion is obsolete. I don't know if my reading is silly or Nat's is. How did it strike you?

On to the meat of the matter. It's good advice to reinforce the questioner's power, that she should be able to maintain control and that the relationship should not escalate any faster than she wants it to. But what kind of advice is "First, take a step back and ask if you feel really comfortable around him"?? Is Nat tipped off to something dangerous about the boy because the questioner says she's "excited but nervous at the same time"? Is there anyone in history who wasn't excited but nervous on their first date? Are dates so dangerous that everyone should reconsider whether to ever participate in them?

I don't know if it's "boys versus girls" or the way these few questions worked out, but Nat's default suggestion for any situation seems to be that you should slow down and reconsider whether dating is Really appropriate for you in this lifetime, especially when males are involved. If you know someone who might be on the verge of dating (after you've learned your lesson and stopped), then you ought to try to persuade both parties to stop.

If you're a teen with a question about dating or relationships, save yourself some time and don't bother writing to a magazine that's supposedly focused on drug prevention. If you write an advice column about dating and relationships for a magazine that's supposedly focused on drug prevention, you might take a step back and ask if you feel that "Hey!" is appropriate in the title of the column, or if it wouldn't be better to title it Yikes! Nat.

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