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Just Wondering

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sept2013JWlesko

I’m 16 and I’ve never been in a relationship. I’ve kissed boys before on New Year’s, but I really want to fall in love. I feel like my life won’t be complete until I’m in a relationship (even if the relationship won’t be long term—I want to know what heartbreak is like, too). I always hear people say, “Be patient, when you’re ready love will find you,” but I feel like I’m prepared and I just want to get a boyfriend and finally have some damn sex already. Help? —Seeking Love

Seeking, I feel you. It’s not really your fault that you feel this way—for most of your life, you’ve probably gotten the message that love is everything, you should do whatever it takes to find it, and if you don’t find it the first time you try you’re a hopeless loser who deserves to die alone. And if this is a feeling you’ve manifested all on your own, you’re still not wrong to feel this way, because love can be indescribably amazing, which is why so many people sound like maniacs when they try to describe it.

I never dated or fell in love with anyone in high school, so I spent four entire years completely unburdened by love, and I didn’t have sex until I was 22. In high school it was frustrating—some of my friends were dating, and I definitely had unfulfilled crushes. A few “Why not me?” feelings crept in sometimes, and it’s also not fun to feel like you are ready for something that the world doesn’t see fit to give you. I felt better once I realized there wasn’t anyone in my town I really wanted to date, so here are three great things that might help you feel better if you’re not at that point yet:

1. You’re already complete, on your own, just as you are right now.
2. Rushing into love is a great way to end up with a jerk, or settling for a relationship that doesn’t really work.
3. You don’t need to be in a relationship to have sex.

The idea that you won’t be complete until you are with someone is appealing, because it’s sort of nice to think about another person bringing out your best qualities, but also sort of untrue. You are totally awesome right now, I assure you. The time you spend single is not wasted time! And most relationships won’t work if you’re not bringing your best version of yourself to them, so no matter what, you still have to put the work in to be OK with yourself, and to feel like you are every bit as confident in a relationship as you are out of one. Now is a good time to do that! Pushing for a relationship at this point might end in heartbreak, and heartbreak is not romantic—HEARTBREAK IS TERRIBLE, and it sucks up your life, fills you with dread, and makes you want to crawl under a porch like an injured house cat and die. Then the next day you get to feel that way all over again. It’s pretty impossible to get homework done.

If you’re ready to have sex, congratulations! Sex is wonderful, and the good news is that you can have it even if you’re not in a relationship. If you feel like you’re ready to get down with the physical stuff even if you don’t have the relationship to back it up, you can find a way to make that happen. You can make out with a friend! You can even have sex with a friend—just make sure that everyone knows the score and that there aren’t any ulterior motives on either person’s part. You can even have a romantic relationship with a friend—and it doesn’t have to be the same person you fooled around with!

It’s never fun to wait around for things to happen when you’re ready to go, but you don’t have to. Use this time to have fun and figure out what kinds of people you like before you even get into a deep relationship. It’s way better to walk into a relationship feeling like “Hello, I am a superstar, and you are lucky to have me, so let’s have some fun” than to put this stress on yourself to experience everything all at once. Take smaller steps toward feeling fulfilled, and enjoy being in the position to make choices about what you want above all else! —Danielle

I’ve now and then cheated on a test or assignment. Teachers and other students at my school are extremely complacent about cheating, and I have never felt morally bad about it. If no one knows, no one cares, and no one is hurt, I think it is OK to do every once in a while, especially with something like copying homework that is just busywork. But I have a close friend who believes that turning in any and all work that is not one’s own is ethically wrong. So I’m wondering: Who’s right? I don’t feel bad about cheating, but I feel bad about not feeling bad about cheating! And if all cheating is wrong, how can I possibly keep up in a school where everyone else cheats? —Jenna

Hi, Jenna. I’m a teacher at a high school that has, until recently, had a culture that sounds a lot like the one at your school. Cheating had become so commonplace that the valedictorian a couple of years ago—who was on his way to an Ivy League college—even made offhand jokes during his graduation speech about cheating. Most students at our school shared your idea that it’s pretty much a victimless crime—how does it really hurt anyone to copy homework that you wouldn’t learn anything from, anyway?

Things changed at our school when a huge cheating scandal hit the news. It turned out that dozens of students were sending and receiving phone pictures of answers during state tests. One student was expelled and our veteran principal retired abruptly in the shadow of the cheating ring. The result of all this was that, for the first time, all of the teachers and students at our school were forced to do a lot of hard thinking and talking about the actual, real-world costs of academic dishonesty.

One common way of thinking about cheating is that different kinds of offenses have different levels of seriousness. A lot of my students put copying homework on the low end of the scale, for instance, and plagiarism on the high end. But the truth is, it’s a slippery slope. Once you justify copying homework as no big deal, it’s not that much of a leap to decide that cheating on a quiz is OK too, and then a test, and then the SAT. The writer Dan Ariely, in his awesome book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, reports that this idea is scientifically supported—cheating has been proven to lead to more cheating. And while your friend argues that it’s an ethical issue, I actually think that (even if the shit doesn’t hit the fan the way it did at our school) cheating has pretty negative real-life effects that aren’t so abstract:

  1. When you cheat all the time, school starts to feel like a pointless game, and that’s depressing and boring. Everyone is just doing whatever they have to do in order to pass a test and turn in a lab report and get into college and be done with it. Learning is reduced to empty drudgery. Think about how you feel when you’re really into a class or a book or an idea, and how awesome that is. Cheating pokes a hole in that kind of excitement.

  2. If you cheat in a class with a teacher you actually like and respect, I think you are betraying that teacher on a very personal level. I’m an English teacher, and when I find a plagiarized paper I feel as if I’m in a relationship with an unfaithful partner—it really messes with my ability to trust. I end up feeling like they’re all cheaters, and I hate that. It’s one of the only things that reduce my love for my job (and I really love my job).
  3. Even when you cheat on an assignment that you consider mindless busywork, you are indirectly perpetuating that kind of waste-of-time assignment. Instead—and I know this is really hard—you can sincerely ask your teachers what the value or purpose of an assignment is. I’d like to think that if any of my students asked me why I was requiring them to do something, I’d have a meaningful answer.
  4. You ask, “How can I possibly keep up in a school where everyone else cheats?” And you’re right: would-be honest students end up feeling that they have to cheat if they want to do as well (on paper, anyway) as their less-upstanding peers. I’ve found, to my surprise, that admissions committees have an uncanny ability to spot students who are truly passionate and engaged learners as opposed to simply high-achieving possessors of impressive GPAs. You may have a 93 average instead of a 97 (or whatever the grading scale at your school is), but if you have been a sincere and dedicated student, it has a way of showing—in your college essay, your teacher recommendations, your extracurricular activities, and any number of other small ways that create a picture of the kind of person and learner you are. I have never had an intellectually curious and honestly hardworking student meet real disappointment at college-admissions time. And if you’ve gotten through high school without cheating, you will feel like (and will be) an awesome, interesting person instead of someone who just played a numbers game.

For now, Jenna, run an experiment: Don’t cheat for some period of time (whatever feels right to you). Tell your friend about your plan. See what you think. —Katherine Fletcher, New York City high school English teacher

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24 Comments

  • llamalina September 17th, 2013 11:24 PM

    Jenny, you are amazing. That is some “real shit” right there.

  • Danielle September 17th, 2013 11:30 PM

    ♥ Jenny ♥

  • magenta04 September 18th, 2013 1:33 AM

    So great.

  • lotusmarina September 18th, 2013 3:44 AM

    “Rushing into love is a great way to end up with a jerk, or settling for a relationship that doesn’t really work.”
    Can I just say I’m kind of thrilled that you made that rhyme? It made my day (night). ;)

  • sanriosanrio September 18th, 2013 6:03 AM

    I hope I didn’t sound like this? LMBO
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpN7kNRO5jk

    -Lisa

  • ashleylynn September 18th, 2013 6:10 AM

    I love how all the answers are never (not even a little bit!) judgemental, but always really genuine and helpful!

    http://www.ashleylynn.nl

  • silvermist September 18th, 2013 11:12 AM

    re: cheating. I cheated in high school, I used to let my classmates copy my test papers and I would copy theirs in my weakest classes. I never thought it was ethically wrong as everyone did it. I never stopped enjoying school because of cheating, I actually loved school. The thing with cheating and the reason why I stopped doing it is that it was evolving to something more – stealing test papers from teachers usb drives and laptops. It’s been more than 3 years since I left high school and I still feel very very guilty for participating in everything. I guess when you grow up you start to realize “wow, my biology teacher was also a PERSON – a person who trusted me”. I still feel guilty and I regret even the littlest thing like copying my english homework.

  • care-n September 18th, 2013 12:01 PM

    Jenny, you’re amazing!

  • Pocket Cow September 18th, 2013 12:04 PM

    I feel you about the “Asian friends!” I’m half First Nations and half Scottish, but in high school my friend group consisted of another First Nations girl, two white girls, two exchange students from China, an exchange student from Korea, and a Chinese-Canadian. People were always making comments about us (the white/white-appearing girls) spending time with “The Asians.” One guy (an adult- someone’s father!) even came into my place of work after grad to commend me on taking my friend from Korea to prom!!! He thought I had done it out of sympathy and I had to explain to him that we had been friends for four years and I just wanted to share graduation with her because I liked her. Our friendship was that unusual. My school wasn’t diverse, and people just assumed we hung out with the exchange students out of sympathy, when really they were all brilliant people who are all planning on emigrating to Canada, and who I still keep contact with.

  • mariasnow September 18th, 2013 1:14 PM

    Normally I just go after whoever I feel like being friends with but when it comes to friends of color, I always assume that they’re too cool to be friends with me. Like I perceive myself to be on coolness level five let’s say and they’re always automatically on coolness level 5.5 at the very least. I just think, “oh pssch yeah they talk to me in class and stuff but I’m not like a real friend for them or anything.” My friend Ryan actually had to corner me after class and say, “seriously. we. are. friends. now.” and then I said, “ohhhhhh.”

    I had a Chinese-Canadian penpal when I was a teen (still do actually!) and when she sent me a red envelope with some kind of special coin in it, I totally died of awesome.

    If I saw a group of Chinese-Americans I’d just assume that they were all lucky to have met some others with similar heritage. There were zero people with German-Immigrant families at my Schule. There would have been so many high-fives about St. Nikolaus tag.

    • Jenny September 18th, 2013 11:56 PM

      Okay, the story about Ryan and your penpal are just like the cutest stories… they made me smile so hard!

  • puffling September 18th, 2013 1:15 PM

    Anonymous, I am so proud of you for finding the courage to reach out and seek help.

    After some of my own experiences, it took a long time to realise that the terms sexual assault and sexual abuse are so broad, they cover such a wide range of behaviour and it is ALL equally unacceptable. There is no hierarchy in violation, and you have every right to feel the way you do.

    Your analysis of your own experiences is the only one that counts.

    Love and courage.

    xxx

  • Florencey September 18th, 2013 2:09 PM

    i’m 20 next month and have never been in a relationship or even held hands with a guy. i’ve had one drunken kiss where the guy treated my mouth like a washing machine (eeeww), and that’s about it.

    i felt aaaaaawful about it until i found rookie- i felt bad for being one of those girls who’s like “aaah i want a boyfriend” but at the same time it was genuinely painful that no-one wanted me. it still is sometimes, but the more i hear of people around my age and older who are still virgins, the better i feel and the less freaky i feel :)

    • Maryse89 September 18th, 2013 6:38 PM

      don’t worry! I was 19 when i got my first kiss (it was terrrrible as well), ‘lost’ my virginity at 22, and now I’m 24 and I’ve never been in a longer-than 2 months relationship, and definitely never have been in love

      all my friends are actually getting married right now, but I’ve accepted that I much prefer things at the pace I’m at now! i get to do lots of awesome stuff cause i’m single

      you’ll figure out your own pace and it will be awesome :)))

  • GlitterKitty September 18th, 2013 4:09 PM

    Cheating at school really makes me upset. A lot of people at my school cheat and so then people sometimes try to bring me into it as well. A lot of the time I think they’re just trying to be nice and help me out but I don’t want to. A lot of people have actually got upset at me for not letting them copy my homework or something. But I do understand the feeling. Sometimes I feel like I’m just being too uptight and copying would just make my life so much easier. I see why people do it, there is so much pressure to succeed, but I just don’t want to ge into that.

  • z-bop September 18th, 2013 6:32 PM

    My friends tease me all the time about how I’m always hanging out with other Jewish kids, talking about my Jewish youth group, or my Jewish camp, and so on and so forth. But that’s just who I am, I’m proud of it, and I’ll talk about it as much as I want. No one has the right to tease you for being proud of who you are.

  • ladyjenna September 18th, 2013 7:59 PM

    Thank you guys so much for answering….really means a lot to me!

  • vvanessaw September 19th, 2013 4:32 AM

    aahhh jenny thank you so much for an amazing answer to my question!! it really means so much and everything you wrote really hit home. this is some advice to live by :)

  • eliza dolittle September 19th, 2013 12:43 PM

    “I want you to know that I hear you, I believe you, and what you’re going through is real.”

    fuck. danielle <3

    best of luck and all my love to you anonymous. i know you might feel like you are being a burden to others right now, especially if you act and there are consequences for your father, so please know that you are so so important and worthy of love, respect and peace.

  • kaylafay September 19th, 2013 2:04 PM

    Jenny is so eloquent and badass at the same time AHHH how do i be like you

  • grace September 19th, 2013 2:20 PM

    I have a question that needs answering. But I kind of need it right away , apposed to waiting for an article about it. Is there anyway I can contact someone with my question and get an answer as soon possible?

    • Anaheed September 19th, 2013 5:37 PM

      Maybe ask it here in the comments and see if someone has an answer for you?

  • wannabebotanist September 20th, 2013 11:43 PM

    The question and response for anonymous left me in tears. A cousin of mine, who is 28, just came forward about sexual abuse by her dad, my uncle, that had gone on from age 8 to 11. She had never told anyone about it till now, and was still living with him till she was 27. It took every drop of courage in her to speak up, but despite the turmoil she is so glad she did. He was kicked out of the house by my aunt, whom he had abused as well, but unfortunately because of the statute of limitations he cannot be prosecuted. but she has since sought therapy and is finally taking the steps towards recovery with the love and support of her family.
    It is never too late to speak up, and nobody ever has the right to compromise your personal space and autonomy.

  • Lia September 24th, 2013 5:30 PM

    God, Seeking Love, I feel ya! I mean, seriously. I’m 16 going on 17 and I’ll graduate from High School by early December. I never had a boyfriend or something close to that. I never had any kind of relationship and I feel EXACTLY the same way you do. Sometimes I feel desperate for the taste of love. I feel ready to have sex and stuff (and man, I want it so bad!) but I have no one. Of course I don’t want to do it with someone I don’t like (don’t need to be true love or something, just someone I like to spend time with) but it seems like I every boy I met is an asshole. I just can’t find anyone I find interesting enough. I feel like I’m more after sex than love, but whatever. I’m suffering anyway.