Relationships in high school allow growth

Out of every possible phase in our lives, there is no better time than high school—the quintessential transition from childhood to young adulthood—to dip your toes into the vast  dating pool.

For many teenagers, this period provides a unique wiggle room for growth and stumbling that can only be experienced in these four fleeting years. Most likely, we’re not as restricted in where we go and what we do, courtesy of driver’s licenses and extended curfews. Neither are we yet bound by the full financial burdens of adulthood.

These factors, combined with the nascent curiosity that naturally drives young minds, form ideal circumstances for those first adolescent ventures into a world outside of pure academics. After all, relationships—romantic or otherwise—are the fundamental component of the human society that must eventually be navigated.

Cynical voices love to object with a reminder about the short-lived nature of “high school relationships,” predicting the inevitable fallout of some dramatic fling doomed to end in unnecessary tears and turmoil.

I can’t speak for everybody, but I’m certain most 14-year-olds don’t go on their first date expecting to exchange marriage vows in five years with the same kid. Finding a lifelong mate is actually not the immediate priority in this time of self-discovery. The goal, besides just having fun, is to realize who is and isn’t compatible with us.

Nevertheless, it would be naive to scoff at teenage infatuation as merely that—because as often as young relationships fail, they are just as capable of budding into steady and reliable love. But regardless of success or failure, both participants absorb invaluable information along the way.

Which traits do they prefer in a partner, and which are deal breakers? It’s natural for people of any age to find themselves initially attracted to someone’s physical attributes, but it’s only through exposure to the dating process that they realize looks can’t compensate for incompatibility. Likewise, a witty sense of humor or keen intellect can be far more appealing than any chiseled jawline or sculpted set of abs.

Then there’s the bonus training in effective communication and confrontation, among other interpersonal skills essential to healthy adult life. In every robust relationship, the couple must learn how to disagree and resolve conflicts without resentment. Even breakups shed light on how certain factors play into budding love: maybe too much affection makes one partner claustrophobic, or maybe one partner’s schedule doesn’t leave room for romantic commitment. Such issues teach us how to better handle specific situations in the future, or simply who to avoid.

But, naysayers might add, won’t the ups and downs of experimental romance distract students from their studies? Sure, that’s possible. It is, however, simply another obstacle course in which, if you are going to trip, you’d better do so here in adolescence rather than have to find your footing for the first time when the consequences are much higher out in the professional world.

Choosing to date while in school doesn’t warrant a black-and-white selection between academics and a social life. One is not the foil of the other. And if a student truly cannot juggle both without dropping, then they surely won’t be able to perfect it just by starting later, because the load will only get heavier. Trial and error is key to learning responsible management of priorities.

Whether your attempts at love culminate into everlasting happiness or dead-end misery, each undertaking is worth the time. It may not be clear while peering through the clouded lens of initial pain, but no relationship should be reflected on with regret as long as you manage to grasp the lessons within.