Dating advice often assumes that people have someone to confide in to help them deal with the issues and feelings that arise. But what if that's not the case?
The limitations of dating advice
Why do people giving dating advice often recommend that you talk to someone about it? Often the people who are trying to give some advice are doing so in a general way. They don't know the detailed situations that different people face so they have to 'pitch in the middle' somewhere. They can't give advice tailored to individual's situations. So they try to give good general advice, but knowing that it really needs to be supplemented by someone who knows you and can take into account the nuances of personality and situation.
So although the general advice you might come across on websites can be quite good, it won't necessarily be all that you need. Some of that deficit you will have to make up for yourself. But you might need to draw on the support and ideas of others. Yet you might not have anyone you think you can turn to.
What about family?
Assuming you are still young-ish the first place to consider looking for someone to talk to is in your own family. But many families don't talk about such things. Your relationship with your mother or father might not be of that kind, so that you wouldn't really consider raising such issues with them. If you feel you are in that situation, you could at least give it some second thoughts, and perhaps find some some roundabout way of testing the waters for such a conversation.
When you're young it's easy to underestimate or misjudge how much your parents might or might not know about such things, or their potential willingness to talk with you about them. There are several factors that can give children the impression that their parents would not want to talk to them about personal matters, or would not be much help if they did.
- Parents of teenagers and young adults can think that they need to give their sons and daughters more space. They don't want to intrude, and so they keep quiet, even though at times they might feel like saying something. They might be quite happy if you confided in them, and it could help to shift your relationship with them onto a new and more mature level.
- Many parents never had any particular emotional support from their own parents that would have modelled for them how they could act towards their own children. So they might not even know any such role would be expected of them, or how to go about it if they did.
- Talking with their children about anything to do with sex can be awkward and daunting for many parents. Again, their own parents might never have modelled how to do that. In any case, the sensitivities involved can mean that the topic is never brought up.
You might also consider talking with a brother or sister. Again, there might be reasons why that is not possible. Nevertheless, if you do have a brother or sister close enough in age to you, you could try bringing up something with them, even in a roundabout way at first to see if they might be willing to talk. You might also be able to be a valuable support to them.
It might be that you also have no friends at all, or none with whom you have the kind of friendship in which you could bring up personal matters. If you have no friends, it is worth clarifying to yourself why that might be. Perhaps you have recently moved to a new town and don't know anyone yet. Perhaps you are very shy and even socially awkward so that you don't have the confidence to reach out and make a new friend. Perhaps you are bullied and excluded by the only peers you have. These are three quite different causes and would need three different solutions.
Just moved town
The first is the simplest. Presuming you have average self confidence you need to take the initiative and start looking round for possible friends. Perhaps join a club or a church youth group. These are good options because you have an independent 'pretext' for being there - the purpose of the club or group. You are not turning up as if being needy for friends, you are just turning up because you have an interest in whatever that group exists for. Others will accept you on this more neutral basis and you can develop friendships more naturally and indirectly.
Shy and awkward
The second is harder. If you are very shy, or feel yourself to be very awkward, joining a club of some kind is still a good idea. But you will need to take some of the opportunities it presents, and not just sit in a corner saying nothing. If you still find it very hard, you could try joining a church youth group, because the people there at least are supposed to be welcoming to everyone, and even put themselves out for the sake of strangers. Mind you, that is not always the reality, and some such groups can also be cliquey. (If you are a youth leader and are reading this, it might be an issue you need to raise in your group.)
The third can be quite difficult. If it is a serious issue you need to involve the other people who have some responsibility in the situation. It is most likely to happen when you are still at school. The school authorities need to be made aware of the situation. I know you might feel this might make things worse, but if the situation is bad enough you really need to enlist the help of others. In some cases you might even need to move to another school. In any case, this difficulty is a bit outside the range of this website, since a big problem like this is likely to prevent you even from dating at all.
Or no friends like that?
You might have friends but none that you would talk to about emotional matters. You might touch on some of the issues about dating, but not in a personal way as such. This is fairly common, especially with guys. They have a kind of emotional life that is primarily individual, not relational. So it wouldn't occur to many of them to talk about such things.
Girls might not be aware of this. They might think that guys talk about girls all the time the way many girls talk about guys. But they generally don't. You might hear guys engage in lots of silly banter about girls, but many, perhaps most would rarely have serious conversations about such things. Some girls too are fairly reticent to share emotionally with their friends, but it tends to be less common.
Nowadays things like texting and social media can muddy the waters a fair bit. It can seem as though there is a lot of communication going on about these sorts of things, but it often has less substance than it appears. The 'entry barrier' for apparent emotional sharing is lower, so it might look as though guys are sharing more about emotional things. For example, many guys will text in ways that seem to girls like they convey emotional content when they don't really. Then the girls are shocked to find out what seemed to be an emotional connection wasn't really anything of the kind. This can be very confusing.
Are you looking for emotional support, or ideas?
If you are looking for help of some kind in the confusing world of friendship, attraction and dating are you mainly looking for emotional support, or for ideas? Are you mainly looking for insights into the other sex, and into your own feelings and behaviour in relation to that, and thinking essentially in terms of using that information yourself as an individual? Or are you looking for a significant amount of emotional support from others to help you through the ups and downs of confusion, excitement and wounded feelings.
Looking for emotional support
If you are looking for emotional support, there's a good chance that it will take a different form depending on whether you're a guy or a girl. When things are really bad, guys will often be looking for a similar kind of emotional support as girls do. This will involve verbal sharing of a personal kind, relating difficult experiences and feelings and wanting 'a shoulder to cry on'. When things are not so bad guys are generally reluctant to go to such lengths.
Guys typically give each other emotional support through 'shared commiseration' followed by doing something enjoyable together. Shared commiseration is not really about sharing details of your private emotions but naming the source of your negative feelings as a way of unloading them so you don't have to feel them. Men do this by telling other men what caused the negative feeling, e.g. "crazy women, who can understand them?", and the other men nod in agreement and say "Yep, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em". They usually won't go on with this too long, but then move on to talking about or doing something together that they enjoy. This confirms the restored equilibrium of feelings attained by 'exorcising' the negativity.
Girls commonly look to each other for an overt kind of emotional support involving a lot of verbal sharing. They try to help each other to manage the ups and downs of relationships in this way. They also often do some 'shared commiseration' like men do, but usually interwoven with a more lengthy exploration of private details and feelings.
It is worth noting in this context one of the reasons why men and women are different in this way. Men are expected to take the initiative, so they approach dating as a 'mission'. Then if you get 'shot down over enemy territory' and have to crawl back to friendly lines, the focus is not on your own interior feelings - which are presumed to be obvious - but seeking solace over a failed mission, so as to dust yourself off and get up ready to have another go. You're not looking for lengthy explorations of feelings - you want to know "Why didn't it work?" You don't want to dwell on negativity or you'd lose the courage to throw yourself into the fray again.
On the other hand, women feel less in control of circumstances, having to wait on men to make a move. Since there is a lot at stake emotionally women tend to feel more ups and downs and have a keener sense of the passage of time in relation to these things. A man's sense of time in this respect is simpler. It relates to his own decision, and he decides when he is going to act. But for women there is an open-endedness and uncertainty that can be hard to deal with. So women are more accustomed to turning to other women to fill this indeterminate time with the solace of friendship, not knowing for how long they might need it, and so they are more attuned to seeking it out more frequently.
We can see then how a lack of friends makes it hard for both girls and guys to cope with the world of dating. Guys need support to keep getting out there and having a go. Girls need support to hang in there and keep hoping.
Looking for ideas
You might be someone who is looking mainly for ideas, and might not see any great need to involve friends in this process. You think, I'm confident enough in my own way, and prepared to get out there, but I feel I'm mainly lacking in the ideas department. So you are seeking deeper understanding which you then intend to put into practice yourself.
Some people are fairly independent and self contained, and perhaps all they really need with respect to the world of 'dating advice' is some more or better ideas. They might be capable of dating well as long as they can get a clearer idea of what to do and why. In that case they are probably looking more for resources; books, websites, lectures.
Other people are looking for ideas too, but would prefer to do it in a social setting. While one person might be happy enough to read a book and then try to put its ideas into practice, others would rather go to a workshop, hear a speaker, and then discuss with others what it all meant and how to put it into practice.
Most people are probably a bit of both, so it makes sense if an organised initiative for guidance in dating combines both ideas and opportunities for emotional support.
If you are a leader
We began by asking, 'What if you have no one to talk to?' I want to finish by speaking to those of you reading this who might be youth leaders, parents, teachers or mentors of some kind to young people. As you look around at the young people in your life, do you see a possibility of drawing some of them together to begin more intentionally supporting each other as they go through the ups and downs of dating and relationships?
Perhaps your strength is more in the realm of ideas. Could you organise some talks or workshops or discussion groups to address some of the issues that young people face in this area?
Perhaps your strength is in one-to-one support. Are there one or two young people you see being left out? Can you be a support to them. Or even better, can you talk to some of those who are more confident and 'together' to reach out to them and include them more intentionally in some activities?
Perhaps you are an organiser. Could you be the catalyst to get a group of young people to organise some quality social events? And by 'quality' I mean events where the focus is not only on the setting, the music, the details, but also and most importantly on intentionally fostering a sense of belonging among all those present.
Many times, when there is a young person with no one to talk to, the solution is not going to come from him or her. If there is to be a solution someone else will have to recognise what is going on and take action on their behalf.
May God bless you in your efforts.