Healthy Relationships: 9 Key Ideas for Teen Reflection

  1. Within the same age group and bunk, some people are interested in romantic relationships and others are not. Romance occurs for everyone at different times in their lives and there is no right or wrong age or time for it. Many young people don’t start dating until college or even after college, while other young people start dating during high school or beforehand.
  2. One way to think about romance is to think about the equation: best-friend qualities plus sexual desire. Possible question for campers:
    • What do you think about this definition of romantic relationships at camp?
    • What about it is surprising, interesting, or difficult for you?
    • “Sexual desire” doesn’t have to mean desire for “sexual intercourse,” it means desire to be sexual in some way—which could mean holding hands, kissing, touching each other’s bodies in some way, or even just fantasizing about these things. There are lots of different ways to be sexual with someone. Camp can be a time to experiment with intimacy and desire within certain boundaries which can actually be really helpful for developing healthy relationships.
  3. There are three components of romantic/love relationships. Some relationships have all three, some have two, and some have just one. Here are the three components:
    • Intimacy, the heart-to-heart connection, the part of you that wants to be close to the other person and feel connected. This is not necessarily sexual at all. Intimacy can be snuggling, offering a hug, or sharing a secret or a dream for the future.
    • Passion, the body-to body connection, part of you that feels desire for sexual expression and pleasure with the other person.
    • Commitment, the mind-to-mind connection, the part of you that wants to talk and learn from and with the person. And the part of you that decides how long you want the connection to last.
        • If discussing these with campers, ask:
          • What’s your reaction to these three components?
          • What questions do you have about them?
          • Is there anything missing?
          • Do some of these feel more relevant to you right now than others?
          • If you think about a nonromantic friend, a hook up, someone you are talking to, or being in a relationship, where does each fall on each of these three components?
  4. Within relationships, there’s always a dynamic between what you want out of the relationship and what the other person wants. Sometimes, there may be a mismatch between what you want and what your person wants. For example, maybe you are more interested in passion than intimacy or commitment, but they want more intimacy and commitment than passion. Or maybe you want commitment and exclusivity and they don’t. What’s helpful is to get clarity about what you want and then to listen to your person’s clarity about what they want.
  5. There is realistically no such thing as a “perfect relationship,” just as no person is perfect. However, one way to make sure a relationship is healthy is to think about the foundational qualities you seek in a healthy relationship. Many of these are similar to the qualities you desire in a friendship.
  6. It can be challenging to stay true to yourself when you are really excited about someone you have a crush on or are connecting with or are trying to impress. The reality of romantic relationships, like friendships, is that they involve being okay with being your imperfect self with another imperfect person and together striving for happiness, connection, and—depending on the relationship—intimacy, pleasure, and some form of commitment. This will at times be awkward! But that’s okay. Relationships, like real life, can be awkward.
  7. One of the functions of a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a significant other, or eventually a partner or spouse—is someone to help us, to help us be who we are, and to help us deal with life’s ups and downs. The word kenegdo (from the second Genesis story of the creation of the second human being) can mean “someone like us,” but it can also mean “someone to oppose us.” Kenegdo can be understood to refer to someone who is your equal and someone you feel can help you grow, sometimes by offering you different perspectives and opinions than your own.
  8. Everyone has different boundaries. Boundaries can be instinctive; sometimes, we just feel like someone has crossed a line, even when we weren’t conscious of drawing a line. Boundaries are different with different people and are constructed and adapted over time. For example, if you were asked “What did you do this weekend?” by a teacher, a parent, a casual acquaintance and a close friend, your answer would probably be different for every person, depending on how much information you’d want to share with those people, how close you are, etc. Boundaries can be physical, emotional, and sexual, and often protect privacy, personal space, and individuality. Developing boundaries takes three steps: self-awareness, setting boundaries, and communicating them. Everyone is entitled to set and communicate their own boundaries. Having too few barriers can be problematic because you are frequently compromising what you want, feel, and need to please others and avoid conflict. When your barriers are being violated and/or your barriers are too low, you can feel taken advantage of, imposed upon and even abused. On the other extreme, having too many barriers keeps others at a distance and compromises intimacy, which can make you or the person you are in a relationship or friendship with feel disconnected, lonely, and/or misunderstood. You should never violate the boundaries of someone you are in relationship with or try to change who they are.
  9. Feel Before You Act. When it comes to matters of sexuality and relationships, the ways we are taught to do things in school isn’t quite adequate. In school, we start with our intellect. In relationships and connecting with someone, start with your feelings, your emotions, and your intuition. Part of getting to a place where you will feel more joy and less regret when it comes to romance is getting to know yourself. Specifically, you need to learn how you feel and act when you are under stress or feeling threatened or uncertain so that if and when it happens you can first recognize and name your feeling and then from there consider your options for action based on your feeling and your self-knowledge. We often feel a feeling but tag it as a thought because we are set up to think we are thinking. So, learn to stop, breathe, count to three, name the feeling. Then ask yourself, given that I’m feeling this, what are my options? Notice the thoughts in your head and how many of them are gender-programmed thoughts – for example, “don’t make a guy mad,” “I don’t want to be thought of as a prude,” “all guys do this, they can’t legislate us out of being who we are.” Stop the voices in your head and ask yourself how am I feeling? In your gut? Is this fun? Is this yuck? Then when you have reconnected to your body and feel ready, turn to your analytic self. Ask: Do I have a tendency to make decisions I later regret when I’m afraid and trying to prove myself? Or when I’m trying to please others? How can I greet myself with kindness? How can I remind myself that I have choices, even as I’ve been set up by society? I do have choices and can make the right one for myself right now. Then make a decision and act on it. These new ways of approaching decisions can be revolutionary. Remember: don’t listen to the advice ‘think before you act.’ The better message is: Feel before you think, and then act!

With appreciation to Moving Traditions’ consultants, renowned sexuality educators Al Vernacchio and Chris Denison whose ideas have informed this piece.