Adult friendships are like dating.
But for a teenager going to high school, friendships are like a marriage or like having a domestic partner—their friends are always there at school, at volleyball practice, at games, and at every social occasion.
In most cases dating is fun; dating is seeing someone at the their best. The person is showered, dressed to impress, and excited to be with us. On a date we don’t have to experience the horrible mood that person was in earlier in the week when their boss chewed them out in front of the entire office; we don’t have to deal with their irritating habit of leaving the bread wrapper open so now our sandwich is made with two pieces of cardboard; we don’t have to witness any bodily functions (on most dates people are able to suppress burping or passing gas). It isn’t until we live with someone that we experience who that person really is all the time.
The basic difference between adult dating and an adult day-to-day, live-with-the-person relationship correlates with the difference between adult friendships and teenage friendships. As adults we meet our friends for drinks or dinner; we are showered, dressed to impress, and excited to be getting together. We leave our bad mood at home, as well as our irritating habits and problems, as well as suppressing our bodily functions. Essentially time spent with our friends is like being on a date.
However, for a teenager going to high school and playing on a sports team, friendships are like a marriage or like having a domestic partner—their friends are always there at school, at volleyball practice, at games, and at every social occasion. The time and space teenagers share with their friends is like living with a person, which is why those friendships can be so stressful, as well as important. Teenagers see their friends at least five days a week–six or seven if they play on a team together and have tournaments. They see them when the teacher calls on them and they are not prepared; they see them when dealing with a breakup, a riff with a friend, a chin full of pimples, a scolding by the coach. They see them the majority of the time because they don’t have the option of scheduling their time with their friends like adults do.
And teenagers can’t always be at their best. After all they are trying to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their lives, a decision most adults have stopped wondering about. The average high school teenager feels pressure to chose a career, one providing enough income and personal satisfaction to live a happily-ever-after life. In addition they are hoping to find the perfect mate, the “right one,” which at their age they actually believe exists. (TALK ABOUT STRESS!) And they are dealing with parents, which is not always pleasant–like the mother I sat next to at my granddaughter’s volleyball game who stated in front of her sixteen-year-old son (and all the other parents, siblings, and friends waiting for the game to start) that she wished the fire department had a “no questions asked policy” for dropping off teenagers as well as babies. (POOR KID!)
I think of these teenagers as standing at the edge of a cliff looking down at the enormity of life without the benefit of a parachute—experience—guaranteeing them a safe landing. And please, adults, don’t get all wadded up—I understand that we adults also have no guarantees and lots of stresses; however, by now we should have figured out there is no “sure” thing, no perfect job, no perfect mate, and while we have many stresses, we also have many years of experience to deal with them, like figuring out how to be happy despite knowing nothing is as we once thought it was when we were teens. And if and when the stress gets to us we can call a friend, meet them for a glass of wine or maybe two (remember teenagers can’t legally drink) and after an hour or two we will hug and kiss our friends good-bye, feeling a bit better, a bit more relaxed, and ready to face life, which by now we at least know intimately.