As I’m writing this, I’ve just started 9th grade. Thank goodness.
In all seriousness though, I really did love middle school. I remember a lot of my family members and older friends telling me that I was going to hate it, and the solution to that hatred was just to bear it until it was over. Fortunately, I had no use for that advice because looking at my middle school years now I can easily say I made so many memories that I truly cherish. With some exceptions, of course.
Most of the “big” scandals that hit the middle school drama scene were centered around who liked who, who broke up with who, and who was gonna fight over the person they broke up with. I feel like everyone made these situations such a big deal when they could be resolved in a matter of a few conversations. To give you some idea what I mean by that, here is an example of an ACTUAL conversation I had with someone.
Friend: Omg did you know that A and B are talking now??
Friend: Yeah! It was so unexpected, but something else happened too.
Friend: Oh, I actually can’t tell you.
Me: Well then why did you bring it up :/
Friend: *Dramatic sigh* Ok I’ll tell you…
Friend: So actually B and this other girl C are in the same history class so they went somewhere together after school to work on their work, but some kid took a picture of them and put it on instagram so now A thinks that B is talking to her too! And A said she’s gonna drop C as a friend completely.
Me: So why don’t you just tell A that they were working on a project?
Friend: Oh, we’re not gonna do that. This is too interesting.
You see? And that’s not even really the worst example. I can admit that being caught up in drama is really entertaining sometimes, but that’s only until it turns into an actual problem. People do get hurt, and the ones who can’t keep secrets end up falling the hardest. There’s a specific day when I remember everything went south when people couldn’t keep their mouths shut.
We were sitting in swim class on the bleachers after we had played water polo and were waiting for everyone to get out. There were about 10 of us sitting there and minding our own business until someone gasped at their phone. Naturally, we wanted to know if someone had died or if some clothing store was having a sale. It turned out to be kind of in between.
“____ is cheating on me…” came the voice of the girl who had gasped. Being…well, being us, we wanted to know more. She ended up explaining that some girl told her she saw her boyfriend with someone else at the football game. We tried telling her that before she reacted she needed to make sure this was true, otherwise it could spiral out of hand. She listened to us, but that wasn’t the end of it. Turns out the person who sent this news did so privately, not on a groupchat, not on instagram, just to her. This meant that the only people who knew were the unknown informer, my friend….and all 10 of us. Eventually, we had learned that someone in the group had leaked this information that turned out to actually not be true. The poor boy who everyone now thought was cheating got trashed on social media and kicked out of his friend group.
I still think about how not everyone knows that that entire thing was a lie, and that kid has to live with that accusation on his name. You know what everyone's first mistake was, though?
Deciding to date in the first place.
After my analysis and concluding that middle school dating never does end up well, I decided to interview my friends/peers who actually experienced it. My hope is that they’ll warn against it, but I’m sure everyone's experience was different. For the privacy of my friends I’m going to make up fake names for some people as I share their answers. I asked all the kids I interviewed the same questions:
What age did you start dating someone?
At the time, did you think it was going to last?
Did you feel pressured by friends or was it your decision?
In the relationship what were some things that worked and didn't?
What made you guys break up? And if you're still dating, what is making you stay together?
Do you regret it or not?
The first person I interviewed was my friend Kaya, who had first dated at 12, and says that it was mostly because her elementary school and the environment there supported it. She says everyone there was in a relationship at some point, but when she came to 7th grade she ended up doing it again because she was in the mindset that it was okay. “I was confident that I was mature enough to handle it,” she says. “It also didn’t help that all my friends encouraged me to.”
Kaya remembers the day that she got together with someone in seventh grade, in a very awkward decision at a movie theater. “At that point,” she continues, “It was not my decision. All my friends were there that day telling me to say yes, and I succumbed to it.” Along with the fact that she wasn’t really ready, she says that she knew the relationship was doomed from the start. “I didn’t really like him enough to be in a relationship with him, and all in all, it didn’t work. He would have been a great friend, as he was a great person, but the fact that we both had no idea what we were doing made everything uncomfortable.” I noticed that this kind of thing seemed to be a theme among most people I asked. The realization of the fact that they weren’t ready made for a lot of regrets.
In response to the question about what worked in the relationship, one kid says that he thought there were some perks of dating in the fact that everyone knew that he was doing it.
“It felt like people respected me in some way, I guess. I felt seen and like my image was a good one.” Upon pointing out that his answer was not about anything that happened in the relationship, but only how people perceived it, he had something else to say. “It kind of felt like a facade, like we were doing it for others instead of us. It was awkward to say the least, and more than a little performative.” I asked him, then, what feelings he really had for her.
“At that moment, I thought I liked her enough to have that relationship with her. Now, I’m not so sure.”
There were very different answers to this same question, though. One girl says that there was actually a lot that she enjoyed about her relationship, and feels like she grew from it. “Even if it wasn’t the best choice for me at that moment, I got a lot out of being able to connect with someone on that level. Maybe not romantically, but even after we broke up he continues to be one of my best friends.” On another hand, my friend Xander thinks differently. “I felt as if I would change from the experience somehow, like she would change me for the better. She didn’t. If anything, I came out of it worse than I was.”
10th grader Isa gives a similar response. “Of course I thought it was going to last, but I didn’t know a lot. So obviously I’m like, oh my god this is going to be the love of my life, but it wasn’t.” She then elaborates that when she got back together, he cheated, and that was her last straw. “I realized, like, okay, this is never going to happen.”
All in all, the responses to this question were varied, but for the people who haven’t broken up with their middle school partner yet, that’s a different story. 9th grader Jax has been with his girlfriend Jasmine for a little over a year. I talked to both of them separately about their relationship, and their answers were noticeably different than those who had already broken up. “I can’t say anything for sure,” says Jax, “But I know that something must be special enough about our relationship that it’s lasted this long. She makes me happy, I don’t think I have to say anything else.”
Jasmine elaborates on her boyfriend's comments. “We met at the beginning of 8th grade,” she says, adding that it started when he asked her to the homecoming dance. “We made it official a week later, and I don’t think I could imagine my life without him.” Upon asking them what they do with comments and disapproval from other people, they responded with something that I think might have been the quality that's saved their relationship. “We agreed that if we ever were dating for the approval of others, we would break up,” says Jax. “That never happened.”
Here is what I got from all of this: There are a lot of obstacles that come with dating at a young age. Hiding from your parents, awkwardness, peer pressure, ending high school, ect. The outcome of getting into a relationship is based on the situation that it forms in. There is no completely linear pattern here, and that’s okay. Creating boundaries that work for you and making sure that you’re making the right decisions as your own person is the thing that is going to make or break the experience. As I’ve entered 9th grade, my opinion has shifted a lot on dating from being in middle school. Right now, I’m very open to it, but of course it wasn’t always like that. Know what’s good for you, and you won’t end up doing something you regret.