I helped with Portland’s first Healthy Break Up Summit yesterday, a summit based off the Boston event. There weren’t a ton of youth that showed up, but it went well nonetheless. The point of the event is to give space to talking about not only what a healthy relationship looks like but what a healthy break up looks like as well- there are a lot of resources out there around how to have a healthy relationship, but the truth is, most relationships end. So how can we give young people the skills and resources they need so they can have a healthy break up, instead of one characterized by abuse, isolation, bullying, or other unhealthy dynamics? It makes a lot of sense to me that providing young people with these skills would go a long way toward preventing abusive or violent relationships. Caveat of course: A healthy break up is probably not possible if you have been in an abusive relationship. Abuse is never the survivor’s fault, and survivors have the right to as much distance and privacy as they need to stay safe.
I helped with a high school workshop on how to use and not use social media during a break up: what are healthy and unhealthy practices? I was shocked by the number of students who said it was okay to log into an ex’s social media profile (whether for snooping, posting embarrassing/hurtful comments, etc.). And then when my co-facilitator asked how many thought it is okay to share password information for social media profiles with current dating partners, almost all of them said that OF COURSE you do! Because if you don’t share that information, your dating partner will assume that you are cheating on them, and vice versa. (Yikes!!! I was crumbling inside.)
Later, co-facilitating a workshop on healthy relationships for middle school youth (which happened to be just two middle school girls, sisters), I was sort of blown away by their nonchalant discussion surrounding how many people at their school have sex. I am so curious: are there that many students in their middle school actually having sex? Or is it all talk?
And after that, during the wrap-up and raffle, one of those girls shared with the whole audience that what she learned from our workshop was that “having a healthy relationship means being faithful”- reminding me that people, and youth, hear what they want and need to hear. Yes, we did have a more complicated discussion about what “faithful” means- it can mean different things to different people, what does it mean to you?, do you think that your definition is everyone’s definition?, etc. I tried not to feel embarrassed (not that “being faithful” isn’t healthy- it definitely is healthy to honor promises and commitments. I guess I have an aversion to that word). She learned what she learned, and hopefully we reinforced some healthy relationship ideas.
The whole afternoon and evening brought me back to my middle school and high school days. And how atrocious I was in the dating arena. I was crazy jealous, sobbed and threw tantrums over break ups, gossiped when I was pissed at a partner, and tried to make ex partners jealous. I cuddled up to J last night and apologized for the vestiges of my past dating experience and said how grateful I am that we have grown together. He’s pretty much the best.
Messages I Wish Young People Today Could Grow Up With & Live By
(AKA Things I Wish I Learned & Understood When I Was 13)
-Jealousy is a feeling, just like your other feelings. And it’s your feeling. Own it, manage it, and cope with it, but don’t turn it into an excuse for hurtful or abusive behavior.
-Love is truly infinite. If romantic love leaves a healthy dating relationship, universal love remains. Treat your ex partner graciously and with kindness.
-When you talk about “relationships,” remember to tend all of your relationships: with friends, family, teachers, spiritual leaders and community, dating partners, the earth, language, music, movement, food, and of course, YOURSELF.
-Find balance in your life. Balance all of your relationships, including your dating relationships, with work, school, spiritual life, and relaxation.
-Don’t be afraid to love fearlessly. Know that sometimes love hurts, but that it’s okay to hurt sometimes. All things pass and change. The hurt will pass, too.
-Welcome your sexuality. Experiment. Practice safer sex. Talk about sex with dating partners. And friends. Get consent, give consent. Identify safe adults in your life you can confide in and ask questions of. You’ll know when you’re ready to be sexual with other people. Know how your body works. Sex can go with love, but not always. It always should go with consent and a mutual “yes.”
-It is possible to love multiple people at the same time. Welcome that love into your life if it feels right for you.
What would you add to this list?