Osage Advice will be on extended hiatus until Valentine’s Day 2016. Don’t worry, we’ll be back before you know it…
* * Please note – Osage Advice will be on hold until December 2015. Your questions will be saved in the email account <firstname.lastname@example.org> Thank you! * *
Dear Miss Osage ~
How long do people usually wait before they get married?
Evermore, age 13
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I love that this question comes up.
There is no one right answer, but I always say it is important to know someone through all the seasons to understand who they are. This can mean the course of a year – and also the seasons of fortune and loss, ease and challenge. Good times and bad… see what I mean?
A couple can go through many months, even a year or two before facing a challenge – either individually or together as a couple. Then what? How someone responds to hard times says a lot about their true character. This is important information when considering that kind of commitment together.
Here are some good things to keep an eye out for when challenges do arise:
* Does this person care about my experience and stay present when I am sad, disappointed, angry, frustrated, etc? Staying present means they are still willing to make you a priority, even when things go wrong for whatever reason. It also means they can listen without judgment and remain loyal, even if they do not agree or understand completely.
* Does this person stay respectful and compassionate even in hard times? Look for consistency in language, attention and time. You want to know this person will handle you well in word, action and deed regardless of outside circumstances.
* Can this person take responsibility for her/his part in conflicts and offer a true apology? There is a movement now to teach true apology skills in elementary schools. Here are the basic components:
I am sorry for _____________________________ (my action/choice/etc)
It was wrong because __________________________ (it impacted you/others this way).
Next time I will __________________________ or I will make it up to you by ______________________.
Lastly, do you accept my apology?
This acknowledges that repairing a connection that has suffered a blow is a process that requires willingness on both sides. It takes time and effort, and each person needs to know that can happen before committing in marriage.
Everyone will vary in their availability and level of calm, supportiveness from time to time. But you are looking for patterns and consistency over time. It takes many, many seasons to really know.
The good news is that when couples move through hard times together – the good times are even better. People tend to feel more free and more themselves when they know their partner will show love and acceptance, no matter what comes up. So there is a great reward in sticking with it and being there for each other. Couples are more joyful, relaxed and excited with each other for having met that edge together with love.
Remember there are many levels of commitment too. Couples often enjoy years of being together before the next step naturally arises. Even an engagement can last for years.
When people do decide to marry, it is not so much a matter of waiting – but a realization that all their building of a foundation is strong enough now to celebrate what is possible together.
Best of Luck ~
Dear Miss Osage,
How do you know when you’re in love?
Curious, age 14
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Hooray for this question! (and for love in general)
When new relationships begin and feelings are strong, it is tempting to think, is this real? Does it qualify as being ‘in love’? With any new experience, it’s natural to crave some sign or recognition that you have truly arrived. But what I can say is this – whatever you feel is real for you. In that way, no one person (myself included) is an authority on what ‘being in love’ means for anyone else.
Much as it is personal, there are certain things that happen in the body when people come together, and experience a sense of being in love. Dopamine levels rise (the feel good hormone) followed soon by oxytocin (bonding/trust/connection). There are also stages of love, which I’ll describe a bit later.
For basics, here are some good signs of love:
* you’re elated and feel energized for your life ahead
* you feel braver, willing to face fears you may have shrunk away from in the past
* you are inspired to rise to your best self
* you might feel healthier, more at home in the world and within yourself
* you care deeply about the wellbeing of the other person
Like a good friend, a good partner encourages us to be our truest and highest selves. That can be thrilling at first – to be seen for all our strengths and have someone fully believe in us. Of course, we all have our weak spots too. So eventually those must be acknowledged if we are to love, and be loved, fully. Which leads us to the stages…
The first stage – often referred to as infatuation or limerence – includes all those heart swell emotions and sensations above. After this stage passes, you are left with a real and imperfect person before you. Maybe you each had ideals that you imagined the other fulfilling, and you face disappointment. Maybe someone fails to come through, and hurt feelings arise. Inevitably, some challenge will come up. This can still mean you love and are even in love with the person. The process just inspires the next level of love – attachment or bonding. The conflict is necessary though, so don’t be scared when your experience changes shape, and you are faced with a question of how to move forward.
Some researchers say that falling in love causes people to lose themselves in that state of bliss initially. That stage creates a dependence on the other – which for some can be unsettling and for some reassuring. To stay healthy though, each person then has to regain their separateness within the relationship. So that can look like power struggles or conflict, until eventually each one finds a balance of connectedness and separateness. If a couple achieves this, they move to the next stage – which many say is more blissful and satisfying than the first. Imagine really being in love – as who you are and with nothing to hide.
So, love is a journey. There are significant mileposts along the way, but the important thing is to value the progression and unfolding over time.
I also want to address – being ‘in love’ doesn’t have to mean anything specific on the other side. If you believe you are in love, you don’t have to make any commitments, proceed with sexual activity or otherwise advance from where you are. It means, simply and beautifully, that you love someone. That in itself is cause for celebration. Whatever comes after that will be determined by each person, with their highest good in mind. Pause and savor the knowing that you are experiencing one of the highest human experiences – whatever that looks like for you.
* Please note, Osage Advice will drop down to once/month over the summer. Our next post will be Friday July 3 *
Dear Miss Osage,
Whenever my girlfriend and I have a fight, I feel so bad about myself afterwards. She says she’s not trying to make me feel bad, but I always walk away with the feeling that I am not good enough.
Stuck, age 14
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This is such a delicate thing. I really appreciate you bringing it here so we can flush it out a bit…
First, thanks for the clarity on what is going on for you. That in itself – being able to articulate your inner conclusions – is a great gift that can be cultivated.
There are two things that need to be determined here, which I can’t quite get from your message. One, do any of your girlfriend’s words or actions fall into the category of emotional abuse? I know that word can seem harsh, but we always need to keep an eye for what exchanges are respectful – and what may be considered disrespect. Put-downs, insults and mocking kinds of jokes are all disrespect. So if there is any name-calling or dismissing of your feelings or position, start considering her actions as out-of-bounds. People will disagree. People will be disappointed. But we are all entitled to fair treatment at every step along the way.
Here is a great resource from loveisrespect.org to gauge whether there is a Power & Control issue at play.
Second, how is your experience of your sense of worth in general? Do you find that common exchanges can crush your feeling of value? How do you talk to yourself about situations that are sticky? Self-talk is the concept of an inner dialog (which you refer to), and the quality of that conversation with yourself. So, if your buddy is upset that you didn’t help him with something, do you think, “Wow, I must be a lousy friend”… or is it, “He’s a real jerk!”. Both of these would be extremes that don’t support you in your growth. Your self-talk can then be something more balanced, like, “Well, I did my best in that moment – and I know I’ll get the chance to be there for him another time.”
Having a fight with your girlfriend doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with you. It is natural and normal for feelings to run high when two people are very close. Sometimes, we can get a message that someone’s disappointment is a sign of our failure. That is not true.
Relationships also require a measure of healthy self-esteem. If their handling of you is indeed respectful, and you still feel bad about yourself after a fight, consider finding ways to bolster your sense of your own worth. You might try talking with a trustworthy friend or an adult, to get feedback on whether inner conclusions match the situation. There could also be a mismatch in your expectations…
So, as a third element to bring into your conflicts with your girlfriend, start by reviewing your expectations with each other. That means you might say something like, “When we have plans, I expect you to call that day so we both know what is happening”. Or, “If someone starts flirting with you, I expect you to turn them down and not feed into it.”. That kind of thing. It may be that one of you has an expectation that is unrealistic in your particular situation. Not wrong, but not a fit here. It may take practice thinking of, ‘what are my expectations?’. But once you start, they should flow.
The next time you have a ‘fight’, or a talk about disagreements, ask your girlfriend what her expectations are. “What do you expect from me in that kind of situation?”. Hopefully, this will bring insights. Someone may need to adjust their expectations, or be clear about what they are not willing to do.
When two people are really close, sometimes they can lose track of who is responsible for what. Take a little time to look this over from those angles, and consider what is happening. As always, choose for health.
Best of Luck ~
Dear Miss Osage,
I want to break up with my boyfriend, but I’m nervous, and don’t know how. Please advise.
Bumbling & Scared, age 14
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This is so important. For one, good endings make for good beginnings. The way you handle the ending of one relationship says a lot about what you are able to bring to your next. I would encourage you to be thorough, considerate, respectful and honest. But what will that look like?
Hopefully it goes without saying that you would have to have this conversation in person. That is the minimum for respect. Just let him know you need to talk, and find a good time and place to do so. Being thorough means having the conversation all the way through. Start by affirming your care for him, go on to what you’ve decided and be sure you both understand where you stand now.
Let him know why – everyone deserves some honest feedback in that kind of situation. What was it in your dynamic that wasn’t working for you? Be specific and avoid blame. So, instead of “You are too immature for me”, you would refer to actual situations and your feelings. “When you made disrespectful jokes with your friends, I felt really uncomfortable…”. Or, “When we had plans and you didn’t show up, I would get really angry and unsettled”. Then, if you can phrase it in terms of what you do need, “I need more consideration than that”.
What are your goals in having a boyfriend? A place to be yourself? Someone to adventure with? A confidant and support? Refer to these and which ones weren’t satisfied in your relationship. Maybe you have different values or ways of living…
If you are fully resolved to end it, use phrases like, “I’ve decided that” and “I realized it will be best for me to…” and stick with your position. It may be helpful to visualize the outcome you want from the talk before going in. How would you like to walk away feeling?
Consideration means also sharing a balance of what didn’t work along with what you did appreciate. Everyone has redeeming qualities, and in our intimate relationships, we often has a special insight into someone that others may not. So, for kindness and consideration, be sure to acknowledge these. Everyone is worthy of love and benefits from that message when relationships change.
Honesty may be the most challenging here, depending on your reasons. But try to keep a long-term perspective as you talk. This is a young man who will be a highschooler, a college aged-man and eventually a grown man. If you can give honest feedback now in a supportive way, you ultimately give a great gift. It may help to imagine him later in life, looking back on this early break up and imagine, “How could he walk away still feeling good and right about this situation?”.
Ultimately, you are not responsible for his feelings, but to strive for understanding and lifting each other up is a grace we can all aim for. Do this, and you should sail through smoothly.
Best of Luck ~
Dear Miss Osage,
I’m a girl who recently turned 17. In reading through your column, I realize that everyone writing in is substantially younger than me, yet they’ve also had much more romantic experience than me. This got me wondering – is this normal? It’s not that I don’t desire to have romantic relationships, it’s just that it isn’t where I focus my energy. Should I be ashamed that I am nearly an adult and yet I have little experience romantically-speaking? Is it even possible for young teenagers to have healthy relationships?
All my thanks,
Barde Owl, age 17
The simple answer is – yes – of course this is entirely healthy. If anything, someone who chooses to keep putting their energy into other things is both showing courage (to be true to one’s self) and also laying a strong foundation for whatever the future brings. Let me put it this way – you are listening to what’s true for you, investing your energy in things that feed you, and paying attention. All excellent, supportive tendencies.
I would say it is possible for people of any age to have healthy learning, connection and growth together. I would also say that this process is ongoing (even for people in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s…) and doesn’t always mean someone is in a relationship. Especially when we are young, we grow and change so often, and in so many different ways. Young teenage relationships can often mean a way to learn about ourselves, trying certain feelings out, and being connected romantically to greater or lesser extents. Some growth is best done while single, and everyone’s capacity for growth and intimacy can vary greatly. There are so many paths.
Is yours normal? Yes, yes, yes. I have known remarkable women who simply weren’t doing much ‘dating’ or relationships until well into their twenties. Their sense of self and conviction is admirable to me – even now as I know them as adults. That quality was clearly with them then, and has only blossomed in the years since high school.
You also might reconsider what ‘experience’ means. To have feelings for someone, watch how those feelings evolve, understand whether they are met and reciprocated… this is an experience. To see that your best friend is very much involved in her romantic interest while you are pursuing other things (see the March 20, 2015 post)… this too is an experience.
The thing that causes me to both erase any shame here – and celebrate you – is the way you report a simple, honest account of where you are and what is / isn’t working. You are staying true. By doing this, you join the ranks of those fine women who kept cultivating the ‘intimacy with self’ that so serves relationships later in life.
For you, I would highly recommend Matthew Kelly’s “The Seven Levels of Intimacy” (available at the library in paperback or audiobook). In it, he distinguishes between sex and intimacy – which he defines as knowing and being known. He says, “Sex can be a part of intimacy, no doubt, but sex does not come with a guarantee of intimacy”. He also says, the greatest gift we can give another is to really let them see us – with all our strengths and our weaknesses. He goes on, “But to give ourselves, we first must possess ourselves – self-possession, self-mastery…” These, are just the strengths you are cultivating now.
To this list, I would encourage you to add self-compassion. In her book, “Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being”, Linda Graham talks about the importance of both self-esteem (how we perceive ourselves when things are going well) and self-compassion (how we perceive ourselves when things aren’t going so well). She reports research that shows a practice of self-compassion is one of the greatest indicators of resilience. So, when you face a setback or obstacle, if you can also hold yourself in positive regard, “Oh, that Was really hard… of course I would feel sad about that right now…”, you put yourself in an even better position.
Everything in nature has its ripening, and its ideal timing. This is true of individuals in their growth, and also of forces that bring people together at ideal times. By honoring what is true for you now, you are also making yourself available for something that feels truly right when the time comes. I have also heard the wisdom, “Focus on becoming the kind of partner you want to find”.
Essentially, just keep strengthening the incredible person you are now – and trust in the greater unfolding. If you can also envision the adult you want to become, you have something to strive for (regardless of romantic status). Consider it a gift that will be with you your whole life…
Best of Luck ~