Dara Tannariello is a freshman at the University of Saint Joseph in Connecticut, majoring in Nutrition and Dietetics. She has congenital hydrocephalus (diagnosed before she was born) and has had 6 shunt revisions.
By Dara Tannariello
Teen dating is such complex matter. I have been in a relationship that was not healthy for me and it was finding my current boyfriend, Wyatt, who also happens to have hydrocephalus, which has helped me see what a healthy relationship can be. I believe teenagers and young adults can and should be in a safe, enjoyable relationship. There is no guide on how to build the perfect relationship or how to be the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend. I hope to help other teens identify and avoid some common dating and relationship issues and protect them for the harmful effects of teen dating violence, which comes in many forms. I have written a list which includes the five rules that I believe are the best pieces of advice I can give to other teenagers when it comes to dating.
Rule 1: Get to Know the Person
I didn’t start dating until the summer before my junior year of high school. I had known the boy since our sophomore year of high school. We had become very close friends by that time and I thought to myself, “Oh, he’s nice, personable, and polite. It’s safe to go ahead and start dating.” I was wrong. I was fooled by his actions. Unfortunately, he only showed his good side in front of me.
This brings me to my first point, it is crucial that you truly get to know someone before you start a relationship. One of the ways you can do this is by asking others what their opinion of the person is before you start dating. I believe you should do this even if you have known the person for a while. Friends, classmates, and other people may know things about that person that he or she isn’t showing you when they’re trying to put their best selves forward.
Rule 2: Trust your Gut Instincts
It is very important to be able to distinguish between what you want to happen in a relationship and what needs to happen. What you want to happen may be the storybook ending where you live happily ever after. But you need to ask yourself, “Can I see myself spending the rest of my life with this person?” As teenagers, we should really be asking ourselves if we can see ourselves spending the next couple of months with this person. I also like to ask myself if I can be completely honest with this person all the time. If the answer to any of these questions is no, then he or she is not the right person for you, either long term or short term. Understand that there is a difference between what needs to happen and what you want to happen. Sometimes what needs to happen is a breakup, even though you want to stay together.
Rule 3: Don’t Let your Partner Take Advantage of you
Things like “If you love me you’ll do this” or “If you want to make me happy you’ll do this” are huge red flags. It is not okay for your partner to talk you into doing something you don’t want to do or you know isn’t right. I refer to this as “mental manipulation.” In some cases, mental manipulation can be as bad or even worse than physical abuse.
One of my biggest issues with my ex-boyfriend was his lack of respect for me or my parents. He would tell me to go against what my parents said or the rules they asked me to follow by using the logic of “because you’re almost an adult” and ”you can make your own choices.” I used to do whatever my boyfriend told me to do or take all of his advice because I didn’t want to upset him. This ended up hurting me in the long run. And the reality is that when the conflict is around doing something that goes against what your parents have taught you or a rule they are asking you to follow, your parents are usually right. Trust me, your parents have no intention of upsetting you or not letting you experience things. They are just doing what is best or safest for you. I didn’t see this until later.
My best piece of advice for avoiding mental manipulation is to just go with your gut to avoid long-term damage. I still find myself doing things just to make people happy. This habit of catering to someone else’s needs can be hard to break. Really think about your choices before you make them and also think about who is influencing those choices.
Rule 4: Be Honest, Trustworthy, and have Forgiveness
Right now I have a boyfriend who lives in California who I have been dating long-distance for the past 8 months. We are always honest with each other, we trust each other, and we forgive each other. There is never any strain in our relationship. The answer to a stress-free relationship is very simple, be honest, trustworthy, and have forgiveness. If you or your partner cannot be honest, trustworthy, or forgiving, then he or she is not the right person.
Rule 5: Find a Connection
My boyfriend is Wyatt Barris. He is 19 years old and we met at the Hydrocephalus Association’s 12th National Conference on Hydrocephalus, held in Washington, D.C. It was the last night at the dinner dance and I was sitting with my parents at the table because I was too shy to get up and dance. A friend of mine came up to me and pulled me up and had me dance with her. I was having a great time! Then she said, “Here! Dance with Wyatt!”
We introduced ourselves and we started dancing and laughing and then Wyatt asked me, “So who in your family has hydrocephalus?”
I said “…Me.”
He said, “…Me too.”
At that moment we both knew we had a connection. We had a relationship that was so unique. I didn’t have to explain my condition to him like I had done with all my other friends. He actually understood what it was like living with hydrocephalus. We understood each other more than anyone else could.
After the conference we both decided that although we felt that deep love-at-first-site for each other, it was best to just stay friends because long-distance is hard. I had never had a long-distance boyfriend before so I was going into this blind. After a year of us both being in unhealthy relationships, we realized what was right – we were meant to be together.
Really get to know the person,
Always go with your gut,
Don’t let your partner take advantage of you,
Be honest, trustworthy, and have forgiveness,
and find a connection!