Maybe you’re a freshman girl, and you have a crush on a senior guy who you think likes you. Or maybe you’re the senior in this scenario, wondering if it’s ok to pursue that freshman girl you’re pretty sure likes you. Possibly, the genders are switched from the “norm” and you’re an older girl or a younger guy in the same situation. Or maybe you’re gay, and you’re interested in that confident older guy or girl, or are thinking about talking to that younger person who just came out. Regardless, you’re probably trying to decide, what is appropriate in this situation?
It’s commonly said that “age is just a number” when talking about relationships, and, to a large extent, that is true. Age isn’t necessarily an indicator of maturity, or intelligence, or anything fundamental about a person. What it does mean, however, is that one party will have more life experience than the other will. Does that mean that freshmen should not get involved in seniors because they have less life experience? No. What it does mean is that there are a number of things to keep in mind, if you do end up pursuing such a relationship.
It’s OK to Feel Uncomfortable
Whether you are the older party or the younger, it’s extremely important to be aware of this. Being uncomfortable doesn’t mean that anyone has done anything wrong; it just means that you or he or she might not be ready for some aspect of dating yet, and that is fine.
If you are the older person in the relationship, always be vigilant for how your partner is feeling. If anything you are doing makes them uncomfortable, stop immediately. They might tell you that it is, but they also might be afraid to, so look for unspoken cues as well, and assure your partner that it’s ok if they want to stop or don’t want to do something. Never, ever, pressure them into doing anything with you; anything that they haven’t done before should be done because both of you want it, not because you pushed them into it before they were ready. They should be able to grow at their own pace. An age disparity in a relationship can create a skewed power dynamic, where the younger defaults to the older simply because they are older. This is not loving, or healthy; a relationship is a partnership and is not one-sided in any way. The best way avoid this is simply to talk, to let them know that it’s ok for them to voice their concerns.
If you are the younger person in the relationship, know that it’s ok to voice your concerns, and it’s ok to say no. No isn’t a rebuke of the other person, it’s simply acknowledging that you aren’t ready for something, or don’t want something right now. Make sure to talk to your partner about anything at all that you’re not sure about. Saying no isn’t something you have to do beforehand, either; you can say no at any point if you’re feeling uncomfortable, or maybe you thought you were ready but you weren’t.
Meet Their Parents
When you are young, spending time around parents in general seems like a drag, but it is a very important step if you’re still in high school. After all, you both still live with them. Introducing your new boyfriend/girlfriend to your parents, and meeting theirs, means that you won’t be sneaking behind your parents’ back to meet up. Relationships based in sneaking around are ones that can devolve into drugs and partying and spiral your life out of control. If you meet their parents, and they meet yours, then they can help you make safe boundaries. Even in college, when you’re not living with them anymore, introducing your new beau to your parents can be invaluable. Just as the older party as more life experience, so do your parents have more experience than both of you do, and they might identify red flags that you have missed.
One more thing, that is never easy to talk about but absolutely cannot be neglected. You must determine what the statutory rape laws are in your state. Most states have some sort of “Romeo and Juliet” law, which allows for adolescents of a certain age to have sex before their age of consent if the other party is within a certain age of them. Some states are much less compromising, however. Whether you and your partner think you’re ready to have sex or not, make sure you understand the legality of the situation.