Asheville-based therapists Jennifer Gural and Jonathan Esslinger answer readers’ questions to help with the language of love and loss. Submit questions through Jennifer and Jonathan’s website, kisskissbyebye.com.
Question: I’m a 15-year-old sophomore in high school and finding it hard to connect with girls my age. Sometimes they behave cliquish and we don’t have much to talk about. My family has traveled a lot and I have lived in big cities and even been homeschooled at one point. I guess I spent a lot of time with adults and I expect kids my age to act like the adults I’m more accustomed to. My question is; Why is it so hard to connect and how can I do better? —Highschoolblues, 15, Asheville
Jennifer’s input: Dear Highschoolblues: You are not the first 15-year-old of either gender to feel this way. I have heard the same complaint from both girls and boys about their peers in high school.
You have had a lot of life experiences that others your age have not had and this creates a conversation gap. What you find interesting and inspiring others without those same experiences just can’t relate to. Alternatively, what is new and interesting to them is not new and interesting anymore to you.
My advice is to join some local groups that you do find interesting and engaging. In this area there are so many classes, groups and volunteer opportunities, from protecting wild life like raptors and wolves, to art, food, political and travel clubs. Chances are that if you join one of these clubs the people (and girls in them) will have more similar interests to you.
This will help you because at age 15 or 35 having shared experiences gives meaning to relationships. The experience you share together will give you something to talk about, laugh and reflect on in a way that can build a bond and meaningful connection.
Jonathan’s input: It sounds, Highschoolblues, like you want to have a close relationship with a girl. I dare say, you want a “romantic relationship.” At least, that’s the clinical research term. They found that 50 percent of 15-year-olds report being in a romantic relationship. They tend to last between 2 weeks and six months, almost all of them come to an end, but almost all of us want to have them. We’re built to want close relationships.
These high school romantic relationships are not quite like adult romantic relationships. Unlike adult romances, at your age the time together will mostly be as part of a group. Adult romantic relationships, on the other hand, tend to be more exclusive in spending time together without friends.
My general suggestions would be to strengthen your awareness of the amazing worth and greatness of yourself and others, practice being boldly honest and authentic about how you deeply feel, be open to self-reflection without falling victim to believing something is wrong with you, seek opportunities for teamwork or to demonstrate that “we’re in this together”, and find people who are involved in activities that interest you.
As it turns out, what you talk about is less important than understanding how each of you feel about what is being talked about. How someone feels about the weather is always more meaningful than just talking about the weather. Practice overlooking the topics and instead focus on how others feel about it. Don’t judge, just try to understand and appreciate the emotions they have. This, Highschoolblues, would take care of your problem of feeling like you “don’t have much to talk about.”
Remember, in good relationships, this empathy is a two way street. Connecting this way takes two boldly honest and open people who share with each other how they really feel about things.
Whether you end up in a high school “romantic relationship” or not, practicing all of these suggestions will lead you to a much more connected life.
Jennifer Gural and Jonathan Jay Esslinger are authors, clinical trainers and therapists based in Asheville who specialize in relationships, personal development and addiction.
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