The Dating Survival Guide

Are we even a thing? Why is this so awkward? What should I say? We answer the burning questions you’re afraid to ask anyone else. 

Once upon a time, the school cafeteria was for eating lunch and hanging out with your friends. You’d all complain about the consistently cold pizza or brainstorm your next funny video shoot.

Then one day, everything at your lunch table changed. Now Edi clearly likes Joon. But Joon keeps flirting with Edi’s best friend, Ty. And poor Ty doesn’t see it—he just talks about Settlers of Catan.

Cue complete and total awkwardness. But help is here! We asked our teen advisers for their toughest, realest questions about crushes and dating, then ran them by our panel of experts. Read on for their best advice! 

“Dating”—along with “hanging out,” “getting serious,” or “hooking up”—can mean different things to different people. Dating can be gay or straight, physical or not, exclusive or not. It might involve going out places—alone or with friends—or just talking at school. It’s probably not the label question that’s bothering you, but the lack of communication. 

YOU COULD ASK: “How would you describe us?” Or “This feels like a date. What do you think?” Or “This is what I’m hoping . . .” And let the honest communication begin! As with other friendships, the more you understand each other, the better. But you’ve got to admit, those silly butterflies of mystery are sometimes fun too. The trick is to get the ratio of mystery to full disclosure that feels fun and acceptable to both of you. 

Not only is nothing wrong with you, but you’re probably in the majority. A recent Pew Research Group study found that 64 percent of teens have never dated. Many people don’t date until their late teens or early 20s. 

You never have to go out with someone. Of course, you already knew that! But remember it if you ever find yourself thinking, “Oh, it would be easier just to say yes.” No. Your job is to be your happiest, best, most authentic self—not to please others.

YOU CAN SAY: “I’m not interested in dating,” or “I really value our friendship” or, simply, “No, but thanks for asking.” But do spare their pride by not gossiping about them afterward. It takes courage to ask someone out! 

Breakups hurt. Like getting burned by a hot pan on the stove, breakups hurt worst right when they happen. It’s hard to concentrate on anything else. You might suddenly realize that all of your favorite songs and books and movies involve people’s hearts getting broken, and you will know, at least, that it’s not just you. You’ll feel better soon—you will.

TRY THIS: Researchers at Nemours, a nonprofit children’s health system, recommend taking some time out to cry, share your feelings with trusted friends and family, do activities you normally enjoy, and remember to appreciate things you love about yourself. Your interests and your self-worth are always going to be there—before, during, and after any relationship you’re in. That’s so important to remember! 

You’re right: There is risk involved in trying to take a relationship from friendship to romance. You could alter the easy, friendly thing you have now, without gaining a new romance. It makes sense that you would develop feelings for someone you are close to and like to spend time with. It’s important to be just as honest about your feelings as you would be with anyone else you liked. 

OUR ADVICE: Go with a low-pressure, casual tone (the opposite of a promposal.) If they say no, there’s no need to have hard feelings.You might say, “I value our friendship and want to stay friends.”

Whether your parents are strict or easygoing, approve of teens dating or disapprove, your first course of action should be honesty. Showing that you take your social life seriously and consider it legit—not something to blush or lie about—might also be the best way to be taken seriously by others, including parents. They may ask embarrassing questions, but you’ll survive that! 

YOUR SCRIPT: “My friend Derek invited me to see a movie on Saturday. I would really like to go.” And if they say no, even after you’ve honestly laid out the plan and argued until your face is blue? Tell the person that your parents apparently have a “no dating until you’re married” rule, but that you’d still like to hang out with them at school or in a group. 

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