I found myself having to give some advice to a seventeen-year-old girl recently regarding acceptable behaviour from a guy that she’s dating. I felt awful for her as I read about him sending belittling text messages which dressed her down and attacked her character and self-esteem. They’ve been together all of a wet week and there is this urge to protect her and I found myself having to step back and remind myself of what I was like at that age and ask myself: Does it really matter what choices you make when you’re 17?

When I was 17, I’d had a boyfriend for over two years and we broke up more times than I care to remember as not only did the grass appear to be greener on the other side, but I also must have thought I was in The O.C. or Dawson’s Creek as I loved the drama. Fourteen times we broke up and as soon as I saw him within sniffing distance of starting up anything else, I would materialise and ask him to get back together. He was a nice guy although he got a bit aggressive with a few drinks so while he wouldn’t be aggressive at me, he was a pain in the arse to go out with. On top of that, he would be economical with the truth about certain important things and either way, I didn’t think we had what it takes. In the meantime, I watched various friends date, who thought their bad choices were a bit of fun, only a number of those choices stretched into their twenties…..

Did my later dating habits have any resemblance to my early ones? Well not only did I court more drama than your average teen soap for a number of years, but I did date several guys who were aggressive with a few drinks, plus most of them, OK actually all of them, were really passive about going anywhere in life. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t bums, but they were the types that felt that my moving forward made them feel like I was leaving them behind, but they didn’t want to move forward, so I would have to deal with the ensuing drama and insecurity.

The way I see it is good choices start early because old habits die hard.

Ask any one of us with a penchant for bad boys, Mr Unavailables or a fear of commitment and a fear of giving our heart, and nine out of ten times it started early or with the first love or boyfriend. If you start getting a few beatings from a boyfriend in your teens, what will you be doing when you’re thirty-five? If you start dating guys that want to control you in your teens, do you think that it’s something that you’ll stop or that could filter into your adult life? What if you learn really early that the guy that you should really like is the one that treats you mean, keeps you keen and that it often involves you having to vie for his attention with other women?

I remember another seventeen-year-old girl that was dating a nineteen-year-old guy who had dropped out of school, had no plans to go to college at that time, didn’t seem too fussed about getting a job and he smoked weed quite a lot. She seemed besotted and I didn’t want to rain on her parade…but I said, ‘Darling, you are seventeen! You have all the time in the world to start dating men that have nothing to offer you!’

Harsh but true. It’s a long life you have ahead of you if you put yourself in for the hard slog of dating guys that aren’t actually worthy of your time. Ideally, at some point, you pick yourself up some sense and get wise but many women don’t. I come across women via this site and many other blogs who I know are wishing that they hadn’t made some choice somewhere as it started a pattern…that thing that many of us find difficult to shake. Mind you, what do I know? At 28, almost 29, I am only just shaking off mine…..

Of course we live and learn by our mistakes but it does matter what choices you make at 17 because shit happens and who knows how long you may have to live with that choice for, or what the choice may do to you that impacts on every other relationship you have from that point, whether it’s with yourself or with a guy. It’s not so sweet and rosy to be a teenager these days and they need all the self-esteem they can get, and handing it on a plate to some chumpy boy who doesn’t know his arse from his elbow seems like daylight robbery to me…

Dedicated to a special seventeen-year-old, L.

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