"More relationships with teens today seem to shut the partner off from their friends. They feel like they exclusively are supposed to be with them."

- Ann Phelps, head nurse in Rockland schools



Teen Attitudes Toward Dating and Sexual Abuse

© 2002 The Patriot Ledger
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MUTUAL RESPECT
Makes it work

DEBEE TLUMACKI/The Patriot Ledger

Arianna Hibbard greets her boyfriend, Joe Muir, outside Weymouth High School. They are both juniors.

By Karen Eschbacher
The Patriot Ledger

When 18-year-old Michelle Sonia started taking yoga classes earlier this year as a way to relieve stress, her boyfriend decided to join her.

Now, Michelle and Andy Whelan, 17, spend part of each Sunday at the Hanson Holistic Center practicing breathing and stretching.

When Michelle had a track meet on a recent Tuesday night, Andy was there. The next night, Michelle returned the favor and watched Andy run at his meet.

But for all the time they spend together, the high school seniors, who have been dating for more than a year, insist that they still have their own friends and interests.

Michelle attends Notre Dame Academy in Hingham, and Andy goes to Xaverian Brothers in Westwood, meaning they spend most of the day apart and with other friends.

The couple estimates that they see each other about three times a week. Sometimes they grab dinner at Bertucci’s; other times they just hang out at home.

Michelle, who lives in Hanson, and Andy, of Abington, say that balance of supporting each other while maintaining their own identities is what makes their relationship work.

“Michelle is very important to me but I’m not going to become emotionally dependent on her,” said Andy, who will attend Northeastern University in the fall. “She’s really important...”

“... But there are other things that are important, too,” interjected Michelle, who is heading to Harvard. “I think it’s back to not having the same personality. We have different interests.”

“We have a lot of the same friends, but we have a lot of separate friends, too. We can hang out together but we can also hang out apart.”

Arianna Hibbard

High school relationships are getting serious at increasingly younger ages, sometimes before teenagers are mature enough to deal with them, experts say. The result can be unhealthy, and in some cases, dangerous.

“I think that more relationships with teens today seem to shut the partner off from their friends,” said Ann Phelps, head nurse in Rockland schools. “They feel like they exclusively are supposed to be with them.”

As a result, teens can find themselves cut off from family and friends, and giving up activities that were once important to them, Phelps said. In the most extreme cases, such behavior can lead to violence, she said.

But Michelle and Andy’s relationship is a reminder that, more often than not, that isn’t the case.

Though problems like dating violence and date rape can be found in high schools across the South Shore, teenagers say healthy relationships are much more common than destructive ones.

Arianna Hibbard, a junior at Weymouth High School, has been dating junior Joe Muir for three months.

Arianna, who as a peer facilitator talks to eighth- and 10th-graders about teen dating violence, said she thinks the key to maintaining a healthy relationship is not to become isolated.

Arianna is a cheerleader and takes karate classes, and Joe plays lacrosse and hockey. They both work at separate jobs.

“We have a lot of the same friends, but we have a lot of separate friends, too,” she said. “It’s good. We can hang out together but we can also hang out apart.”

Karen Eschbacher may be reached at keschbacher@ledger.com.

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