Dear Middle Schoolers: An Open Letter on Love and Relationships

Photo Credit: patrick_bird via Compfight cc and Untangled

Photo Credit: patrick_bird via Compfight cc and Untangled

By Sabrina Bong — While perusing Pinterest a few days ago, I stumbled across a letter that a blogger wrote to his daughter.

In the letter, the writer details how mad he was when he was Googling something and the words “How to keep him interested” came up. He then tells his daughter EXACTLY how her future husband should treat her, and that it is never her job to “keep him interested.” (If you want to read it, check it out here. It’s amazing.)

This letter really struck a chord for me for a couple of reasons. The first is that my father has always told me the same thing: I should never have to do anything specific to “keep him interested.” The second is that I have had so many of my female students come into my office and ask me, “Mrs. Bartels, what can I do for my boyfriend to like me more?” I have had students detail the silly, or sometimes serious, things that they have done to keep a boy’s attention. And it sickens me in a way, it really does.

Inspired by the letter I found online, I decided to write one of my own to all my students, not just my girls. Here is what I want them to know:

Dear Middle School Students,

We started this middle school journey together. When you started here as quiet, shy sixth graders, I started my first job as a middle school counselor. It was a big transition for both of us! But as the year progressed, we both adjusted to our new roles and got more comfortable with each other. I would chat with many of you about school, sports, and siblings. When 7th grade started, I was excited to see all of you and how much you had changed over summer. It feels like all of you got taller! You also matured significantly; suddenly, that drama that was so important in 6th grade was “below you.” (To be honest, I am thankful for that!)

As seventh grade went on, I began to notice that many of you chose to come into my office to talk about significant others. Suddenly, I felt just like a parent. I knew that the questions you were asking and how I reacted to them would be crucial to your understanding of love and romance. I wanted to share my answers with all of you, since I think this advice is important.

Let me make one thing super clear right now about relationships: you should NEVER have to change who you essentially are to make your significant other happy. Will you someday change? Yes. (If I think about it, I became a little more patient once I got married.) But does that mean changing your values and what is important to you? No. And here’s the thing: This is not you being “stubborn” or “mean” or a word that rhymes with “witchy”. That is you being WHO YOU ARE. If spending time with your family is important to you, do not give that up. And if your significant other truly respects you for who you are, they will understand that.

Which brings me to respect. I have talked with a lot of you about respect in a relationship. Respect involves admiring someone for their abilities and talents and personality. Showing someone respect in a relationship does not mean giving in every time someone asks you to do something. If you are scared of horror movies because they always give you nightmares, “respect” does not mean forcing yourself to watch them because your significant other wants to (or your significant other forcing you to watch them or they will break up with you.) You can politely decline watching them.

If your significant other respects you enough, they will do one of two things:
1) Watch them when you are not around; or
2) Choose something else to watch with you instead. Being respectful also means that your significant other will NEVER, EVER lay a hand on you or tell you that you are worthless. Their pet names for you will not be “fatty” or “b****” or any of the other ones some of you have shared with me. If they cannot be nice and call you by your name, then you need to have a talk with them.

Now, to answer the big question that so many of you have asked me: Yes, I think you guys are a little too young to know that the person you are currently dating is going to be “the one.” You guys are still growing and changing and learning who you are. There is nothing wrong with that process. People learn this at different times. For some, knowing who you are seems to be a natural thing. For others, they may need to try on several different hats to know who they are. You’ll figure it out. Oh, and the second half of that big question that you all always ask: The answer is that you will know when the person you are with is “the one.” It’ll feel different with them than with any other person. But give yourself time to find that person. There is no need to rush: dating and getting married is not a contest. You do not get a prize for saying that you met your future partner or spouse in middle school versus your third year of college versus when you are in your 30s. Enjoy this time and be patient. Timing is everything in relationships.

Please remember that you are unique and special and so incredibly loved for who you are, and that my hope is that you will find someone someday who sees you the way I see you: as a smart, talented, inspiring person with so much to offer this world. I am so incredibly grateful for being able to go on this journey with you and have you share pieces of your lives with me, and cannot wait for the day that I can brag that you were one of my “kids.”

Remember: “There is only one you. Don’t you dare change just because you’re outnumbered!” (Charles Swindoll)

With love,
Mrs. Bartels

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