Dating in middle school was tough. It might bring you back to memories of someone sharing your pencil, or crying listening to a pop-punk band. But there are also a lot of things about dating in grades six to eight that might still be relevant, even if you've long since forgotten. Middle school dating is complicated, to say the least, but thirteen-year-olds do have a couple things right.
Even as we grow up, there may be some middle schooler left in us, Kimberly Friedmutter, life management expert and author of Subconscious Power: Use Your Inner Mind to Create the Life You've Always Wanted, tells Bustle. But as we get older, "[d]ating do's and don'ts are practiced and perfected to find and attach to suitable mates." And while you may go through some major trial and error through the years, sometimes looking back on things can provide valuable insight.
"Although the middle school years are awkward [...] middle school kids are super direct," psychotherapist and therapeutic relationship coach, Rachel Wright, tells Bustle "We cut through the BS as kids and get straight to the point." Getting in touch with that part of you that just wanted answers can be really helpful in modern, super-aloof dating culture.
Here are nine dating tips from middle school you might still want to consider today, according to experts.
1. Spend Time Talking On The Phone
In middle school, it's a pretty big deal spending hours at a time sitting in your room, talking to your crush on the phone. That may sound incredibly overwhelming now, but it's actually a really sweet way to build a relationship with someone.
"I encourage the people I coach to invite potential dates to do a fun casual phone date prior to the face to face date," dating and relationship expert and founder of LoveQuestCoaching, Lisa Concepcion, tells Bustle. "This not only breaks the ice, it gives people the opportunity to really talk and really listen and go deeper than basic text banter. Also once you meet someone and have gone on a few dates the phone date still works wonders. Communication counts when it comes to building deeper connection and trust." So, as long as your potential suitor is down, pick up the phone. See what you learn about them during a low-stakes chat.
2. Soak Up The Special Feeling Of Being On A Date
Whether you're just starting to get to know someone, or deep into a relationship, dates are probably a more low-key event than when you were in middle school. There's nothing wrong with a night in with Netflix and your loved one, but the excitement and exhilaration surrounding a date in middle school is definitely something to try to keep in touch with.
Just being alone with a crush in middle school had the potential to become a lifelong memory. "Remember a time before cars where you had to either ride your bike or walk everywhere and your middle school crush walked you home?" Concepcion says. "The conversations and experiences that happen on a simple walk add to the bank of quality time. Bonus points if you put your phones away and just enjoy the moment of walking together." So try to soak up the excitement of dating as much as you can. And be thankful you don't have to ask your parents for permission anymore.
3. Vetting Your Potential Partner
While adults still love a good group chat, there is something special about the middle school process of getting to know and deciding on a potential crush or date. Before jumping into anything "serious," in middle school you probably knew a lot about this other person.
They probably even met your family. "As adults we become more independent and can date several people before getting serious with someone," Concepcion says. "In middle school everyone met our parents. They came over to our homes and we lived with our parents." While you probably won't do this as an adult, the idea of vetting the person and understanding where they fit into your life is a good one to apply to adult dating. While a bit of trial and error can be fun, following your middle school sensibilities might keep you dating people a little bit more worth your while.
4. Actually, Innocently, Flirting
While it may be obvious that flirting is an important part of building a bond, getting back to basics can be crucial. Middle school memories probably include fewer text games and more moments of clarity where someone was actually trying to get the romantic attention of someone in a sweet, gentle way. "You can be innocent in your dating," LGBT-affirming therapist Katie Leikam, tells Bustle. "It's OK to show your affection through notes, texts or finding a song they may like." These little things create a great big picture.
Plus, flirting is fun. "As adults, we forget what it's like to be flirted with, to be sent notes and flowers and to brush up against each other as you're walking to class," Wright says. "Do fun activities and flirt with the person you like. You never know, they just may flirt back." Don't push it if they aren't reciprocating, but getting out of your comfort zone can be good for you.
5. Having An Active Social Life Outside Your Relationship
In middle school, you had the disadvantage of not being in control of your own schedule. But you also had the opportunity to have somewhat-mandatory friend time, like watch sports games, having sleepovers, or joining after-school clubs. Just the nature of being in middle school meant that your relationship couldn't be the only thing in your life. This should be true as an adult too.
"Take time to do other things in your life away from your partner," Leikam says. "Don't allow your life to revolve around your partner. Kids have so much else going on." Be grateful you no longer need a chaperone or P.E. credit, but remember to keep an active social life outside your relationship as much as possible.
6. Going Slow When It Comes To Sex
While having sex is a major benefit of being an adult, it can also be refreshing to remember a time when relationships were free from any sorts of expectations. Looking back at middle school dating may remind you how excited you can get about someone, even without immediately getting into bed.
"We can go slow," Leikam says. "We don't have to be sexual to be in a relationship. We can savor our first kisses and the intimacy of holding hands." Obviously, when you feel ready for sex with your partner, go for it. But if you're feeling like taking things a bit slower, middle school you is there by your side cheering you on.
7. Asking For What You Want
Asking clear questions, straight out, is kind of the trademark of a middle school romance. In adult relationships, however, it may have been a long time since you experience this.
"In middle school, it's perfectly acceptable to say, 'I like you. Will you go to the dance with me?'" Wright says. "There's no texting back and forth for days upon days upon days without actually moving things forward." It may be scary telling someone you have feelings, but if middle school you could do it, then you can now, too.
8. Asking Where The Relationship Is Headed
Not defining the relationship would seem totally outrageous to many middle-schoolers. So, if you're looking to bring more clarity to your dating life, maybe approach things a bit more like your younger self.
"Many middle schoolers ask within the first couple of weeks if the relationship is [official]," Wright says. "And, if it's not what they want — they're out!" You can still take this general idea, and try to only stay in relationships that are actually what you want.
9. Knowing That Moving On Is Possible
A middle school relationship can look like a whirlwind romance that takes place in less than a month's time. But for tweens, that's just the nature of things. Middle school you may have cried over a few crushes, but you picked yourself up and got back up again just the same.
"[Middle school romance teaches us that] we can recover from relationships," Leikam says. "We can move on and we can learn learn to be with another partner." The person you dated for a week at summer camp may have seemed like your soulmate, but you two were just fine without each other. This lesson can apply to dating in adult life; things aren't always as bad as it seems.
Being 12 again may not be appealing in most regards, but tapping into some of your youthful ideas and habits about dating might actually be a better idea than it seems at first glance. Middle school dating has its own set of rituals, and the way these rituals show a respect for honesty, communication, and kindness may be something that adult relationships can learn a lot from.