Q. I know you are a very busy woman, but I have been thinking about some things. I’m currently not in a relationship, but I can’t talk to my mom about things like this. So here’s my questions: How will can I tell if a guy will treat me right, and not “use” me, before entering the relationship? I also wonder how to talk about things like this if I don’t know if the guy feels the same way?

15-year-old

Mary Jo’s Response: What great questions. I wish more people of all ages thought about how to have a healthy relationship before they got involved with someone. You’re really asking me how healthy relationships happen. Partners treat one another right and do not use one another when the relationship is founded on trust, respect and mutual support.

The more we know people, the less surprises we find in relationships going forward. Of course, anyone can be deceived. It’s easy to lie. But, if we spend time with people, sharing experiences that are safe and in public places, we can sense the type of person we’re dealing with – and make smart decisions.

I believe one of our most important life choices deals with relationships. If we’re seeking a long-term one, it may be our most important choice.

Select a partner with care. In the days of VCRs, I brought a VHS tape to school to show the end of one of the Indiana Jones movies. Rewinding it to the correct segment 10 times a day for each class was arduous, but I loved the message. Harrison Ford is in a chamber with a wizened old knight. He and the villain, a Nazi officer, are asked to select which cup was the chalice. The Nazi selects a gem-studded goblet and drinks from it. He immediately melts.

The knight turns to Indiana Jones and says, “He did not choose wisely.” Consequences of poor choices are not immediate, but can set the tone for life.

I’m a big fan of communication. Especially in relationships, I believe strongly in being honest. As we grow closer to making a friendship become a romantic relationship, it’s really wise to call out things. Saying, “I want.....in a relationship” or “If I have a partner, I will expect...” can set the stage for good connection.

For example, I’d spell out the need to be respected. I’d talk about what cheating means to both of you. I’d clearly articulate if you’re exclusive. How does your potential partner feel about you hanging out with other guys in a nonromantic way? If you have a lot on your plate or feel unwell, will this person be understanding, or demand you do things you’re not up to. How does this person feel about consent?

I know that sounds like a lot, but I wouldn’t make it awkward. Weave in a topic while you’re eating lunch together or just hanging out. Not all at once, either – that could be intimidating.

Your second question is just as important.

How do you know how the other person feels? Asking is obvious, but body language and actions speak as well. How attentive is your crush? How respected do you feel as friends? Observe how he acts toward others. Does he show empathy, kindness, joy? How often does he laugh at the sheer absurdity of things? Does he laugh at others?

Go with your gut. How do you feel around him? Do you feel safe and treasured? When you’re under a lot of stress with school and responsibilities, does he listen? Does he hear and honor your point of view? How well does he respect your dreams?

Finally, and probably most important, be yourself with a potential partner. If you fake who you are and the relationship becomes a long-term one, you’re stuck pretending.

Healthy relationships are real. Sometimes we need to wait a bit for them to happen, but they do come to us in life. Remember you are worthy. Be strong enough to wait for the right person.

I do wish you could talk with your mom. Have you tried? If not your mother, can you find a trusted adult in your family? I am here. I will remain here. It’s just truly lovely if a young person can share their thoughts with a family member they can trust.

Thanks for reaching out. Feel free to continue talking with me. Your questions show maturity and wisdom. I think high school relationships help us discover what we want in an adult connection.

For that reason, be cautious about physical stuff. If you’re not ready to be physical, the kind of partner who respects you will wait without argument, and won’t continually bring sex up in conversation. Relationships are more than sex. You are worthy of an excellent partner. Be patient, listen and watch others, and respect yourself.

Peer Educator Response: If you’re patient, he’ll show you his intentions. You’ll see it in the way he interacts with you. Take time to get to know him – the real him – and don’t rush into a relationship quickly.

Take the “talking phase” as time to build a friendship before turning it into something deeper. Watch how he treats you around others and how he treats you when it’s just the two of you. If he treats you completely opposite around his friends that’s a huge red flag. Be as honest with him as possible. Some guys don’t know how to “treat you right” because they’ve never learned what real love is themselves.

Just be sure you know your worth and treat him as you’d like to be treated. Anything can happen. If you both take your time and see how things go, it will give you time to see if this is the right person for you.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email podmj@healthyteens.com.

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