As times change, the norm for student relationships shifts as well

By: Kimmy Sullivan, ’15 and Lindsey Meredith, ’15

Sitting side by side on the couch, a half-eaten bag of Cheetos open between their laps, seniors David Williams and Morgan Wilhelm flip through an endless selection of comedies, dramas and classics on Netflix. They playfully bicker over the decision and finally agree to watch the first episode of their newest series: Scrubs. It’s a Saturday afternoon like any other, but they appreciate every moment spent together, regardless of what they are doing.

Williams and Wilhelm are just one of many couples at UAHS.  Adolescent relationships have existed as long as high school itself, but much has changed over the years.

Although many aspects of dating remain the same as they were in past generations, changes have created a new norm for student relationships.

Then and Now

According to Pew Research Center, 91,600 Americans had a cellphone in 1985.  Today, 75 percent of teenagers ages 12 to 17 own a cell phone. A survey by the research center also showed that teens now send over 100 text messages per day.

Today’s world is much more technologically advanced than the world in the 1970s, the 1980s and even the 1990s. As a result of new technology, student relationships have changed. One of the largest differences between relationships now and then is the mediums students use to communicate.

Nancy Whybrew, UAHS graduate and parent of two students at UA, recalls her experience with communication when she was in high school.

“We had to call on our home phones so we would have to talk in the hallway, but you didn’t want your parents to know, so you would take it into the bathroom and stretch the cord,” Whybrew said. “We didn’t have cell phones like today so it was harder to communicate.”

Math teacher Daniel Rohrs also remembers the difficulties of communication during his high school days.

“If I wanted to call a young lady, my entire household would know about it, because there was not a phone in my room,” Rohrs said. “So if you were, like myself, uncomfortable with that, then you just didn’t do it.”

Today’s relationships are ones of constant contact.Williams and Wilhelm communicate when necessary, but prefer face-to-face interaction.

“We text each other occasionally, but we are [usually] with each other more often than we are not,” Wilhelm said.

Juniors Cole Hendrix and Katie Porter have been dating for just over seven months, and unlike Williams and Wilhelm, text frequently.

“We text every day,” Porter said. “It can be anything from what we did at school to… things we plan to do in the future.”

In addition to modes of communication being much more advanced today, couples tend to hang out in relaxed settings more often than going out on formal “dates.”

“[Teenagers now] are much more low key it seems,” Whybrew said. “It’s more casual, [and there’s more] hanging out in groups.”

Although hanging out in groups is much more common in recent years, dating is not a practice entirely of the past; couples today still enjoy dates. Porter and Hendrix occasionally go out for dinner or a movie.

“Cole and I go on dates maybe once a month to a nice restaurant,” Porter said. “It takes us out of the normal setting of hanging out at each other’s houses.”

Williams and Wilhelm feel having a designated time to hang out is important, and go out on a date almost every week.

“David’s parents have date night on Saturday nights… so we go out to dinner with them sometimes,” Wilhelm said.

Williams added, “I think it’s important to have dates because in our busy high school and regular life there’s not much time to just hang out, so it’s good to set a time for it.”


Urban Dictionary, an online source for terms that would not be found in a traditional dictionary, defines “having a thing” as “a step towards being more [than friends] because you care about the person… and you’re associated mainly with that person.”

Freshman Brooke Scheinberg is aware of a multitude of relationships among her friends and classmates, and believes having a “thing” means two people like each other and hang out together, but are not to the point where they are ready to date.

“Sometimes you have a ‘thing’ if you know there’s potential there, but you don’t know the person well enough to actually date them,” Scheinberg said.

Guidance Counselor Allan Banks believes that although the term may be modern, “things” are not a new concept in our society.

“A “thing” is much like a courtship in the 1950s,” Banks said. “You have a romantic interest in someone but you don’t know them well enough to date them yet, so you spend a period of time getting to know the person better before you start dating.”

Once a couple goes from having a “thing” to dating, changes occur in the relationship. Wilhelm and Williams experienced this change when they began dating their freshman year.

“I think what changed the most is just defining it as a relationship,” Wilhelm said. “You also become exclusive, and you have someone who has expectations of you.”

Hendrix and Porter also noticed minor changes in the transition between “having a thing” and dating.

“You have to do more stuff for the other person, [like] take her places,” Hendrix said. “You have to be more committed.”

Scheinberg believes the changes that occur are dependent on the age and maturity of the couple.

“I feel like it depends on the grade,” Scheinberg said. “A senior relationship is way different than a freshman relationship.”

Have You Heard?

Today’s gossip is often texted or tweeted rather than heard through word of mouth. But when Whybrew was in school, gossip could be heard as soon as the bell ending class rang.

“Someone would come up to your locker in between classes and say, ‘Did you hear about so and so?’ We couldn’t just text it to each other,” Whybrew said.

Because students generally know information about couples who are already together, much gossip revolves around couples who have not yet made it official.

“I don’t hear things about us that often, but that may be because we’re a more established couple,” Williams said.

Wilhelm agrees, but still continues to hear gossip about other students.

“People talk more about ‘things’ because people are like, ‘Are they going to date?’ It’s more exciting than the couple that’s been together for four years,” Wilhelm said.

In addition to gossip, the pressure to be in a relationship has changed over the years. Wilhelm has felt some social pressure to be in a relationship.

“I feel like there is somewhat of a social norm to be in a relationship,” Wilhelm said. “If I don’t have a boyfriend some people are going to be like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ But others aren’t going to care.”

Although social pressures and expectations in regards to relationships can be daunting, Hendrix believes that couples should not be influenced by the opinions of others.

“Other people aren’t in the relationship,” Hendrix said. “[So they] shouldn’t affect your decisions or what you do.”

Whybrew remembers that when she was in school, it was a bigger deal if you did not have a boyfriend, especially when it came to school dances.

“For dances you were pressured into a relationship. I think it’s unique how today girls can just go to the dance in a group,” Whybrew said. “Then, if you didn’t have a date, you didn’t go to the dance.”

Banks agrees that the atmosphere of school dances has changed greatly since he was in school.

“Dances have gotten a lot more risque when I was in school,” Banks said.

The way students display their affection for one another in a school setting has also changed over the years. Banks feels that the public display of affection he sees today usually is not beyond what is appropriate for school.

“Most of what I see is acceptable. It’s when kids sit in other kids’ laps or it’s more than just a kiss that crosses a line,” Banks said. “I don’t want to see in it school or in public, quite frankly.”

Though high school only spans a short four years, the compassion found in relationships can last much longer. Wilhelm and Williams have no intention of letting their relationship fade after they graduate this spring.

“We’ve applied to all the same colleges. Our parents want us to live together, and I want a puppy,” Wilhelm said. “We’re not planning on breaking up anytime soon.”

Image Caption: With the invention of technology enabling constant communication over the last few decades, high school relationships have become much more digital, with less face-to-face contact. In addition, other aspects of dating include social pressures, gossip and the way students label their relationships have changed.

Image by Kota Ashton