Early romance has plus points

‘Fast-food romance’ among the young is not always unhealthy. Those who date late in life face more risks of settling for second best.

ONE in four preteens in Taiwan has been in a romantic relationship, according to a survey released Monday by the Child Welfare League Foundation.

The survey, conducted on some 1,500 local students between the fifth and eighth grades, showed that up to 27% have been in a self-declared “romantic relationship”.

Among this quarter of preteens, about 23% ended the relationship within three months, and only 10% got past their relationship’s one-year anniversary. Taiwan’s dating situation is seeing the clear rise of “fast-food romance”, according to Child Welfare League Foundation Deputy Director Hope Chiu.

Fast-food romance gets its name for appealing to preteens and for being over quickly. It’s also possibly bad for you — young people navigate their romances with concepts that haven’t matured, which endangers the body and mind, said Chiu.

The foundation is right that there are risks related to early romance. But it’s far riskier to stigmatise early dating.

On the whole, Taiwanese tend to date relatively late in life — a phenomenon created by society’s dissuasion and the education system’s intense demands on time. Many parents tell their children that if they focus on their studies and “test into” a prestigious college, then they are guaranteed the rewards of a mate, a family and comfortable living for posterity.

That’s only a myth, as many Taiwanese do all the right things but somehow don’t get the mate, kids or cash. Insofar as it applies to dating, the myth is also dangerous, because people dating for the first time in their 20s or 30s are playing an incredibly high-stakes game that’s painful to lose.

Amid pressing familial expectations to start a family and the clarion ticking of the biological clock, it’s easy for the late-in-the-game dater to believe that the first romance has got to be the best romance — it has got to be The One.

Results could be great, or they could be horrible. Later daters have the greater incentive to commit, even when the partner is mostly incompatible. They could be more likely to hurt a mate or potential mate who wants out, as did 30-year-old Chang Chih-yang who killed two Taiwanese girls in Tokyo, the 29-year old Taichung man who murdered his underaged girlfriend and her brothers, or the 22-year-old student who fatally stabbed a female coed in Miaoli earlier this year.

Dating earlier commonly means less damage. If a young relationship fades, there are tears and bad months, but preteens are not liable to lose hope altogether of having a family of their own. At that point, there is also little parental pressure to marry, and few financial interdependencies to disentangle. As a result, dating earlier in life averages out to less intentional and collateral damage per relationship.

Because there is less damage per relationship – and simply as a result of starting earlier - many earlier daters accumulate experience with more types of people. More relationships with different people often – though not always – lead to learning about what’s normal, what’s not and how to revise behavior to have productive conflict. They also often lead to learning about the self: what characteristics one can accept, what one can’t and what one needs to be content.

There are in fact real risks related to fast-food romance, the brief love of youth. There are sexual risks and there are emotional complications. In today’s education system, there are enduring consequences for the smitten and distracted student.

On the other hand, these problems are not inevitable. Many pitfalls related to fast-food romance can be prevented by firm, loving and aware parents.

Including relationships in the public school’s sex education curriculum would mitigate complications as well.

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