Apparently, all I needed to know, I learned in eighth grade …
Admittedly, this was my first thought upon seeing a tweet depicting a purported “relationship contract” between two eighth-graders. Presumably written by a young lady to her same-age beau, the agreement is both hilarious and unapologetically direct in its demands. The image has unsurprisingly since gone viral, raising eyebrows and more than a few questions and concerns about its “terms and conditions,” such as:
- Isn’t eighth grade a bit early for a contractually committed relationship?
- Are relationship mandates healthy at any age?
- Who is informing this child’s (very specific) relationship expectations?
- Have her parents started saving for law school?
- Is middle school really rife with “hoes”?
(Sidebar: Though admittedly amusing, her liberal and indiscriminate labeling of her peers as “hoes” is troubling enough to warrant a think piece of its own.)
But despite the borderline absurdity of the aforementioned “contract,” I dare say there’s also something … refreshing about this girl’s straightforwardness. Even at her tender age, this is someone who clearly already knows what she wants out of a relationship and isn’t hesitant to ask for it—in writing.
Reflecting on my own eighth-grade experience, I recall the customary combination of hormones and cluelessness, coupled with a fervent desire to “go with” whomever I was crushing on at the time—despite not being old enough to really go anywhere yet. To be fair, this was the middle school version of getting “chose.” But at that age, a committed relationship meant checking the “yes” box on a raggedy piece of notebook paper, or a nervous schoolyard, lunch-table or after-school proposal confirming our status—at least until our inevitably overdramatic breakup weeks later or during summer vacation, whichever came first.
Granted, junior high wasn’t my most confident era to date, but at 41, I can’t help envying the 14-year-old me (despite my questionable late-’80s bangs and brow situation). At 14 I may have been inexperienced, but ironically, I might also have been clearer on what I expected from a relationship. Back then, I knew where I stood—or, at least, where I should stand. More importantly, I felt entitled to receive it.
But something happened to me—and many of my single girlfriends—on the way to adulthood: We began dialing back our directness for fear of appearing too demanding. Somehow we became convinced that the key to being coupled was to remain a “cool girl”; perennially easy, breezy, beautiful … even while covertly passing around copies of Why Men Love Bitches to gain insight into why “good girls” still frequently finish last.
And while I’m pretty sure I’m smarter than an eighth-grader, I can’t escape the feeling that the student might’ve become the teacher. The terms of this girl’s agreement may be obnoxious, but he still signed on the dotted line; and relationship contracts notwithstanding, what if getting what we want is as simple as asking for it up front? With that in mind, here are eight ways it might be worth thinking like an eighth-grader—at least when it comes to love:
1. Know what you want—and ask for it.
Want to get married? Say that. Fundamentally against the institution? Speak your truth. Is procreating your highest priority—or, conversely, something you have no desire to do? Keep it 100. Into polyamory? Good to know … before you’re coupled. Being coy with your heart’s desires isn’t just a cop-out; it’s a waste of time. Don’t hold back and don’t assume; you’ll only make an ass out of “u” and “me.”
2. Set boundaries.
What are your deal breakers? Messiness? Pettiness? Vanity? Jealousy? All of the above? What do you need to feel satisfied and secure in a relationship? Knowing what turns you off is as important as knowing what turns you on—maybe even more so. Deal breakers are generally developed through experience, so openly discussing them is an opportunity to unpack some of the emotional baggage we’re all inevitably carrying. Remember: You can’t blame someone for getting on your last nerve if you never tell them how to avoid hitting it.
3. Listen … and manage your expectations accordingly.
Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” If you’re brave enough to ask, most people will tell you exactly what they’re capable of, relationshipwise. Your job is to listen to what they’re saying rather than what you want to hear. Accordingly, if you’re interested in commitment, Mr. or Ms. “Keep It Casual” likely isn’t your best bet, and no amount of wishing—or attempting to change them—will make it so. Bottom line: If you settle for less than you want, you have only yourself to blame when you don’t get it.
4. Keep it real.
In a dating culture that often places more emphasis on building a mystery than on monogamy, it’s easy to forget that we want someone to fall for us, not a facade. But if you want to be loved, it’s best to be honest. Do you need lots of attention? Lots of space? Are you not quite as “easy, breezy” as you seem? Welcome to the club … and humanity. Unlike being in junior high, one of the benefits of adulthood is an acceptance of yourself and a desire to be loved for being just that. If you’re not brave enough to be yourself, you’re probably not ready for true love.
5. Don’t change the rules midgame.
If honesty is essential in establishing a healthy relationship, consistency is key to maintaining it. Whether you’re casual or committed, making up the rules as you go is generally a losing game. And attempting to renegotiate a relationship you’re already in? Good luck with that. Once you’ve agreed to the terms, the expectation is that you’ll be impeccable with your word. So opt for integrity over intrigue, and chart a course you can realistically follow.
6. Know your enemy.
Our adolescent friend is clearly concerned about the potential impact of others upon her relationship, but adults know that fidelity—like happiness—is an inside job. Temptation is inevitable, but if and when a partner strays, it’s never actually the third party who’s to blame. The lesson? When partners decide to be monogamous, they’re the ones responsible for honoring that agreement. So if your partner has a wandering eye, don’t blame the distraction, because you can’t break a promise you never made.
7. Love like you’ve never been hurt.
Why was middle school romance so simple? Because our young hearts and minds weren’t yet jaded by experience. Falling in love requires a certain amount of optimism—the kind we often lose after years of heartbreaks, disappointments and damage. But if you want to be open to love, you likely need to close the door on past failures in order to move forward, confident that you’ve learned your lessons. Yes, scar tissue is real; but love can be, too.
8. Be “cool” … but take care of you.
No one wants to be a stage 4 clinger (or be with one), but playing it too close to the vest isn’t always a game worth playing. If adulthood teaches us nothing else, it’s that we don’t have all the time in the world—and certainly none to waste.
Sure, real love is real scary (shout-out to Sheila E.), but stating your intentions is actually an exercise in self-care. You, your time, and what you have to offer are precious; being clear on who you are and what you want honor that. Remember: you teach people how to treat you. You can continue to sit with your hand raised, hoping to be called upon, or you can put childish things aside, and stop overthinking it. You know what you want. Use your grown-up words.
Maiysha Kai is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, fashion model, devoted auntie and Brooklyn, N.Y.-based, single black bombshell who recently strutted into her 40s. She is also an expert at oversharing who chronicles her attempts at dating—and adulting—on 40onFleek.