By English Teacher Katie Cho
The year was 2004. Dawson’s Creek had just completed its final episode; Joey had chosen Pacey for the final time. Lucas Scott and Nathan Scott just joined the basketball team in One Tree Hill. Beyonce hit the top of the charts with Crazy In Love and the Black Eyed Peas just started to get some radio play, though they had yet to tell us that Tonight Was, in fact, Going to be a Good Night.
While most of our Merion Mercy students weren’t born yet, I have a feeling that despite our age difference, you may have identified with my 18-year-old self. I was weighed down by expectations. Society expected that I knew what college I would attend, expected that I would be getting stellar grades my senior year, expected that I would be joy riding on the weekend showing off my new driver's license, and expected that I would be experiencing “the best years of my life” in high school. There was, however, one expectation that really weighed on me.
Every year like clockwork, I would carefully turn my calendar to the month of February and stare down the dreaded date, February 14th. While I could ignore the fact that I was perpetually single throughout most of the school year, it was impossible to ignore on Valentine’s Day. Candy grams would be sent from one crush to the next, and feelings would be expressed and revealed. Well-meaning adults would ask me if there was “a special someone,” clearly expecting that I would have someone in mind. Expecting that I was “boy crazy;” expecting that I was distracted by a cute kid in my class.
And sure, I had a crush or two. I hoped to find a boyfriend, but no one in my school really fit what I had in mind. So I pushed those expectations aside. I still felt the pressure, but I didn’t want to become someone I wasn’t. I was a band nerd who loved to read fantasy books and comics. While I watched some friends adjust their personalities, their likes and dislikes to appeal to a possible partner, I knew that this wasn’t in me. I had to be myself. Granted, I was impatient about finding someone, but I knew I couldn’t compromise who I was in order to fit into society’s expectations.
Flash forward 11 years later, 2015. Our Merion Mercy girls were all born by then!
I was dating here and there. Trying to find someone, but everyone I had dated was just not the right fit again. I couldn’t see myself with them for the rest of my life. Then, one day in July, I met a guy who spent about an hour telling me the entire plot of the video game, the Witcher. In turn, he listened eagerly while I explained my love for the X-men, especially Kurt Wagner also known as Nightcrawler. Years later, he would tell me that listening to me passionately discuss a fictional comic book character on our first date made him realize that he was going to marry me one day.
Now, years later, I am three years happily married to the Witcher guy, Mr. Cho. And we are ridiculously, happily married. I honestly think it’s probably annoying how happy my husband and I are. Looking back, I want to give my previous self a pat on the back. I never wavered under those expectations. I stayed true to myself, and when my husband finally wandered into my life, we clicked. We fit.
That being said, the waiting was hard. Dodging questions from well-meaning adults was difficult. I also knew that I had it easier wanting to be in a relationship which fit societal expectations, and I know that is definitely not the case for many. Still, it was hard. So how do we manage to stay true to ourselves and weather the storm of societal expectations around dating?
In preparation for this reflection, I sent a poll to the faculty and staff about their relationships in high school. While about two-thirds of us dated in high school, less than half had a serious relationship. One common theme emerged in almost every response I received. That even if they were as self-conscious as I was about dating or not dating, they believed high school should be a place of education about the world, but also an education about yourself. For you to embrace what you learn, and those who love you just the way that you are. In other words, love and revel in the relationships that help you feel like you.
Other relationship advice and reflections from faculty and staff included:
"I didn't have a serious partner until I was out of college. I was too busy trying to learn more about myself and further my academic pursuits. After college, I found that I was more capable of knowing exactly what I wanted when I did start dating and that meant my first serious relationship was with my current husband!"—Lizzie Oakley, PhD, Science Teacher
"It is critically important to understand that you do not have to be in a relationship or be found attractive by a romantic partner to be your full self."—Rebekah Adens, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
"Focus on building authentic friendships first, ones that are healthy and life sustaining. Learn those skills...for that is at the core of every successful love relationship I know."—Paul Clementi, JD, Dean of Students
"If I could go back, I would focus more on my friendships than the relationship I had with my high school boyfriend."—Kate Hinkle, Development Associate
"I like the old adage: 'You're not fit company for others until you're fit company for yourself.' That speaks to one's acceptance, knowledge, and love for oneself as being foundational before there can be truly rewarding reciprocity in a two-way dynamic/relationship."—Seth Pidot, PhD, French Teacher
"I did not have a serious boyfriend until I was in my 30's and loved being single. I lived my life to the fullest and by being an independent woman for 30 years, I could really embrace life and learned that you don't need someone else to be fulfilled. Learning to love yourself was one of the most important thing I learned while being single."—Arielle Chard, Science Teacher
"Learning who you are now, independent of a relationship, will help you to feel more secure and prepared later for exploring who you are within a relationship."—Patricia Nowlan, Spanish Teacher, Language Department Chair
"Sit and think what would make you truly happy—not who would make you happy—and 'go do you'."—Carol Restifo, English Teacher
"As a high schooler it is WAY more important to have a friend group that loves and supports you."—Dan Crossland, Spanish Teacher
Look around at your community of sisters. We don’t need to sing “We Are One Body” to know that this Valentine’s Day, you do have love all around you. You are surrounded by your Merion peers. Your teachers. Administrators and staff that value you for who you are. Whether you’re a geek like me, an athlete, a mathlete, a theater kid, or however you identify, you have those around you who care. And whether you want to be in a relationship one day, stay single just for you, serve in a religious order, or even if you have no idea what you want in the future, we have the now. You have your support system. You have your classmates. You have the first-ever celebration of Galentine’s Day.
Enjoy that time. Enjoy your friends. Enjoy your gals! And if you can, try to ignore the expectations of relationships that society saddles you with this Valentine’s Day season. Instead, be patient with yourself, lean into what you love, and have fun with those who love you now.
And the future will work itself out in time.