Love around campus: Teen romance now versus before

Along with calculus and chemistry, high school students are known for having love on the brain. 

High school relationships have a reputation for being intense and all-consuming. Even if they’re short-lived, relationships are still exciting all the same. These are hallmark traits of the teenage dating scene, which has been around for years. 

10% of the staff at Amador Valley graduated from Amador. With both current students and former, we set out to answer one question: how has dating culture changed since then?

Love on the brain

Overachieving is a time-honored tradition at Amador. Students’ reading and math scores consistently place us in the top 10% of CaliforniaDating Facts

Data for this infographic came from The Atlantic’s 2017 article, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”. (Nadya Carreira )

schools since 20 years back. The cost: a intensely academic environment, with counselors seeing grades take priority over mental health, having a social life, and romantic relationships. 

“I’ve seen a lot more students with no interest in dating at all than when I was in high school. My thought is that the academic pressure is a lot higher now than before, so kids are more focused on school than romantic relationships. There was certainly [academic] pressure back then, but not to the degree that I’m seeing now,” said counselor Audrey Zarrinkhat

As teenagers shift their focus away from the social aspects of life, there’s worry that the academic environment at the school has become too overpowering to exclude other aspects of being a teen. We may not know definitely whether there is a connection between an increased focus on school and a decrease in dating culture. But if there is, then high school students have simply traded one obsession for another, both equally regarded as important parts of the “high school experience.”

High school and the media 

You’d be hellbent to find one high schooler whose perception of love hasn’t been skewed in some way by the media. The ideas fed to teenagers through TV shows or Instagram unknowingly shape how they view love, relationships, and dating in general. Mostly unaware of these effects, it’s easy to presume we can be in control of the narrative by choosing what media we consume. In reality, there are many reasons that high schoolers can end up blind to the potential effects of the unrealistic standards of love pushed by media. 

TV couples become our role models. Love is categorized conveniently into tropes you can name and identify. Enemies to lovers, friends to lovers. The bad boy. The girl next door. A Bella-Edward type of love. A Tessa-Hardin type of love. Even toxic relationships presented in a glamorized way will have 15-year-olds all over the country swooning, because they don’t know the reality of what is being fed to them. Our perception of love can’t help but be affected by how the media has commercialized love.

These ideas become what we strive to have, which can be damaging because they aren’t real. Whether it’s on TV or on Instagram, teen dating is usually edited to show all the good, none the bad. The full picture isn’t shown when it comes to starting, being in, or ending a relationship. 

“There is not a sense of reality on social media. People can change themselves with all sorts of filters, it’s not real, and I think teenagers don’t realize that,” said health teacher Julie Foley

Online dating vs in-person

I dated a guy for 6 months that I met on Yubo… I found out he had a real girlfriend because I found her Instagram.

— anonymous Amador student

With the lure of social media and the pandemic’s influence, everyone can agree we have less experience with socializing in the real world. In a way, TV shows have replaced real-life experiences, because why go through a painful breakup or exciting relationship yourself when you can feel the same emotions through your favorite characters? This cuts out all the negative parts of interacting with people. Plus, you can do it all from the comfort of your couch too. 

“I can tell that kids were more social when I was in school. I think that’s why there probably were more relationships in my day. We just hung out more in person,” said Foley

Not to mention, there’s a much more appealing way to connect with people nowadays with the internet: online messaging. This low-stakes approach to social interactions requires minimal social skills, no identification process, and no need for transparency. Sites like Omegle, Yubo, and Hoop are easy to get on and oh-so-appealing. 

“I dated a guy for 6 months that I met on Yubo. We never actually met in person because he lived in Colorado, but we talked every day. In the end, I found out he had a real girlfriend because I found her Instagram,” said an anonymous Amador student

Out of the people interviewed, most said their main form of communication with their boyfriend/girlfriend was online. The same people also said they preferred in-person communication over digital messages. 

The media’s effect on high school relationships

Ironically, the Internet’s rise caused the quality of communication to go downhill. Current Amador students recall dating horror stories made infinitely worse with the involvement of social media. 

“When our relationship ended, she posted a bunch of lies and bad things about me online, and because it’s social media it kind of just spread around to everybody. A bunch of people were accusing me of doing things that I didn’t do, and it affected my image at school. A lot of other people were involved in my relationship and the breakup that didn’t have any business being there,” said an anonymous Amador student

Social media puts a lens on people’s relationships, which are hard enough as they are. Particularly as a form of communication, online messaging platforms fall flat compared to the old school approach of talking face-to-face. 

“He was always mad and I could never tell because we were always just texting and never talking in person. With social media, love is just not as real anymore. It’s easier to pretend to be someone else and to put forth a certain image of yourself,” said an anonymous Amador student

Teachers who attended Amador remember their dating days differently. 

“Now students break up more over text, back in the day we would do it face to face. If I had social media in high school I think it would have been a way worse experience,” said Julie Foley