Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is seventeen too young?

I'm still plodding through revision comments. It has taken a long time this time because I have to stop frequently and bang my head against the wall. I also wander into the kitchen and down chocolate in large quantities. Today my editor and I are having a disagreement. This is not unusual, but what is unusual is that our life experiences have taught us completely opposite things about dating.

Here is the situation:

In my book the hero is 19 and has lived on his own for three years. He thinks that the heroine, who is only 17 and in high school is too young for him. (She convinces him otherwise.)

In Janette’s world, college guys rarely dated anyone in high school. I grew up in a small college town and although we sometimes went up to campus or frequented the same restaurants, the college kids at WSU thought that high school students were too young to date. When my friends and I went to hang out at the river, I remember many a guy taking off quickly when he found out we were still in high school. (In fact, this is when I first heard the term, jail bait.)

It became sort of a game for us to not let them know right away that we went to high school because we knew what the end result would be. And really, even if the guys hadn’t thought we were too young, our parents would have. I remember once telling my friend’s college professor father (Almost all of our fathers worked at the university) that we’d met some guys who were taking one of his classes.
I think there was a group of young men who flunked biology simply because I had that conversation with their teacher.

This is not to say that college guys never went out with high school girls, but in all my time in high school I only remember it happening once. And that’s when I went to prom with Devon Felsted. (See, my website, which really, really I’m going to update any day now) But, his family had been friends with mine since before my birth so it wasn’t unusual for us to do things together. I didn’t have a date so it was, as I recall, arranged through our parents at my suggestion. And let me tell you, I was quite the celebrity at school for going out with a college guy. It was that unusual.

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Here is a picture of Janette at 18. (As you can see, she is clearly too young to date college men.)

Next story along the same vein: My husband and I first met at a dance in Virginia when I was eighteen. (He was 21 at the time) It was for college aged students and as I’d graduated from high school a couple of weeks before, I clearly qualified. Yeah, well, when my husband found out how old I was he totally blew me off. I mean really, the conversation was like this:

Him: Chat chat chat
Me: Chat chat chat
Him: What year are you?
Me: I’m a freshman.
Him: You mean you’ve finished your freshman year and you’re going to be a sophomore?
Me: No, I’m going to be a freshman.

Really, he didn’t speak to me again for another year. (At nineteen I was apparently old enough to date.)

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Here is Janette at 19 with college-age fiance (techno-Bob)

Okay, so that is my experience. My editor on the other hand had his first real girlfriend when he was in college (19) and she was 16. According to him, his female assistant, and his female boss, there is no way anyone would think it was odd for a 19 and a 17 year old to go out.

I admit I’m perplexed that we’ve had such completely different life experiences on this one. What is your view?


Debbie Barr said...

I dunno. I would agree on that one, because I, personally would think that would be weird to date a college aged person in High School. I grew up in a small town as well, and if you did things like that, people knew, and they thought it was strange...

Anonymous said...

I don't know, It's only two years apart in reality, but the fact that one's in high school and one's in collage kida of makes the difference bigger.

Karlene said...

I agree with you. It's not so much the 17/19 thing, but the high school/college thing. The only college guys that would date high school girls were real losers. Or had dated the girl when they were still in high school themselves. And college boys who suddenly drop their still-in-high-school girlfriends is so common it's a cliche.

Tamra Norton said...

When I was a senior I dated a college age guy--not for long. And a few of my friends did as well. I don't think it's the ideal situation, though.

Erin Edwards said...

I grew up in a small town too. I think your situation is realistic; many would balk at a college age guy dating a high school girl. It is most likely to happen if they date in high school and then the boy graduates and they continue dating. But that doesn't usually last long!

Josi said...

1--yes, I agree that most college boys would not date a girl in high-school. In my world that meant the said college boy was a loser that couldn't get a WOMAN and had to settle for a girl
2--another conflict would be that he's been independent for a long time, and therefore he's had a lot more life experience/responsibility. She's still living with mom and dad. I think that would create a chasm of experience they would have to breach.
3--the girls I knew that DID date college guys, ended up pregnant.

Anonymous said...

Josi - I told Janette the same thing. In fact the girl/woman next to me at my high school graduation was pregnant from her 'college guy' boyfriend (she was one of several mothers to receive thier diploma that day). And yeah, college guys dating HS girls was looked down on - but HS guys dating college girls . . . thats was entirely different :-)


Anonymous said...

I agree with Josi on the whole experience thing. I was 17 and dating a 20 year old, and while the whole college/high school thing wasn't an issue, the whole he's-on-his-own/I'm-not thing DID get annoying. Eventually he hit the road because he got sick of the age difference, a.k.a. he got sick of always having to wait for permission from my parents for us to do everything...he was use to being on his own. And, on another note, while the age difference didn't bother me, it REALLY bothered him. He practically obsessed over it. My parents didn't mind so much, but that's probably because they were under the impression we were "just friends." However, at my high school it wasn't unusual for a high school girl to date a college guy, but they usually had been dating already when both were in high school.

Don said...

At 19, I dated one of my sister's friends who was 17. Granted, I had had a crush on her for years, but the fact that I was in college didn't get in the way.

Most of the girls I dated in college were also college age, but a 19-17 spread is certainly within the realm of believability.

Julie Wright said...

I can go both ways. Don't you just hate fence sitters. my boyfriend was 19 when I was 17, but he and I met in high school and stayed together. I don't think he would have spoken to me at all if we had met after his graduation. And even though we'd dated for a long time, he still hated being dragged to high school dances with me since he was "so mature now and these high schoolers were totally clueless about the real world." Okay, I just convinced myself. I'm totally 100% on your side.

Anonymous said...

I went to college in a small town and ONLY THE LOSER FRESHMAN GUYS would be seen with a high school girl. No offense to your editor, but did I mention everyone thought they were LOSERS? We made fun of them to no end. I lived in the dorms and they could not hold up their heads. Didn't stop them though because they were LOSERS.

Anonymous said...

P.S. I do think if the guy is 19 and WASN'T in college, like say, he had a job, it might be less believable that he would care. It's the college vs. High School thing that makes it a social blunder.

Annette Lyon said...

What everyone else said. Even the freshman year of college can put guys off. That year a guy asked how old I was, and I told him 19. His reply: "Just 19 or almost 20?" I was just barely barely 19 as of a few days before. The "teen" in my age turned him off for good.

Heather Moore said...

I didn't find age that much of an issue. I dated older guys when I was in High School. It was great because they had jobs and cars. My husband is 4 years older than me. But I was in my junior year of college when I met him . . . "almost" 21.

But when I think of my daughters dating older men in high school--I don't think I'll like it.

Anonymous said...

We just got the fifth Harry Potter Movie tonight. On the bonus features there was an interveiw with a man with a yellow bow tie with black spots. I imeadiatly thought of you.

Asenath said...

So I asked some of my college-aged guy friends via facebook. Here's what they said:

"I wouldn't. But, I wouldn't consider it overly weird if a 19 year-old did."

"Starting a relationship with a high school girl while in college is a little strange... unless they were totally meant for each other which could happen. But then again it's unlikely. It is more probable though that this would happen if the relationship had already begun while in High School."

"Nope, and I wouldn't buy a book where the main character would." (the guy who said this is a wonderfully sarcastic guy.)

Asenath said...

More guys weighing in...

"I'm not necessarily morally opposed to it, but I feel like the odds of meeting the kind of girl I'm interested in are really low at that age. I'm not sure how general my attitude is, though--I have male friends my age who date high school girls. I don't think it happens much in the BYU community, but it's definitely possible depending on the background of the characters."

"Nope. I don't really like the idea. We wouldn't be on the same level in a lot of things. And I think totally differently than I did back then. I don't think that I would work for me.

But as a freshman, I would have been willing to have done so."

"i find it fully plausible and definitely a reality. I have known people, especially in to 17-19 bracket, who have done so. It is also quite common in couples who began dating in high school but were in different grades."

It's interesting seeing the responses, and how the people who go to community/ in-state colleges (where they went to high school) tend to lean more towards it being ok than those who left...

Tristi Pinkston said...

I think it really all depends on the individuals. I don't think we can say, "All college guys won't date all high school girls." There will always be exceptions.

For instance, I met my hubby when I was eighteen and he was . . . thirty-four. Yeah. He didn't know how old I was until mid-way through our first date, and I didn't know how old he was, either. He asked me, I told him, and he spent the next few minutes saying,

"Eighteen, huh?"
"So, um, you're eighteen?"
"Yes, I am eighteen."

But I was so wonderful and adorable and magnificent, he couldn't stay away and we've now been married for 12 years.

Anonymous said...

In the city, Indianapolis, it seems fairly common. I dated a guy in college when I was in high school. My sister is in high school and has been dating a college man for over two years. A good friend of mine was dating a college man in high school and got married a year after she graduated.

From the guy's perspective, an amazing guy I liked for years started dating a girl in her senior year of high school after being in college for a year and a half. My last boyfriend, age twenty, is now dating a girl in high school.

The situation does seem a bit ditressing though, because I don't know how he can be as intellectually and spiritually enlightened by someone who hasn't left Mom and Dad yet. But that's my pride speaking; I know many young high school girls who are more mature than college sophmores and have a lot going for them.

Ms. Yingling said...

The age/experience difference worked in Revenge of the Cheerleaders, so you can probably pull it off. I will say that as a middle school librarian, I very much appreciated that the characters just kissed sweetly and cuddled. Please don't change that aspect of your writing. My students love your books, and I want to be able to buy them all without fighting with parents!