Dear Gayle,

My children tease/torment my boyfriend. They don’t mean it in a bad way, that’s just how they show affection, but I’m not always sure that’s how he sees it. I’ve tried talking to them about it, but they do it anyway. It comes natural to them because that’s how we’ve been acting towards each other in this family normally. How can I get them to lighten up with him? He’s never been around kids before, and mine are already teenagers.

— Mom of Two

Dear Mom,

While you did not describe the teasing going on, I imagine it to be reasonably benign in nature, but with a trace of passive-aggressive behavior added in. That’s kids, too. This boyfriend is a newer addition to your life, so part of the tormenting you are seeing is probably power and territory establishment. You would not have mentioned these acts were it not seeming to be annoying for the man. It is also not particularly healthy for your children, so I understand your concern. Your children’s concerns might include that this man might not remain in your life for the long haul and could hurt you. Even without their realizing it, they may be testing him with that thought in mind. The tormenting behavior might also be your children’s way of having an acceptable form of affection pass between themselves and your boyfriend, which is how I believe that you have been assessing the behavior. No matter what is at the root of these interactions, they are unlikely to change until they are replaced with something acceptable to both parties. Finding ways to reassure the kids about the relationship, and/or finding ways that affection can be exchanged between your children and your boyfriend without such actions seeming annoying, threatening, or inappropriate, are the first step.

Dear Gayle,

I want to go out with a boy at school, but he has never asked me. He is very nice and I want to get to know him, but I’m afraid to ask him because I could mess it up. How do I say it so I won’t get it all wrong?

— Interested

Dear Interested,

Please allow me to recommend that you treat this as a possible friendship rather than as a potential love interest. There is less risk of messing it up that way, and it allows both parties an opportunity to see if anything beyond the friendship could grow. Small group events are good for this. An invitation would sound something like, “Hey! A few of us are going to [fill in the blank] on Saturday. I think you’d have a good time with us. Want to come?” You would want to let your friends know that you plan to invite someone new, and that it is only a reach-out in friendship. You also want to make sure that the young man is not the only male at the event, or he could feel set up and your opportunity would backfire. The best relationships are the ones that begin as friendships. I hope this works well for you.

Dear Gayle,

By the time most women are my age, they are on their second marriage, or are putting two kids through college. I have dated, but never married. I joined a dating site and have met a lot of nice guys, but nothing sticks. I am very up front with these men, explaining that I am a virgin, and that I don’t want to stay that way forever, but it seems like this just scares them off. What can I do?

— Honest

Dear Honest,

How honesty is presented can make a big difference. If these men are left with the impression that they are expected to mentor you through this awkward situation and facilitate changing it, this may appear to be far more than they bargained for and are prepared for. Some will walk away slowly. Some will run. You might do better to allow a relationship to develop over time, and then to let this information come up if the man seems to be someone worth being in a deeper relationship with. Intimacy skills starting from kissing and on up are difficult enough to develop in youth, let alone for those at the age outer edges of wanting to experience them, but do not allow anyone ever to be left with the impression that the primary place they have in your life is to help you through this phase. You might do better to plumb your female friendships about what is expected. If you can get your girlfriends past feeling awkward at having this discussion, you could learn about skills that could keep a new love interest from feeling that he is about to be more teacher than lover. This might make a difference in your chance for finding a more satisfactory relationship. The best of luck.

[Gayle Wright is a mental health counselor doing area agency and hospital social work. Write to Gayle at: LV MY TAKE ON IT, 435 Broad Street, New Bethlehem, PA 16242, or send email to gaylewright@mail.com where your anonymity will be maintained in keeping with all current HIPAA standards.]

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