When your teenage children start dating, don’t get excited – it is not about potential marriage prospects. When your teenage children start dating, don’t get paranoid – it is not just about hormones.

But instead, it is about two young people learning a very important lesson – namely how to be in an adult relationship and how to sustain it with love, affection, being comfortable with each other and shared interests. They are road-testing something that will become the most important aspect of their adult lives.

And indeed, these first relationships are important. They sow the seeds of how their future relationships will be conducted.  When I was in Malaysia, I got to know about a lady who remains in a mental institution in her fifties (yes, she is a few years older than I) because her first love had treated her so badly that she suffered a mental breakdown that she never recovered from. I have also known someone who switched sexual orientation because his first girlfriend further damaged what his mother had already damaged during his harsh, cruel childhood, and he consequently has a deep distrust and anger at women (“it disgusts me” – on women’s sexuality).  Indeed, my childhood friend T remains with her abusive husband, simply because her first abusive boyfriend set a permanent template in her psyche when he beat her up regularly since she was 17. Tried as I might, I could not get her out of her abusive relationship, which she sees as “usual problems in a marriage”.

My youngest daughter started dating her boyfriend when she was 14 and he 15. They are both 17 and 18 now, and living in different countries since August. I know it has been tough for them. My daughter soldiers on with her heavy school workload, forthcoming BMAT test for medical school, university applications and sports. Her hours are filled with these but there is something missing from her busy day.

It’s not the excitement: they seldom party or do exciting things.  Their typical week is seeing each other in school and hanging out at home together, popping into the supermarket for food shopping or the local restaurants. They are actually very low key for a high-profile couple. They were just happy to hang out with each other.

Yesterday, he wasn’t there when she played in a football match.  He used to sit on the sidelines and watch her train, just as she did whilst he trained.

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“Do you know how many hours I have spent watching him play football?” She had demanded jokingly. Yes, and he does the same back for you.

And this, dear parents, this simple and mundane act – something they do  for each other without having to think about it – is the most priceless bit in a teenage relationship because it is this, and many other moments like this one, that weaves the fabric of the life they will build someday. And the learning starts here.

What does your other half do for you and what do you do in return?

Main photo: football training from past years.