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Thinking about dating? Think again.

Dating is part of the lives of many readers of young adult (YA) and new adult (NA) fiction. Some 50% of fifteen-year olds, and more than 66% of eighteen-year olds have been in a romantic relationship in the past eighteen months.

As a writer, the challenge is to capture the authenticity of this important experience, to make it interesting – and, when appropriate, amusing.

There are also boundaries that writers should respect to avoid accidentally offending the reader, and you should approach these with caution. I could refer to the movie Sierra Burgess Is a Loser for a few plot twists and scenes that frankly creeped me out. Avoid teens shaming each other, catfishing, assuming a rush to sexual intimacy in your characters, and any lack of respect to characters who are disabled, neurodiverse, LGBTQ+, or just socially


In the US the CDC reported that 57% of teenage girls felt persistently sad or hopeless (versus 29% for teenage boys), 30% had seriously considered suicide (nearly twice the percentage of teenage boys), and 18% had experienced sexual violence. Worse yet, 22% of LGBTQ+ teens have experienced sexual violence, and 20% had been forced to have sex. As writers to this community we need to be incredibly sensitive.

Getting back to authenticity of dates for this YA/NA population, consider that your characters are likely to be excited or nervous about the date. They may be worried about their appearance, about not being attractive or interesting enough, or having poor social skills. Because of this, you may want to write and explore how they feel before the date.

During the date they’ll likely worry whether their date is having a good time, and in wanting to make a good impression may adopt a persona to impress the date. If it’s going well, they’re likely to be relaxed, engaged and funny. If it’s not going well, they’re likely to be bored, uncomfortable and even disappointed. Then there are things that go awry on dates. Not being polite and respectful. Being dismissive, interrupting, not listening to the other person, and talking too much. Being too selfcentered. Not being honest. Being too forward or pushy, even to the uncomfortable point of making unwanted advances. Write about dates that capture those emotions and these actions. I asked a 20 year-old girl what dates are actually like for teenagers and young adults – that’s in the blog ‘Dating. Really?’ Check it out.

I confess to having had fun writing about dates in my YA/NA rom-com Bap Napkin. I put the character Sophy through a series of awful dates. One guy takes her to McDonalds but won’t let her order the same thing as him, a burger, even though she only wants a burger. With a different boy, part way through their dinner he goes to the bathroom and she gets a text from him: ‘I miss u already honeysox.’ A young man buys her dinner at the gas station, then goes on a crazy rant about portals to space and that alienshave “been interbreeding with humans for thousands of years, which means we’re not really Earth people, we’re aliens, which kinda massively blows your mind when you think about it.” Another dude shows her the creepy drawings he’s made of her, based on Facebook photos she’s posted, and appears to be making a pros and cons list about her.

If you’d like to have some comedic fun there are lists of best questions to ask someone on a date, usually presented as ‘How to Make Someone Fall in Love with You.’ These are the best I pulled out (from list of 36 questions):

  • “Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.” Our assessment: ever hear of active listening?

  • “Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?” Our assessment: unlikely to make someone feel confident!

  • “What is your most terrible memory?” Our assessment: way to set a good tone!

  • “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” Our assessment: hmmm, where could this question possibly go wrong – in fact, a good lawyer will say that you should never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer!

  • “Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you on how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.” Our assessment: this should really stoke the romance!

  • “If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?” Our assessment: super-depressing!

  • “Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?” Our assessment: bring on the tears.

  • “If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?” Our assessment: see above.

  • “Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?” Our assessment: probably best asked if you want the date to end there and then!

That’s over 20% of the 36 that are mildly unseemly too wildly inappropriate and depressing. Impressive. You could also combine these with some, er, interesting date ideas out there on the web and you’ll multiply the laughs:

  • “Do a Food Truck Tour. Support local entrepreneurs while you enjoy a range of tasty treats.” Our assessment: figure out in advance how many calories you both are willing to consume on this gastronomical tour.

  • “Rent a Rowboat. Recreate a romantic scene from The Notebook and paddle around a pond or river for the afternoon. Surprise your partner by reciting some passages of poetry.” Our assessment: when did you last see a rowboat? Or recite poetry?

  • “Check out a thrift store. Make a game of finding each other the best (or wackiest) outfit for under $25.” Our assessment: So you could easily rack up a near-$50 bill on this simple activity. Plus, a lot of thrift shops are financially for charitable purposes and to serve people short on money: it’s not an arcade folks.

  • “Foster or Rescue a Pet. This is a fun idea for couples that live together. Share the love by welcoming a furry friend into your home!” Our assessment: lovely, but not really a date idea.

  • “Ride Public Transport. Choose a famous bus or train route and ride it to do some sightseeing and people-watching.” Our assessment: makes sense, but if you don’t live near a famous bus or train route (incidentally, I’d love to hear of a famous bus route) then there’s always the option of going on your commute then coming back again – FUN!

  • “Get a Couple Tattoo. Seal the deal and proclaim your love to one another with some permanent ink. The design can be a subtle nod to your relationship or a more obvious declaration of love. It's up to you.” Our assessment: oh boy!

Of course, this is advice that older people are more likely to follow (I hope not) than our YA/NA readers. But use this as creative inspiration for the dates your characters go on, whether comedic or not, and the often daft things people say on those tongue-tied dates. It could also inform how you write the parents of your teen characters (a blog on that topic is coming soon too). Just be creative and have fun with it.

To sum up, if you’re writing the next great YA or NA novel, find a way to have a pair of critical eyes look at it long before you’ve written a vast amount that includes significant parts – like dates – that lack authenticity and creativity.

Have a great date!

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