Here's the story: Last week, Brock Turner, a Stanford undergraduate--a white, male, campus athlete-- was convicted of raping a young woman behind a dumpster while she was unconscious. His lenient sentence of six months in jail has been discussed in all media and even a possible recall of the judge on the case has been proposed.
I was surprised that many of the callers were mothers of very young boys, and I tried many times to phone in to add my few cents but the line was busy. That is a good thing. As a mother of four young men, now ages 28-32, and three strong young women, I am very proud of all of them. All seven kids have partners they treat well and as they hope to become parents themselves I am reminded of the rubric I used during their adolescence and with my teen and young adult patients.
When we think about healthy relationships and how we gauge whether a relationship, be it one just minted in a bar, a same sex friendship, or a long term marriage, it is helpful to have some sort of guide. A few years ago I gave a presentation on gauging relationships to a PTA group of parents at which I distributed a small business card with six criteria for judging. Some time after my presentation one of the moms who attended and whom I knew was recently divorced stopped me in the street to let me know that she had started to carry the card and used it to remind herself of what she was looking for in a date and potential mate.
So what do we look for and what does it mean in real life? We want our relationships to be:
RESPECTFUL: Do you ever feel put down, disrespected or hurt by your partner? Do you feel contempt coming from him or her?
CONSENSUAL: Do both partners consent to any activity between them? Decisions might mean deciding between the zoo or the beach but also involve whether when and how to have sex.
MUTUAL: Both partners can expect to benefit from their relationship and feel good physically. Sex may be a form of currency for some, but both parties can look at whether they benefit in a mutual fashion.
SAFE: Safety should be both physical (protected from pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease) as well as psychological (check out and explore any power imbalance of age, money, sexual risk, status or life experience)
MINDFUL: The foundation of a relationship, physical and intimate or not, should not be based on the need for alcohol, drugs or other harmful and mind-altering behaviors.
FUN: A healthy, strong relationship can be expected to be fun, to make you laugh and contribute to your happiness.
Let's teach our kids that when we buy a used car we kick the tires a bit and we expect it to perform. Relationships, even intentionally short term ones, can be rational and thoughtful to a large
degree. And then there is love.
image captured from Google images, 6/14/16