Love Better

Growing Beyond Your High School Dating Experiences

"It taught me exactly what I didn’t want."
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A lot of the change we experience in our lives occurs during the transition from high school to whatever life has in store for us next; whether that’s university, travel or work.

Along with our social lives and daily routines, our romantic relationships often see drastic changes: both in the literal sense and in how we view them. Is your current mindset towards having a partner the same as it was when you were in high school? What changed? Is your taste in people different? Have your needs evolved? There’s a lot that can differ between these two stages of our lives.


Our teen years, a time where we experience constant “firsts”, new feelings and conflicts hugely affect how we view romantic and sexual encounters – From waiting for “the one”, to a complete aversion to any romance at all, or perhaps a ravenous lust for trying everything out

VICE NZ spoke to 4 young New Zealanders about their experiences with this transition, and how it changed their views on relationships.


NgāPuhi, She/Her, Okaihau College

VICE: What were your relationships expectations at high school? 

Ahi: Relationships were an exciting thing when I was in high school. There was the initial excitement of you and your crush both liking each other, the talking stage, the butterflies, then actually getting together. I definitely saw myself as wanting to be in a relationship at that time and probably placed more importance on it than I should have.

How did those thoughts manifest themselves?

I admit I’m a hopeless romantic. So when I left high school, I was excited to meet new people and embrace new experiences outside of the small town I’d grown up in. I hadn’t had much luck finding someone that treated me well so I hoped moving cities for university would help and that I’d find more like-minded people. 

How did that mindset change as you transitioned out of secondary school? 


It was hard to let go of what I was used to. I had broken it off with the guy I was seeing just before I left for uni and had sworn to focus on my studies and building new friendships, a new life. However, I missed the familiarity amongst all the uncertainty & change and I sparked up a long-distance relationship with him again. Only for it to turn out horribly. In hindsight, I placed too much emphasis on wanting comfort from the familiar rather than embracing the change and focusing on my own goals outside of a relationship. It’s a tough thing to admit to yourself but once you do, you’re better for it. 

In retrospect, what did you learn? 

Self-love is essential. Your decisions and actions become misguided when you’re making them based on the feelings and reactions of others. So it’s important to take a step back and  ask yourself if you really want a relationship and why. The “why” will be the foundation and if the foundation is driven by wanting to solely combat loneliness, pleasing others or needing it then you must reassess. 

But it isn’t all bad. Love is still the best and I’m forever hopeful that everyone will experience it with someone special. Myself included.


Ngāti Porou, He/Him, Gisborne Boys’ High School

VICE: What were your relationship expectations at high school? 

Rawhiti: I don’t think I had any idea what I wanted, but I knew I did want to try it out for myself, rather than secondhand from people I knew. I was pretty introverted then, and the goal was to hopefully break out of that shell and see what there was to offer. 


How did your attitude change as you got older?

Moving into my last year of school, thanks to my part-time job, I became way more social because more opportunities presented themselves. At that time, though, my future was still at the front of my mind, and dating…  (not that I’d really call any of those experiences dating) was just a bit of fun and experimentation. I definitely botched a few relationships because I had set myself the rule that I wouldn’t have a girlfriend going into university. 

Did the transition out of high school change anything? 

Was lonely, for a while, I kinda pushed away (or ran away, depending on who you ask) from anything getting serious and couldn’t make up my mind on what I wanted. After a time of having both everything and nothing, I realised I had gotten to a point in my life where I was ready to try something more. So far, that seems to be working out. 

In retrospect, what did you learn?

I don’t regret any of the decisions I made, and still hold firm to the belief that we should all be allowed to mess around and figure out what it is we want without judgement, as long as it isn’t harming anyone else. It’s an age where everything is constantly changing, and should be a time where young people can safely feel out themselves and what they want from life. 


Ngāti Porou, She/Her, Lytton High School


VICE: What were your relationships expectations at high school? 

Michaela: I always wanted mum and dad’s relationship, being high school sweethearts, and that being it for the rest of my life. 

How did that manifest? 

I think I was holding onto the idea of the high school sweetheart for a long time, but I think me and my partner at the time both realised that it was never gonna be what we wanted. I already had my goals in place and moved. The plan was for him to come a couple months later but that never happened. 

How did that relationship affect you going forward?

That experience has made me very picky in the way that my next partner is going to be my last partner. I’m happy to be single until I find that partner. I know what I want and I know what I need. Wanting someone with bigger aspirations in life, goals that align with my goals. 

In retrospect, what did you learn? 

You should always put yourself first, in a certain way. I couldn’t have tried any harder in that relationship, but I don’t regret trying as hard as I did. Even though it backfired. 


Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Tamaoho, She/Her, Westlake Girls High School

VICE: What were your relationships expectations at high school? 

Lani: At our age everyone I knew either dated each other or cheated on each other so my views weren’t that serious. Everything definitely felt a bit dramatic when it came to relationships in high school. I remember on Valentine’s Day girls would walk around with huge teddy bears, balloons and chocolates and it definitely felt very for show and embarrassing.


How did that exposure affect your outlook?

I had a rocky relationship leaving high school but experiencing that taught me exactly what I didn’t want and I had really strong views on what I wanted from a partner if I ever went into another relationship. At the time I was told I had high expectations and people would think it made dating hard but the dating pool is so large when you’re that young that it made it a lot easier to filter. 

Did those thought processes change as you got older?

I think almost everyone coming out of my high school had never had a relationship, so leaving and going to uni was sort of the same as seeing what happened in high school but on a bigger scale. We were all definitely the blind leading the blind. 

In retrospect, what did you learn? 

Looking back my views haven’t really shifted. One thing I would say to anyone leaving school and starting to date is just do it and get out there. I feel like heartbreak is the ultimate character building. I definitely realise now as I’m approaching 25 what they mean by no one knows what they want in their 20s and we’re all just figuring it out. It seems the older I get the more I realise how much I don’t know.

Our experiences all feed into our wants and desires, and that will always be the case. You might be lucky, and your high school experience was exactly what you wanted, finding the love of your life. But if it isn’t, it can provide a pedestal for you to go out and explore the wider world and what it offers.


But that world can be daunting. For some, they find themselves running back to the familiar, even if it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, simply because it provides a potential sanctuary to help make better sense of the world beyond. Maybe the transition out of high school made you realise how boxed in you were, and let you explore for yourself what you want to find out in the world. This can be tricky too, as the desire to expand your world can mean you end up pushing your own boundaries too far. 

Trust is always important: in yourself, to pick you back up when you fail, and to broaden your horizons and try new things. A relationship is not something you want to force, and while your ultimate plan might not see the light of day, that isn’t a bad thing.

Ryland Hutana is a writer and creator who currently lives in Auckland, Aotearoa.

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