Calgary — When Ayla Fraser started dating her boyfriend 10 months ago, she relied on a network of girlfriends to help her navigate the fledgling relationship.
Rather than writing in a diary or Facebooking about it, after each date — dinner and a movie, or watching a movie at his house — Fraser, 18, would dish to her pals, including the “special moments” that helped the teen determine her guy was right for her.
The teenager started dating in Grade 9 and says keeping a journal about her dates would have been useful three years ago, when she wasn’t as sure of herself.
“It would have been really helpful when I was younger, for sure,” says Fraser.
Back then, however, “A Girl’s Dating Journal” didn’t exist; it was just an idea forming in the mind of Calgary’s Dave Higham, a father of eight, including four girls.
Higham, 42, lived through the dating decisions his two sisters made, and then got to relive the dating scene roller-coaster, through his daughters. Since he also remembers the awkward teenage boy he once was, Higham decided to do something to help young women (including his youngest daughter Tiffany, now 16) date successfully.
The idea behind his self-published book, “A Girl’s Dating Journal”, isn’t to tell a teenager what kind of guy to like; it’s meant to help her recognize if the boy is right for her.
The book — which, after some introductory pages on character, communication and love versus lust, reads more like a workbook — has “date snapshot” pages where its owner can write about dates, as well as “guy snapshot” pages she can fill out on boys she likes. Part of the dating process is self discovery, so Higham has included “you snapshot” pages where girls can get to know themselves and what’s important to them.
What makes the journal so useful, though, are the questions those snapshot pages ask:
• Who had the idea for the activity?
• What did he do to prepare for the date?
• What do you two have in common?
• Do any of his habits embarrass you?
• What goals do you have for yourself?
Unlike an old-school “Dear Diary” journal, “A Girl’s Dating Journal” makes it hard for a girl’s feelings to cloud her judgment. It also forces her to be honest; truthfulness is one of Higham’s three rules for journal users (the other two: reflect often and follow your instincts).
Never mind the butterflies in her stomach and the first question her friends will ask: “Did you kiss?”
“There’s all kinds of other things going on (on a date) that I think girls need to pay attention to,” says Higham, who does youth work on a volunteer basis in his community. For example, what did they talk about? Did he express interest in her and what she had to say?
“There’s more to it than how cute he is or how popular he is or how much money he’s got,” says Higham. “The most important thing is recognizing herself.”
If a girl takes the time to know herself, she’ll (hopefully) begin to make choices in her best interest.
Developing emotional intelligence is a challenge for many teenage girls, says Calgary registered psychologist Kimberly Eckert, founder of Eckert Psychology and Education Centre. Learning to understand and handle feelings is crucial so they can start making decisions — including relationship choices — based on values, not on how they feel. Eckert thinks a dating journal could help develop those skills.
“What (Higham) has provided in his journal is a way to ask the right reflective questions. The questions help girls (think about) character,” says Eckert.
Of course, there will be bumps along the way, but a tool like this gets the dialogue going.
“(Dating) is huge. It’s still occupying a lot of waking moments of a girl’s mind. I don’t think it has become less important. It has become more complicated,” says Eckert, who sees many teenage girls through her practice.
Her only criticism of the journal? It should also be available in an online format, to appeal to a greater number of tech-savvy teens.
As a society, we don’t do a lot of education around dating, says Eckert. She feels a tool like this — given to a girl just starting to date, or even earlier — is a step in the right direction. She also believes that, as parents, we can start teaching kids about relationships when they’re little — Eckert has regular talks with her six-year-old daughter about the importance of kindness as a character trait.
Says Eckert: “We are sending messages to our kids all the time. We can start preparing them long before this journal.”
“A Girl’s Dating Journal” is available online