Sometimes, I think I wear out my welcome. Let me explain.

I’ve been with the program now for, we will just say, lots of years. In fact, two of my last coworkers were actually students that had the program when I was an educator.

I’ve seen the same students go from shy and quiet sixth graders, to confident and well-spoken high schoolers. I’ve even seen some start careers.

Needless to say, I’ve kinda solidified my role in the community. I sold a set of bunkbeds a few weeks ago, and the person that purchased them asked if I used to work with the “sex ed” program. “Yup, that’s me,” I said. “Oh, yeah. I know you know. You were my teaching when I was a freshman!” The baggers at the grocery store know me, and teachers need only to hear the role of my suitcase in the halls to know I’ll be on hand for the next week.

But it isn’t just former students that know me. In fact, I went to vote a few weeks ago, and the election worker needed only to read my name to connect me with this column.

So then, with so many people being willing to offer greetings, how then do I think I’ve worn out my welcome? Because it seems to only take one phrase to elicit collective sighs from a classroom of students. What’s that phrase? Simple. “What’s the purpose of dating?”

I’ll stop right now and tell you the same thing I tell the students (though sometimes I think they tune me out for this very important point). I’m not against dating. I don’t think dating is bad. But I do think that too often, the purpose of dating is wrong. And I can speak on experience there.

I will quickly admit that though I “dated” in middle and high school, most of the time, my reason for doing so was simply because I thought it made me more valuable. In my mind, if people were going to like me, or think I was important, or valuable, or think that I was pretty, it would only be a direct result of who I was dating. Dating, for me, wasn’t about learning more about other people, and what characteristics I wanted in a future spouse. It was about me feeling loved and valued. And I’m ashamed to admit that.

According to Wikipedia (dear Dr. Ketchersid, I know Wikipedia doesn’t count as a reliable source for a senior history thesis, or really any other academic paper, but I really like the way “dating” is explained on this website. Please do not think any less of me), dating is “a stage of romantic relationships practiced in Western societies whereby two people meet socially with the aim of each assessing the other’s suitability as a prospective partner in a future intimate relationship.” Other definitions explain that it’s not just a future intimate partner, but a committed, long-term partner. So, if the purpose of dating is to assess the other’s suitability as a prospective long-term partner, what happens when you’ve determined that isn’t a person, or even type of person, you’d care to be with in a long-term, committed relationship?

I’m not against dating, but I do think if people are going to date, it should be with purpose. And I think it’s important for our kids to know that the purpose of dating isn’t to give their lives purpose.

When we base our value on something like dating, we are saying our value varies based on our situations. We say that because this person thinks I’m funny or pretty, my life matters. And if no one thinks I’m pretty or attractive or wants to be seen in public with me, it must be because I’m worthless.

To explain this concept to my students, I typically make sure I have a $20 bill with me that day. I pull the bill out, and ask how many would want it if I was giving it away. And normally (there’s always one or two that want to ruin the illustration), almost every student says they want it. But then, I start putting the money in different situations. What if instead of it being a brand-new bill, it was more than 20 years old. Would you want it? What if I used it to wipe spaghetti off my son’s face? Would you want it? What if it fell out of my pocket into a mud puddle? Or, even worse, what if it fell out of my pocket and someone that had dog poop on their shoe then stepped on it. Would you really still want it?

Overwhelmingly, regardless of what the money has been through, the students still want it. Why? Because regardless of the situation, it’s still $20. The value hasn’t changed.

It’s important for our kids to know that while dating in itself isn’t bad, our purposes of dating can often be skewed. When we date with purpose, and realize the purpose, ultimately, is to find a long-term committed partner, it actually frees us, rather than tying us down. When we recognize that we don’t have to be in a relationship to be valuable. And when we recognize that, we realize we don’t have to let someone treat us like we don’t have value. We don’t have to be in unhealthy relationships. We don’t have to date someone that doesn’t respect us. We don’t have to continue in a relationship with someone that isn’t honest or trustworthy.

This is kinda countercultural for our students. When asked why they date, most students say because it’s the thing to do, or simply because everyone else dates. But if we really want our students to be future focused, and if we really want them to know that today’s choices affect tomorrow’s future, they’ve got to know that means in dating too. They’ve got to know that their value doesn’t depend on someone else’s willingness to take them to Taco Bell.