David Owen  

       When I am on the road–as I am now, in Augusta, Ga.–I have a hard time keeping up with my kids. Specifically, I have a hard time keeping up with my daughter, whose world has suddenly become one of rapidly developing romantic crises. She is in seventh grade, and the girls in her class now spend essentially all their time debating whether one or another of them ought or ought not to be “going out” with one or another of the boys. I use quotation marks because the activity in question involves neither “going” nor “out.”
       Here’s what happens. One of the girls sets her sights on one of the boys and asks him if he would like to “go out.” He says that he would not. Dire notes are passed among the girls, and secret meetings are held. A committee of the girl’s advisers tracks down the boy after class and confronts him with evidence that he and the girl are perfect for each other. The boy, seeing no escape, relents. The girls celebrate. The next day, the boy decides that, although he would not have chosen this fate for himself, he might as well act the part, and he waits in the hallway to walk with the girl to lunch. She finds his attention suffocating and disgusting, and angrily brushes past him. The next day, the girl–after sobbing with her advisers on the phone far into the night–breaks up with him and, not infrequently, informs him that she hates him.
       Someday, I know, the boys will have hormones, too, and the stakes will irrevocably be raised. For the time being, though, I am good at giving advice. When my daughter comes to me in anguish and says that Heidi and Kyle, for example, don’t seem to be getting along, I know exactly what to say: “I think they ought to break up.”