gap year ground rules



How things have changed since my generation did gap years. Back then, in the late 90s, gap years were supposed to be twelve months of reckless headonism, under the guise of going abroad on a do-gooding expedition.* The new batch of school-leavers, though, are a bunch of SQUARES. Charlotte writes:

My friend has very recently (in the last few months) become (some might say excessively) close to a boy in our year. They are both adamant that their friendship is entirely platonic, despite constant speculation from our school peers. He is a bit of a rogue and has been labelled a ‘manwhore’ by some, while she is highly principled and generally repelled by that sort of behaviour.

They both wanted to take a gap year and, with nobody else to go with, have decided to spend most of the year in Africa together doing charity work. Both my friend and I are more than a little concerned about this plan since:

a) they have only relatively recently become friends and
b) they are generally quite incompatible (she’s extremely mature, him not so much).

Since they are both set on going, I suggested they make some ground rules. So far, I think they have:

1. no sexual tension
2. he can’t take drugs
3. he can’t leave her to go out and get drunk or go off with other girls.

He has agreed, although there was some dispute over the second and she is already being forced to compromise…

So Helen and Olly answer me this:
Do you think such an intense friendship that has developed so quickly between two complete opposites can be genuinely platonic? And if not, do you think their first ‘ground rule’ can actually be implemented?

Also, my friend would like you to suggest any other ground rules you think might help them? She is mostly concerned that his sexual frustration will drive him to come onto her, or abandon her for somebody else…

Erm, your friend can’t have it both ways. IF she – apparently – doesn’t want to have sex with him, she can’t reasonably prevent him having sex with other people. But, as she is trying to, I deduce that this friendship is as platonic as Clinton and Lewinsky, Ross and Rachel, Silvio Berlusconi and a teenage prostitute. They’re obviously going to cop off. Then they’ll spend most of the gap year in a cycle of tension → copping off again → rationalising why they should be ‘just friends’ → being jealous when the other one shows interest in someone else → tension → copping off, etc etc, with the occasional break for a spot of food poisoning.

Even if they don’t, here are the problem with your ground rules so far:

Rule 1. You can’t legislate for that sort of thing. Either it’s there, or it’s not. They can only choose whether or not to act upon it.
Rule 2. If he’s already disputing that before they even go, it may make drug use an even greater temptation, especially as
Rule 3 makes your friend sound like an ABSOLUTE KILLJOY.

She’s being ‘forced to compromise’, whereas he’s being forced to change all of his ways. I don’t think this will work out very happily for your friend, unless she gets a VIP ticket to the drugboozeorgy that his inevitable rebellion will probably result in.

Readers, do go to the comments and add some useful ground rules for Charlotte’s friend and her reformation project. I’d opt for Rule 4: lighten up, kids, and stop making ground rules for everything, because there’ll be plenty of opportunities when you’re older to stop yourselves having any fun.

*Not mine, though. I spent nearly all of it sober, in a long-term relationship, living with my parents and working six days a week for minimum wage in an antiquarian bookshop in Tunbridge Wells. I’ve never been much of a headonist.


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