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A User's Guide To Middle School Romance

* Don't bother with one-on-one dates.

Without a group of friends around, you might run out of things to say. On an actual date, Kimiya surmises, "it's kinda like you don't know what to do. And then the boys tell everyone something happened" -- even when it didn't -- "and rumors spread."

(Chris Hartlove)

Josh's issue with dates is more logistical: When he went with a girl to see "The Grudge" last year, he wasn't sure if he was supposed to just pay for the tickets, or offer to pay. In the end, he offered, "but she was okay with buying her own," he says.

So aside from instant messaging and occasionally talking on the phone, what should couples actually do? Sway together to the slow songs at the school dance. Give chocolate (to your boyfriend) or a little stuffed animal (to your girlfriend) on Valentine's Day. (Nothing more than $30, kids recommend.) Sit together at lunch, unless you're in sixth grade, when boys and girls still tend to sit separately.

"You want to have a couple of classes together and a couple not together," Tessa says, because if you don't see each other enough you'll break up, and if you have too many chances during the day to annoy each other, you'll break up, too.

* Tell your parents as little as possible, for as long as possible. Some middle schoolers actually go to their parents for love advice, or, more often, rejection advice. But most adhere to this rule. "Parents nose around, get into people's business, talk to other parents," Bryan says, the last of those being the most horrid.

And it's simply too hard for parents to remember how overwhelming this all feels, the complicated emotions involved, so they belittle, they tease, they say the worst thing in the world: "Oh, don't worry, it's just a middle school crush."

* Keep careful track of your relationship's duration. It's common for boys or girls to announce on their instant-message profiles how long they've been going out -- "2 weeks, 2 days & 6 hours!!!" Even though middle school relationships are notoriously brief, and one must always actively like someone, a kid should be careful how many people he or she goes out with, lest character be questioned. On the specifics there is disagreement, as Lime Kiln eighth-graders Celene Monroe and Megan Bishoff will tell you.

Both have not yet felt compelled to enter the boyfriend fray themselves. (As Celene puts it, "I've been with the same people since elementary school. I know everything about everyone. Probably in high school.") But they do know what's acceptable and what's not.

Celene says of the relationship limit, "No more than two a month." Megan is more generous: "No more than one person a week."

Linda Perlstein is a former Post staff writer and the author of Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers. She will be fielding questions and comments about this article Monday at 1 p.m. at washingtonpost.com/liveonline.

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