Flowers, January 2010
These flowers remind me of the trees that bloom on the campus of the boarding school where I lived for 11 years. One of my early beaus used to present me with bouquets of these blossoms. (Thank you, J.W., wherever you are…)

If I remember correctly, it was before I entered high school in 1991 that the dating rules changed.

My beloved (and now defunct) alma mater (ICAInternational Christian Academy) in Bouaké, West Africa) was a conservative Christian boarding school run by Americans (with a few token Canadians). Because it was co-ed, there had to be rules to keep all those teenage hormones in check, and prior to the introduction of The Third Rule, high-school dating was regulated by a complicated system known as Coupling.

There were about 200 students enrolled at ICA, and four dorms catered to the high school contingent. The two girls’ dorms were named Baraka and Bethlehem, and the boys’ dorms were Beth-Eden and Brethren. (The old joke was that the dorms all started with B “BEcause”. Cute, huh? Not for a teenager.)

Within the standard schedule of activities (meals, classes, walking to and from the dorms, after-school sports, free-time), there was plenty of time for boys and girls to hang out together. In the intense environment of boarding school, with the absence of supportive parents and perhaps the pressure of dictatorial staff members, it was inevitable that kids would hook up.


However, if two teenagers of the opposite sex became especially friendly — and if it was so noted by the posse of dorm-fathers who met on Friday mornings — that pair of high-schoolers would be officially Coupled. The relevant dorm-father would perhaps tap the girl or guy on the shoulder, offer a quiet word delivering the verdict (or else call them into their “little living room” for a lecture reminding them of the rules), and from that point forward the guy and girl could only spend time together at certain designated times, mostly on the weekends.

As I recall, Junior and Senior couples received a bit more “dating” time than those who were a Freshman or Sophomore. Was the extra time the time before and after the the Sunday night service? Remind me.

These allowed times were strictly enforced, and the “dating” permissible meant sitting closely on a park bench and talking — strictly no intimate contact, no holding hands and absolutely no kissing. Staff members would randomly wander through the park, often with a torch that happened to light upon the couples time and again.

Particularly enterprising couples would sometimes find ways around the system. One trick involved spending a lot of time with someone who you didn’t really like so you were officially “coupled” with them, and then you were free to spend all your free time with your true boy/girlfriend. Genius!

A girl and her brother who maintained a close friendship were almost mistakenly “coupled” by a dorm-father who didn’t realise they were siblings. C remembers: “I thought that was a crack-up! I suppose since [N] and I really didn’t look all that much alike and we did hang out together that it was an easy mistake to make.”

The Third Rule

But then the rules changed. And The Third Rule was introduced, probably to simplify matters for the staff members who actually had to enforce the rules. It was easy. A boy and a girl couldn’t be alone together, they always needed to have a third person present.

This offered all sorts of possibilities for couples to spend more time together (and friendships to be tested through the tedium of sitting with two lovebirds). Best friends were roped in to provide the necessary third person, and double-dating became the norm. Two couples could sit close enough to each other to pretend they were engaging as a group, but actually they would just talk quietly among themselves.

There was a set of twin girls who dated their boyfriends in a very cozy double arrangement for most of their high school careers. Interestingly, each girl went on to marry their high school sweetheart and they now have three kids each.

I can’t remember who would sit as our third during my intermittent periods of dating (was it you, M?), but I’m sorry, whoever you are — your time was a complete waste of time. If only I knew that then!

If you dated at ICA, what are your memories?