I think I love you: you had a connection and then he was gone. What if he was the one?

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Forget Facebook, lay off Lavalife, the newest place for online dating isn’t a portal of disappointing profiles and poses, it’s actually where you’d go to sell your truck. Craigslist, perused mainly for its smorgasbord of miscellaneous buy/sell ads and job listings, is now gaining ground among those seeking the love that got away. Though not a new concept-Vancouver’s Georgia Straight newspaper runs “I Saw You” and Toronto’s Now magazine once featured a similar venue called “I Spy”–unlike some classified competitors, Craigslist’s Missed Connections is free and offers unlimited space for gushing to the intended recipient.

Postings range from fleeting subway strikeouts and laundromat lust to affirmations of ardour to colleagues. It’s customized to cities worldwide; one unidentified man from Toronto recently wrote: “Canadian Tire: I held up your checkout … I flirted clumsily. “We dropped your blue-cleaning-fluid stuff. I could not take my eyes off you. A drink … and … a few laughs?”

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For some, the site provides the elusive “fate” factor often absent from paid-dating sites: the Cupid-struck have seen the object of their affection in the flesh. Recently on layover at Toronto’s Pearson Airport, United Airlines flight attendant Gail Sloma, 44, borrowed a Blackberry from a golf-club-wielding man so she could phone her hotel. She didn’t expect to be knocked off her feet by the “electricity running through us.” But he was stepping into a taxi and before she could untie her tongue the cab pulled away, with him all the while watching her. “It blows my mind I didn’t just grab on to him,” she says. Sloma discovered Missed Connections when placing an ad on Cralgslist to sell some furniture, and decided to post a shout-out to her Canadian gent. She has yet to hear from him.

Jim Buckmaster, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based Craigslist, says the chance of a successful Missed Connection increases if the poster already knows their heart’s desire. Office manager Ava first met Pete (not their real names) 16 years ago when they worked together at a call centre. Save for a friendship and some innocent flirtation (both were married), Ava says she pined for her co-worker through the years but the timing had never been right. Now 37 and unhappy in her second marriage, Ava’s hoping for that thirdtime lucky. Pete’s wife died a year ago after battling cancer, leaving him with two young children. Last month, Ava composed her online fess-up: “You are the one I think of when I’m happy … I can’t tell you this and risk our friendship; you mean so much to me,” she wrote. “I thought it was a good venue to get it off my chest without jeopardizing our friendship,” Ava told Maclean’s. Two weeks later, Pete took the bait. “This verifies what I’ve always thought,” he told Ava in a phone conversation, adding the feeling was mutual bur that he didn’t want to be perceived as a home wrecker. “I’m not comfortable being the other person. If things happen and you aren’t with him anymore then that will be our time. And I’m willing to wait for that” he said. Ava says she now has some soul-searching to do.

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Buckmaster says city centres with sophisticated transit systems are more likely to produce greater postings-Toronto and Vancouver are tops in Canada. Regina and Saskatoon Missed Connections tend to be sullied with no-strings-attached sex ads.

But every dating forum has its own brand of cheese and sleaze. Mario (not his real name), 42, an IT professional and married father, recently penned: “You’re on the 7th and I’m on 12. I find you very attractive but I’m married … If you’re interested and see me in the elevator, say the following phrase: ‘I feel like a chocolate dip doughnut from Timmy’s? I will then respond with, ‘Allow me to treat you to one.’ “Though Mario views the prospect as a long shot, he says Missed Connections provides a venue to speak one’s mind without criticism (except for one anonymous post in response to his doughnut note “you’re extremely lame, ugh, people like you irritate me”). Says Mario: “I actually thought this was more of ah honest approach, in a dishonest kind of way I guess. Just basically putting the cards on the table, this is who I am, this is what I’m looking for.” Absent a paper trail no less. “You can’t put it on your credit card because of course your wife sees the credit card. So you have no choice, really, but to actually go on a free site.”

Dating in digital world: social networking sites, cell phones, and other digital media can help your love life–or hurt it

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Would you invite a stranger to the prom via YouTube? That’s what a 17-year-old guy from Las Vegas did last year. He posted YouTube videos asking Arianny Celeste, a well-known model, if she would be his prom date. Surprisingly, she said yes!

You may not be ready for something that extreme, but you probably use technology every day in your romantic life–texting your girlfriend, checking out a crush’s profile, or sending a photo to your boyfriend. Like all things, though, dating in the digital world has good and bad points. The Web and cell phones can help “connect” your love life and make it sweeter, or “disconnect” it and cause problems.

CONNECT: Icebreakers

If no one from school or your neighborhood makes your heart go pitter-patter, the Internet can help. Now, although online dating services are popular with adults, it’s not safe for teens to meet someone they’ve only “met” online. But social networking sites can open up your dating possibilities by letting you connect with people from real life. You can get to know the friend of a friend you met at a party, the guy who transferred from a different school, or that cool girl who babysits for your little cousin.

Social networking and texting make striking up a conversation easier too. Your crush won’t see your nervousness, and you’ll have time to think about what to say (and erase, if needed). You can send a “cute pic!” comment or even ask someone out.

CONNECT: “Tell Me About Yourself”

You may be able to learn even more about someone online than you would in person. Just ask Zara S., 16, of Massachusetts. “When I start talking to guys, I can utilize texting and IMing to get to know them more in-depth,” she says, “and I can learn the basics, such as their favorite color–things that would be too cheesy to ask in person.”

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Viewing your crush’s profile to see how she describes herself and her interests, or how he interacts with others, can also give you a better glimpse. Connor Berge of Colorado is glad he took the time to get to know his crush online before approaching her in person. “I started up a chat with her on Facebook and realized we were complete opposites,” the 18-year-old says. “Instead of wasting my time with her, I found someone (also on Facebook) that I’m totally happy with.”

CONNECT: Closer Than Close

With school, chores, family time, hanging out with friends, extracurricular activities, and homework, finding time to spend with your boyfriend or girlfriend can be hard. Fortunately, cell phones and the Internet can help you keep in frequent contact. Rather than waiting until you’re both in the same place at the same time, you can chat or zap a quick “thinking of you” or “let’s catch a movie this weekend” text to each other. Even if you are able to hang out, newer technology allows you to express yourself in creative ways–think e-cards or YouTube dedications–that can draw you closer.

DISCONNECT: A Whole Wide Web Apart

Though the Web and cell phones can strengthen bonds, they can also cause distance. If you talk to someone online or by text too much, you may not have anything to talk about in person, Zara says. And you may be in for a letdown if someone’s real-life personality doesn’t match up with his or her online persona. You may like a girl because her tweets make her seem outgoing, but in real life she may be shy. Or a guy could have cool status updates but be a total snooze in person.

Digital drama can cause problems too. “Reliance on Facebook updates, tweets, texts, and other forms of nonverbal communication can lead to jealousy and misunderstandings because information is shared without context,” says Stacey Rosenfeld, a clinical psychologist in New York City. Zara and her boyfriend have faced that. Sometimes, she says, “an ex posts something on one of our walls, and the other person kind of gets thrown off track and is a little upset.” They have worked through those problems. But if digital drama is too much, it can bring a relationship to a crashing end.

DISCONNECT: An Open Book

One of the biggest downfalls of dating in the digital world is others knowing your personal business. Through status updates and profile comments, people can tell a lot about your relationship. Then there are breakups, which are hard enough, but even worse when everyone on your friends list witnesses them. “Having that little broken heart go across a Facebook newsfeed can be sad for anyone dealing with a breakup online,” says Adrianna Giuliani, who runs Techromance, a blog that discusses how technology affects relationships.

Also keep in mind that your business could be shared with people you’d prefer to keep out of the loop. “Remember that e-mails can be forwarded, IMs/chats can be cut and pasted, text messages can be sent to groups, and photos can be shared with locker rooms, frenemies, bullies, strangers, parents, school officials, and even the police,” Giuliani says. Her advice? “Engage in safe text–meaning, don’t send anything that could hurt you or someone else.”

By staying safe and dating wisely in this digital world, you can avoid the obstacles that could “disconnect” your love life, and make the right moves to help you “connect” in a happy relationship!

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Think About It

How does technology affect your relationships with friends and family? Which tips from this article would help you manage those relationships?

Text Your Way to a Date

Though breaking up by texting isn’t cool, asking someone out that way is OK. Drew Olanoff, director of community at textPlus, which allows free group texting, offers these suggestions:

* Don’t send a blast text to multiple people in hopes of scoring a date. No one wants to think he or she is one of 15 people you asked to the movies. Personalize it (using the person’s name) to show you’re hoping to date that person only.

* Skip the text shortcuts. Type out full words to make sure the person understands.

* Take a photo of yourself holding a sign that says: “Will you go out with me?” Then send it to your crush.

* If you haven’t heard back in 24 hours, pick up the phone and call.

* If you’re asked out through a text, respond within a few hours.

Key Points

* Modern communication technologies such as social networking sites and cell phones can be both a helper and a hindrance to romantic relationships.

* Teens should avoid meeting and dating people they know only from online interactions.

* Technology can help teens break the ice, learn more about a possible romantic partner, and stay in close touch.

* These technologies can also cause distance and messy situations, as well as expose a relationship’s problems to anyone either member of a couple has friended.

Think and Discuss How does technology affect your relationships with friends and family? Which tips from this article would help you manage those relationships?

Extension Activity

Teens are embracing the communication technologies in the article just at the age when they are learning critical social skills. To help students practice problem solving in relationships, separate the class into groups and have each write a skit about a romantic problem. Ask each group to address the ways technology can exacerbate that problem as well as solve it. Then, have the class act the scenarios out and discuss.

Resources

* The Safe Space: Technology and Abuse

www.thesafespace.org/the-basics/technology-abuse

* A Thin Line: Take Control

www.athinline.org/take-control

Love shouldn’t hurt: what you need to know about dying violence

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When Sarah Van Zanten, of Palo Alto, Calif., was 15, she met a guy at the back-to-school dance who made her heart do a two-step. “I had never met him before, but it [turned] out he lived right around the corner and was a football player for my school,” Van Zanten, now 19, says. They started dating, and everything was great. “The typical cute, perfect, adorable relationship is what everyone saw,” Van Zanten says.

However, that “typical” relationship came to a crashing end eight months later. “We went to a party, and he got completely drunk and out of control,” Van Zanten says. “At the party, he lifted his leg up and swung it at me for no reason, hitting me right in the ribs.” He kicked Van Zanten so hard that she hit her head on the wall and was knocked unconscious. When she came to, she had two bruised ribs, a concussion, and a broken heart.

Last year, dating violence among young people came out of the shadows when singer Chris Brown, now 20, assaulted his girlfriend, 21-year-old singer Rihanna. Somewhat lost in the media hype was the fact that one in three teens will experience physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse in a dating relationship. The altercation between Brown and Rihanna sparked rumors and heated opinions about what happened and why. It’s clear there’s a lot of misinformation out there about dating violence. Here, we aim to give you the real deal on relationship abuse.

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All couples fight.

TRUE. “A relationship is never going to just be all sunshine and happiness,” says Candice Hopkins, director of the teen dating-abuse organization Love Is Respect. “Arguments do happen, but in positive and healthy relationships neither party should ever use physical force to get what they want,” she says.

In healthy relationships, “fighting” means having a disagreement, giving each other time to cool off, and then working through the issue.

Abuse doesn’t have to be physical.

TRUE. “Generally, in abusive relationships, the abuse happens in a pattern,” says Colleen Gallopin, policy and technical assistance manager at Break the Cycle, another group that works on teen dating-abuse issues. Usually, it starts with emotional and verbal abuse. Then, over time, it can escalate and lead to physical abuse. People sometimes think verbal and emotional abuse aren’t significant, but they’re often warning signs of more severe abuse to come, Gallopin says.

And they hurt just as much as physical abuse. “Tearing down one’s self-esteem and [causing] feelings of isolation and worthlessness are often some of the most powerful tools some body can use when trying to control a dating partner,” Gallopin says. So whether the abuse is physical (hitting, shoving, throwing things), verbal (name-calling, bad-mouthing your family and friends), emotional (constant criticism, telling you how to act or dress, embarrassing you in front of others), or sexual (forcing you to do things you don’t want to do), it’s wrong.

You can tell whether someone will be abusive.

TRUE AND FALSE. Anyone can be an abuser–even the captain of the football team, the quiet student in the chess club, or the class president. “It’s not something you can tell by how someone looks, where they come from, where they grew up, how they grew up, or what they wear,” Gallopin says.

And you can’t assume that only guys are abusers. Girls can be abusive, and guys can be victims. If a girl calls her boyfriend nasty names because he went to baseball practice instead of hanging out with her, it’s verbal abuse. If you see a friend getting slapped and hit because his girlfriend is angry with him, it’s physical abuse. If your friend has a girlfriend who ruins all of his social time with others by calling him excessively or showing up unannounced to check up on him, that’s emotional abuse.

Whether you’re a guy or a girl–dating someone of the opposite sex or the same sex–there are some warning signs that a dating partner may become abusive. (See “Healthy or Unhealthy?”)

If you see red flags, definitely don’t ignore them. When Melinda Bryant, * now 21, of Washington, D.C., was a teen, she dated a guy despite his reputation for having a violent streak and being involved in fighting. Eventually, Bryant’s boyfriend punched her, sexually abused her, and threatened her life.

Only stupid people stay in abusive relationships.

FALSE. There are many reasons people stay in abusive relationships–and it doesn’t mean they’re stupid. Bryant stayed because she feared her boyfriend would follow through on his threats.

For Van Zanten, the party incident was the second instance of abuse. The first time, her boyfriend slammed her into a locker at school. “I’d never seen anything like an abusive boyfriend before. I didn’t know how to handle it,” Van Zanten says. “He apologized, bought me flowers, and said it was because he was drunk and it would never happen again,” she says. Van Zanten believed him. But he wasn’t telling the truth. Teens may stay with abusers because they’re just learning how relationships work. They believe the abuse won’t happen again, or they hope the partner will change.

Isolation is another reason teens stay. One of the tactics abusers use is either literally keeping a person away from his or her family and friends or emotionally isolating him or her. That makes the person feel as if he or she doesn’t have anyone to turn to, Gallopin says.

Then there are the emotions. “There’s often good and bad in the relationship, so it’s like, ‘Well, he’s mean to me then but sweet to me a good portion of the time,'” Hopkins says. Because the abused person may still have deep feelings for the abuser, that’s often enough to keep him or her involved.

The victim must have done something to set the other person off.

FALSE. After Brown’s assault on Rihanna, rumors spread about what she may have done to cause the abuse. Van Zanten faced the same backlash. “Some people said I hurt myself, that I had done the wrong thing [by telling],” she says. “My house got egged four weekends in a row, and his best friend threatened my life,” she says.

Regardless of what a partner has or hasn’t done, the abused person is never at fault for the abuse; only the abuser is responsible, Hopkins says. There are many reasons people are abusive. Problems expressing anger appropriately, low self-esteem, insecurity, and the thrill of causing fear are just a few. Also, “we know growing up in a home with violence increases the likelihood someone [will] either be abusive or abused in [his or her] adult relationships,” Hopkins says.

There’s nowhere to turn.

FALSE. Even if abusers try to make their victims believe otherwise, people suffering from abuse are never alone. After the party, Van Zanten turned to her parents, and her ex-boyfriend was sent to a rehabilitation program.

If victims are uncomfortable talking with their parents, they can turn to other relatives, friends, teachers, school counselors, and other trusted adults. If they feel there’s no one in “real” life they can turn to, there are many online sources and telephone hotlines available for help. See “Help Is Here” for a list.

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Love is supposed to hurt.

FALSE. Although love can hurt if it’s unrequited or you’re dumped, in healthy relationships, love itself isn’t painful. “People who love you don’t hurt you,” Bryant says. “They don’t hit you. They don’t call you names. They don’t do anything to you that will harm you. All they do is show you love. And love doesn’t hurt.”

* Name has been changed.

Healthy or Unhealthy?

Determining whether a relationship is healthy or unhealthy can sometimes be difficult. Candice Hopkins, director of Love Is Respect, a group fighting teen dating abuse, says this list can help you tell the difference.

HEALTHY

[check] There is mutual respect.

[check] Your partner Is supportive.

[check] You feel he or she is a positive part of your life.

[check] Your family and friends like the person,

[check] Both partners are free to have their own activities and friends.

[check] You feel happy when you’re together.

UN HEALTHY

[check] Your partner has called you names you don’t like.

[check] He or she is controlling.

[check] Your partner wants to know where you are all the time.

[check] He or she wants you to spend less time with friends or family.

[check] Your partner threatens to hurt you, or himself or herself, if something doesn’t go right.

[check] You feel unhappy, stressed, or fearful when with your partner.

HELP IS HERE

These organizations can help people who are caught up in dating violence.

Break the Cycle: www.breakthecycle.org

Experience Project: www.experienceproject.com

Love Is Not Abuse: www.loveisnotabuse.com

Love Is Respect: www.loveisrespect.org

The Safe Space: www.thesafespace.org

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE

! Think About It …

Some people criticized Rihanna for initially taking Chris Brown back after he assaulted her. Were they right? Why or why not?

Key Points

1. It’s healthy for romantic partners to argue, but not to engage in physical, verbal, or emotional abuse.

2. Anyone can be abusive in a relationship, but warning signs can help teens avoid those people.

3. Victims of dating abuse are never at fault; the abusers are always to blame.

4. Teens who experience dating abuse can get help from reidtires, people in their school, other trusted adults, and commnity support resources.

Critical Thinking

Some people criticized Rihanna for initially taking Chris Brown back after he assaulted her. Do you think going back to Brown was a bad idea? Why or why not?

Extension Activity

Have students research dating abuse facts and local resources. As a class, create a brochure that the school health office can give out.

Resource

* Do Something

www.dosomething.org/whatsyourthing/violence+and+bullying/dating+abuse

Gazing at the stars: celebrity worship is a big part of our culture-but is it a good thing?

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When singer Justin Bieber tweeted a photo of himself with reality TV star Kim Kardashian at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, it wasn’t long before she received death threats from those with “Bieber fever.” When Kanye West wore slatted sunglasses for his “Stronger” video, the shades–despite being completely impractical–flew off the shelves. And when Miley Cyrus does pretty much anything, she makes headlines.

Celebrities may have hair-and-makeup teams, big bank accounts, and designer clothes, but at the end of the day, they’re just people. So why do they fascinate the rest of us? And at what point does healthy interest cross the line to unhealthy obsession?

Why Do Celebrities Matter?

Following the lives of the rich and famous is something people of all ages enjoy, but for teens in particular, stargazing helps them explore who they really are. “Celebrity culture is a way people identify with the kind of person they want to be and the kind of person they don’t want to be,” says Emilie Zaslow, an assistant professor of communication studies at Pace University in New York City and the author of Feminism, Inc.: Coming of Age in Girl Power Media Culture. “Adolescence is a time when teens are learning about themselves, trying to craft out who they are. … Media has an impact on how a young person sees him-or herself.”

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People often feel as though they know many celebrities, each of whom has a different life story and set of values and opinions. Over time, following that celebrity culture helps teens figure out what’s important to them and what’s not through examples they see every day. Maybe that brash pro football player turns you off, or maybe you admire his confidence and sense of humor. Perhaps the way your favorite actress cheated on and dumped her boyfriend shocked you, so you vow to make sure your relationships are more respectful. “When you’re a teenager, you’re really open to a lot of different influences [while] trying to figure out how you fit in and where you fit in,” says Sasha Pasulka, an entertainment blogger for Evil Beet Gossip. “It’s easy to use celebrities as role models.”

Marketing is another reason you’re probably interested in celebs. Teens spend billions of dollars a year on products, and that isn’t lost on the fashion and media industries. Many teen powerhouses are catapulted to stardom solely to sell you things, according to psychologist Robert Epstein, author of Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence. For instance, in 2008, Disney sold $30 billion worth of licensed products–many backed by the smiling faces of young stars such as Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron. “Apart from school, what a teen thinks about is actually the creation of all kinds of executives and designers,” Epstein says.

What People Learn From Celebs

A small dose of celebrity worship is fine. In fact, one study from the University at Buffalo in New York found that thinking about a celeb can boost self-esteem; those with lower self-esteem felt better about themselves after writing essays about their favorite stars. Researchers think that is probably because people feel a bond with a celebrity that they might not have from a real relationship. It’s been shown that when people hang out with someone athletic, they feel more athletic; when they hang out with someone smart, they feel smarter. So thinking about a star you admire could make you feel you have the positive qualities you see in that person.

There are also lessons to learn from people in the spotlight. Athletes such as David Beckham and Serena Williams might inspire you to play sports, and the stars of Glee may prove being a chorus kid is cool. Some messages are more serious but still valuable. The 2009 news that Chris Brown had hit Rihanna showed dating violence can happen to anyone, even the young and beautiful. Lindsay Lohan’s progression from The Parent Trap cutie to jailbird is an example of the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

When Adoration Goes Too Far

Reading celebrity blogs, marveling at Lady Gaga’s latest outfit, and seeing whom Nick Jonas is dating can be fun. In one study, U.S. and British researchers looked at the range of interest in famous people. They found that most people are mildly interested in celebs–they may collect posters of their fave star or watch all his or her movies–but their real-life relationships are unaffected. Maddie S., 17, from Washington state, admires actress Kristin Chenoweth, has read her book, and watches her plays. But, Maddie says, “I’m not like, ‘I saw her wearing that, and I have to wear that.'”

There’s a point, though, at which the interest can become obsessive. A small subset of people suffer from “intense-personal” celebrity worship, say researchers–for example, people might insist they really know a celebrity and think they’re destined to be together. They may camp outside a singer’s tour bus or plan a wedding to a star basketball player.

Then there’s a third, even smaller, group labeled “borderline-pathological” celebrity worshipers. Those people would do something illegal for their favorite star and might even become stalkers. The teens obsessed with celebrity fashion who were recently caught breaking into the houses of Orlando Bloom and Paris Hilton to steal their clothes and jewelry might fit into that category.

Keep It Real

No matter where you fall on the spectrum, realize that the fantasy life celebs seem to live is just that-a fantasy. “Look beyond the surface, and think about it,” Pasulka says. “Be aware that what’s presented on television and in magazines has very little to do with reality. What can look really fun and exciting in a photo or in a 30-second clip is not always really fun in real life.” Behind a celeb’s super-glam image may be 16-hour workdays, nonstop traveling, and constant hounding from the paparazzi.

So go ahead and pick up that copy of Us Weekly if you want to. But know your limits. If you find yourself tweeting to Kim Kardashian that she needs to stay away from your man, you might need to take a break from stargazing and root yourself in reality (and no, “reality” TV doesn’t count).

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

After Zach Veach heard about a fatal accident caused by texting while driving, the 15-year-old race car driver from Ohio kept it in the back of his mind. He later learned about the No Phone Zone, Oprah Winfrey’s campaign urging people to put down their phones while driving. Zach knew he had to get involved.

He collected signatures from friends, fans, fellow drivers, and even CNN host Anderson Cooper. “Having celebrities involved is important. They set trends–what they do, we do,” Zach says.

Celebrity influence alone isn’t usually enough to make people do good deeds, but it can certainly inspire them. “Typically, young people don’t change their values based on what they see, but it can reinforce some ideas we already have and help to push us in the right direction,” says communications professor Emilie Zaslow.

That has certainly happened to Zach. In the racing world, he’s gotten Danica Patrick and Dancing With the Stars champ Helio Castroneves to sign on, along with more than 33 fellow Indy 500 drivers. “They’re the fastest drivers in the world, and if they’re setting examples, maybe it’ll get a little further,” Zach says.

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You Obsessed?

Researchers in the United States and England have identified a condition the media has dubbed “celebrity worship syndrome,” which they believe affects about a third of the population. See where you fall on the scale.

LEVEL 1: ENTERTAINMENT-SOCIAL

* My friends and I like to discuss what my favorite celebrity has done.

* I enjoy watching him or her.

* Learning the life story of him or her is a lot of fun.

LEVEL 2: INTENSE-PERSONAL

* I consider my favorite celebrity to be my soul mate.

* I have a special bond with him or her.

* I can’t stop thinking about him or her, even when I try to concentrate on other things.

LEVEL 3: BORDERLINE-PATHOLOGICAL

* If someone gave me several thousand dollars, I would consider spending it on something my favorite celebrity had once used.

* If he or she asked me to do something illegal as a favor, I would probably do it.

* I would be very upset if he or she got married.

Think About It

How might the Internet and other aspects of technology have influenced celebrity worship? Do you think those changes are positive or negative?

Key Points

* Following celebrities helps teens form their own identities and figure out whom they want to be.

* The celebrity-driven entertainment industry counts on teens to be among its main consumers.

* A little bit of celebrity worship can raise a person’s self-esteem and serve as an inspiration or a caution.

* For a small group of people, obsession with celebrities can become a pathological condition.

Think and Discuss

How might the Internet and other aspects of technology have influenced celebrity worship? Do you think the changes are positive or negative?

Extension Activity

Have each student write about a famous person he or she admires. Essay should cover why they like these celebrities, how interacting with the celebrity’s work or hearing about him or her makes them feel, and ways in which the connection influences them. Ask them to locate where they feel they may be on the “celebrity worship scale” in the sidebar (includie “Not on the Scale” as an option), and why.

Resources

* MTV Sticky www.mtvsticky.com

* Blogilow–Contemplating Fans, Fandom, and Fame www.blogilow.com

* The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America, by Dr. Drew Pinsky (Harper, 2009)

* TeensHealth: How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem?

www.teenshealth.org/teen/ your mind/mental_health/ self_esteem.html

Low life

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I came up and out of the underground station into the busy Brixton Road. It was 9 o’clock on a humid, overcast summer evening. As well as being a bustling place of departure and arrival, the precinct in front of the station seemed also to be a preferred place for the locals to meet and sit and socialise.

I was looking for an Eritrean restaurant called Adulis. Here I was to meet a woman I’d met two days ago on a dating website. This new dating website is proving amazingly fruitful, which surprises me not least because it was the first time I’ve been truthful on one. So far we’d exchanged messages, this woman and I, mainly learned ones about books we liked and different kinds of fountain pen ink. Then I’d told her I was coming to London, and she’d said to come and see her while I was up. We could talk some more about fountain pen ink, she said, or we could have great sex. Whatever I liked.

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I hadn’t fully intended going to see her. I’d been to The Spectator Summer At Home party the night before (I was glad I went; it was the best for years) and I’d spent the entire next afternoon and early evening standing outside a pub in Old Queen Street called the Two Chairmen. I hadn’t eaten a thing all day and I hadn’t been to bed. And now I was drunk again. I knew I was drunk because a friend had come over in a cab after work for a drink, and I could barely speak, so he hadn’t stayed long. I knew I was drunk because I was getting disparaging or curious or amused looks from all sorts of people. I knew I was drunk because I imagined I was beyond the pale of civil society and was moreover glad about that. Also, I felt calmly judicious, as though there existed between me and the world the kind of mediating two-second time delay which I believe they use for live radio phone-in shows.

It was at this point that another message from her arrived. ‘Hallo you,’ it said. ‘Come and see me. Adulis. Eritrean restaurant. 44 Brixton Road. 7-9.30.’ Adulis, I knew, was the seaport of the ancient kingdom of Axum and a slave emporium. But where this modern eponymous equivalent was located on the Brixton Road I had no idea. I looked around the busy station forecourt for someone to ask for directions, and chose an elderly (about my age, in truth) black man standing alone beside the road safety barrier.

‘Excuse me,’ I said. ‘Have you got any idea where Adulis the Eritrean restaurant is?’

I said it fully expecting to see my inebriated state reflected back at me via this man’s uneasiness or contempt. He turned slowly to take me in, as if he was operating on the same two-second time delay that I was. But instead of contempt or unease, I found myself confronted by a face of deep kindness, of infinite patience, of hard-won wisdom. It was the face of a man who might have had them once upon a time but was now entirely without rancour or preconceptions. It was the face of one who has seen far too much of human variety and good and evil even to begin to judge a stupidly sloshed white man in a business suit.

‘Adulis,’ he said, narrowing his eyebrows and racking his brains. My problem was now his problem, it seemed. His acceptance of me plus my need was total. And his determination to help in any way he could had about it the quality of a humble father’s love for an overbearing son. There was, too, even that studied neutrality that fathers use to make their love more palatable to callous youth. What fine and refreshing people the people of Brixton are, I thought, if this man is anything to go by.

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‘Adulis,’ he said, looking very anxiously and carefully up the Brixton Road, first one way then the other. ‘Adulis, Adulis, Adulis, Adulis,’ he intoned, as if it was a name he dimly recognised, and which he felt he certainly ought to have remembered, if only to be of assistance on occasions such as this. But, alas, it wouldn’t come. Then, sensibly, for he realised he had to do the thinking for both of us, even in this small matter, he said, ‘Do you have a street number?’ I did, I said. I fumbled and fished for my phone and finally found it, got the message up on the phone screen and handed it to him.

And while he closely read it, I watched his politely puzzled brow, and his murmuring lips, and I thought that here, unexpectedly, outside Brixton station, was the kindest and best and most civilised person whom I’d encountered for a very long time. And I was happy for myself that ten pints of lager or so had made me calm enough to recognise it.