People may think it's only puppy love, but for many teens falling in love is the real deal.
Just ask Whitney Wells and Aubrey Street. Together for about 10 months, the 17-year-olds say they are in love.
"A lot of people think we try to make destiny ours because we say we're destined to be together. But I've never felt like this before, and I really am in love with him," said Whitney.
The Cross Creek High School senior wears diamond stud earrings Aubrey gave her for Christmas. A junior at Cross Creek, Aubrey has a silver necklace with two miniature rings that hold their birthstones.
"People say I'm `whipped,' but I don't think they understand what it's like to be in a serious relationship," he said.
The couple are blissful now, but they've overcome obstacles. Right after they started dating, Aubrey cheated with another girl.
"I know I hurt her. I definitely know not to even think about it again," he said.
Whitney got a lot of grief from friends for taking Aubrey back, and some are still disappointed. Both of their parents are supportive, although they stress that academics come before the relationship.
Most teens consider dating for five to six months a long relationship. Many aren't serious commitments but "just something to do," said Jon Reames, 17, a senior at Augusta Christian Schools and a member of the Xtreme teen board.
Jon is in a relationship with the girl he hopes to marry, even though she lives in Winter Garden, Fla.
"It's 483 miles doorstep to doorstep," he said. "It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. You can't always be there for each other, and the trust factor can be tough."
They try to get together once a month but have gone as long as three months, keeping in touch by phone and e-mail.
When asked if they believe being in love is as meaningful during adolescence as it is among adults, teens answered a resounding yes.
Adrienne Kinard, 15, feels so strong about her love that she has accepted a ring and signed a vow of commitment.
The Barnwell High School freshman has been dating Charles "Charlie" Gleaton, 16, for about four months. Charlie's a sophomore at Barnwell.
Adrienne said the relationship progressed quickly after Charlie had family problems, which brought the two closer together.
Although some people -- including her mom -- think she's too young to be so serious, Adrienne said it "feels right."
"I feel committed and obligated to this one person," she said.
"When it's true love, you feel the connection whenever you see them or talk to them. I feel he's the right one."
They've even set a wedding date: July 4, 2003.
Whether they'll make it is anybody's guess.
After high school, people leave for college or take other paths, and many teen romances end.
Teens said the commitment depends on the person. It takes a lot of trust and sacrifice -- things that some teens would rather not deal with just yet.
"I don't think people should be in such relationships in high school because most likely you're going off to college, and it's a completely different outlook with new people," said Natalie Spires, 17, a junior at Lakeside High School and a member of the Xtreme teen board.
"I think that people who get that serious in high school are in too much of a hurry to grow up," she said.
Natalie said it would be difficult to sacrifice her plans for a boyfriend and the thought of marriage is a long way off.
"It seems like when you get married it can end your fun. I have most of my fun when I'm out with my friends, not with some guy," she said.
But for others taking a chance on a serious commitment is worth it.
"When times get rough and it gets really hard," said Jon, "you always have to remember that if it's meant to be it'll work out and if not, it won't. You've got to accept either one."
Reach Margaret Weston at (706) 823-3340.
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