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Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Heresy Of Young Love

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Love was always one of the most popular topics of discussion to arise in my classroom. Believe it or not, my sophomores, juniors, and seniors were desperately uncomfortable whenever sex crept into any conversation, moreso when I brought it up. (And I often did, especially when teachingThe Catcher in the Rye.) No, Love was the discussion winner by far, and everyone usually had something to say about it.

I got very popular very quickly when I aired my view that, yes, Teenagers Can Be In Love. I respectfully disagreed with Other Adults, often some parents, who dismissed this notion. "How can a teenager know what Love is?" was the inevitable question, followed by protests like, "They have no idea. They're too young! They aren't mature enough! They're full of hormones and ridiculous images from the media. No one at that age has the slightest idea what it even means to be in Love. Most of them are still lining up for Disney films. They can't even look past themselves, let alone truly care about another person."

My students would tell me all this, naturally, and they'd carefully and earnestly watch my face as they did so. (You know, I don't think I ever really got used to that--all those eyes on me at once used to regularly freak me out when they were expectant like that.) They wanted to see if I was going to stick with my Dangerous Opinion under the barrage of Grown-Up Fire. I would listen as they wore themselves out and had their catharsis; I really did understand what they were up against because I heard it from parents during conferences and phone calls all the time.

Once they let their last dogs loose, I explained myself, and the smart ones added it to their arsenal, saving it to use later, and then only in the calmest and wisest way.

Teenagers Can Be In Love. I believe it sincerely. Children, if they are raised well and correctly, are raised in a loving, caring, supportive environment. They are surrounded with demonstrations of love from their parents, siblings if there are any, and extended family. Love is modeled for them, and they know what it feels like to be nurtured, valued, supported, and cared for. They know what it feels like to want to do that for someone else. They have given and received affection and known the rewards of that reciprocity. They experience Love every single day.

I think it's incredibly arrogant and dismissive to say, then, by virtue of their age alone, that teenagers cannot be In Love. It's more of a disparagement of the parent/adult saying it than it is of the teenager. We expect our kids to learn from us; we are supposed to be role models and serve as their best mentors of how to get on in later life. Aren't we teaching them every single moment how to Love?

Being In Love is quite different than Being Ready To Do Something About It. That is a huge qualifier. But to tell Teenagers that They Are Not In Love because they are only something-teen years old is ridiculous. That's like telling a baby he's not hungry because it's not two o'clock yet. Or saying that it can't snow in NEO anymore once Spring starts on March 20th.

If you were not In Love as a Teenager, maybe you were So Hoping To Be In Love. But you certainly knew what it meant to be In Love. Growing up didn't really change that, did it?

20 comments:

  1. I remember being a plain, awkward teenager, too tall, with thick glasses and the wrong clothes, desperate to find love. I grew out of most of the physical disabilities, but still felt the psychological scars well into my adulthood. Then, in my late thirties, having come to terms with all the statistical improbabilities, there he was.

    Young love? Eminently possible, for all the beautiful, compassionate and true reasons you gave your students. Yet I can attest that there's a heady euphoria in finding yourself somewhere you'd given up hoping you'd ever be. What's the line from "Music Man"? "Head in the clouds, feet on the ground".

    And here we are sixty-six and seventy, taking care of each other (burden on him right now, but my leg is rapidly mending), and still making it work with understanding, laughter, and yes--young love.

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    1. fauxprof--And yet, throughout your painful experience, you always knew what you were searching for. You knew what Love was. When it appeared before you, you recognized it immediately. In reality, your age had nothing to do with it.

      There is always that "heady euphoria in finding yourself somewhere you'd given up hoping you'd ever be." Teenaged, twenties, or thirties.

      Your story, though it started out troubled, continues now with such Joy! I remember when I discovered that I had reached the point in years when I had known Rick for longer than I had NOT known him. (We met when we were 18, so you can do the math.) It was a little bit jarring at first, but then I felt this sense of warm security and love. There was something so comforting about that. Not really sure why, but it was...reassuring.

      You and realprof are taking good care of one another, and that's part of the deal. I'm happy to hear that you continue to do well with getting your leg back to 100%. They call that TLC.

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  2. Oh yes, I was in love as a teenager. Deeply. But the relationship fell apart under the strain of planning to go to the Senior Prom… which sadly I did not attend. Yet somehow I picked myself up and soldered onto college where true love found me. Great post.

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    1. Ally Bean--Thank you. And you bring up another point as well. Some people might laugh and ridicule the "strain of planning to go to Senior Prom" and say, "Wait till you have real stress, like paying bills and feeding a family and working forty hours a week". Believe me, teenagers hear that weary old diatribe all the time, too. But the stresses they face from, yes, Senior Prom, and finals, and homecoming and AP tests and heaven help us, this Age Of Social Media ARE their Real Stress.

      It's not easy out there, believe me. The social hierarchies are complex and sometimes ugly. Teens get a lot of pressure on the homefront, from peers, and from academics as well. I remember the teetering mass of insecurities I could be pretty often, and I didn't have the lightning fast Peer Jury of the Internet. Bless their hearts; it's remarkable that some of them are as wonderful as they are.

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  3. What heartless people some parents can be. I was in love as a teen, twice. Once I was loved back completely, and once somewhat. Of course I wasn't ready to settle down and get married, but oh my goodness, to deny the feelings were real is stupid.

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    1. J@jj--Some of them are heartless. Still others are downright clueless as to parenting a teenager, and others are reacting solely out of fear, blind and simple. Good parenting is a large amount of fearfulness, I think. You have to be willing to remember your own Growing-Up, and you have to be willing, if it is constructive, to share it with your kids. I don't think I ever had Jared or Sam react with anything but relief or empathy or gratitude when I would confide to them that, Way Back A Hundred Years Ago, I felt just like they did, and it was when so and so happened. It's so comforting to kids that they aren't the only ones to ever feel a certain way.

      As you pointed out, to invalidate someone's feelings is cruel and stupid. As we know, adolescents especially can be often surprised by their emotions: the depth, suddenness, and volatility of them. Saying that they aren't real makes it even more confusing.

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  4. I was more like fauxprof - didn't have my first date even until I was in college. But even though & had lots of lusty thoughts then, I never really thought I'd fall in love & get married. Isn't that interesting? I even majored in accounting because I figured I'd have to support myself. And even though I've never actually used the accounting part of my degree, having it came in handy for supporting both of us while Mike was in graduate school :)

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    1. Bug--So you were into your twenties, then, for your first Real Date? And didn't feel In Love with anyone during your teens, either? That *is* interesting. You certainly landed in a very loving relationship with The Professor, that's for sure. You two are obviously, definitely In Love.

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    2. I was 19 - it was during my freshman year at college (this was the aforementioned French kiss with Gold). And nope, no love. I didn't actually like people very much back then. I just wanted to have sex, but that didn't happen until later either :)

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  5. Agree, even married at 18 and it lasted 23 years. Definitely my first live and now, 13 years after the divorce, would still be there for him if need be. Thanks for the Julius Caesar reference!

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    1. Rose--You're welcome RE: JC.

      I had an aunt and uncle who had a long marriage also, but they divorced as well. Catholicism kept them together as long as they were, plus her undying love for him. He was an absolute cad and playboy, but she could not help herself. Anyway, she constantly told her second husband--in the presence of everyone, even his family--"You know, if M. ever needed me, I would drop everything and you and go right to him. I would have to. I'll always love him, and he's the father of my child." Uncle J. bore that with incredible grace, stoicism, and good humor for their entire marriage, which endured longer than her first. He was a saint.

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  6. Your references to young marriaes reminds me of my Grandma. She fell in love with my Grandfather at the age of 18, while still in High School. Maybe she was 17. He was older, 27 I think. Divorced. Her famiy would not have let her marry a divorced man, so they eloped one weekend, before graduation, and she went back to school the next day. Didn't tell anyone until after she graduated, and it was too late for her parents to do anything about it. They were very happily married until he died about 8 years later, after stepping on a nail. He got an expired vaccination for tetanus. Blech. Anyway, he was the love of her life, and he was my mom and uncle's father. After he died, she remarried my Grandpa. She loved him too, but not the same way as she did her first husband. To deny that love, would be a big lie,right? Just because she was 18? When she dies, she wants to be buried with my Grandfather, not my Grandpa. Confusing?

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    1. J @ jellyjules: Not confusing at all. I truly believe that people can "be in love" in "different ways" with "different people." Difficult for family to fathom, but... obviously not to her. Or anyone else it has happened to. There is one sentence that says it all: "She loved him, too, but not the same way as her first husband." It might have been the reverse, and no one would have thought twice about it because everyone expects that the greatest homage is paid to the "last person you loved," and perhaps that is why is appears strange to others that your Grandma would have made that choice. Personally, I don't even think it is entirely based on the fact that she was 18 and that it was her first love. But only your Grandma knows the answer to that. I applaud her for having the courage to do so in the face of many who would not understand her decision.

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  7. Agree wholeheartedly that love can sure happen to teens. Why ever not? I fell in love with my high school math teacher. He was 25 and I was 17. My parents married when my dad was 25 and my mom was 17. Sure looked possible to me. But... he was engaged, and... I was his student. Not going to happen, and he probably would never have had even remotely similar feelings for me, even if he had not been engaged and even if I had not been his student. But that did not stop me from having those feelings and believing that this was very real for me, and, under different circumstances, could have turned into a relationship. I think the reason that parents sometimes want to belittle teenage declarations of love is because lack of experience in the grand scenario of life makes them think that teens are inept judges of human nature and/or can’t cope with what will happen as they continue to mature. This doesn’t mean you won’t fall in love with someone who is all wrong for you, or that you won’t “see” certain things about them when you are a teenager that you would spot in a minute when you are older. But so what? How many adults have their blinders on when they get into a relationship because they just don’t want to see things that they perhaps should take into consideration? That’s not unique to teenagers, and if people with a whole lot more experience under their belt get into relationships that are unhealthy, how can anyone blame a teenager for doing the same thing? None of that takes away from the feelings of love that a person feels.

    I have been in love with half a dozen men in my life. The first three relationships (after Mr. Algebra) were very serious but just did not work out. The fourth one was beautiful and lasted for 12 years until he died. The last one is Mr. O. From 17 to 48, regardless of which one, I considered myself to be in love with each and every one of them, with no distinction based on how old I was when I had those feelings.

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  8. Ortizzle--My sympathies for your loss. I have no frame of reference for that whatsoever personally; it must be the definition of heartbreak.

    I agree with you regarding the parental/adult response to Young Love. The problem is that the adults immediately extrapolate. It's hard, especially as parents, not to do. We immediately look down the road, into the future, assess collateral damage for EVERYTHING. We cannot help it. The minute a baby comes into our lives, we are assaulted with it: DON'T HOLD THEM TOO MUCH, OR THEY'LL NEVER LEARN TO SLEEP IN THEIR OWN BEDS. DON'T PICK THEM UP WHEN THEY CRY OR THEY'LL NEVER BE ABLE TO COMFORT THEMSELVES. DON'T FEED THEM CEREAL TOO EARLY OR THEY'LL GET CRADLE CAP.

    Every immediate action has a far-reaching and deleterious and horrific future repercussion. We are trained to be afraid. It's terrifying.

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  9. Well, of course, I have no frame of reference for guiding teenage children, but I can well imagine that it is terrifying. Not wishing to stifle their efforts to express themselves, but being terrified of them getting hurt. It has to be an incredibly rocky path to follow, and I have such admiration for people like you who have raised such healthy, balanced members of the next generation.

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  10. I believe in love of all kinds at all ages. Personally, I didn't experience real love until I fell for Mr. GFE though. We met while we both worked in a restaurant. I was still in college and he had just graduated from college during a period of few jobs. He didn't immediately impress me. I thought he was a goofy high school student at first. He looked so young and always said, "Yes, ma'am." (Well, you've met him, Nance, so you know how he is.) He persuaded me into going out with him by bringing me a red carnation, pistachios, and Nesquick at work. True story and that's just the first bit of it, of course. I had been infatuated before, usually with someone who was unattainable or not ideal for me so I'm rather glad those infatuations didn't go further.

    My parents fell in love and married very young. My mom was so young. When I was the age she was when she married, I couldn't even conceive of being ready for love and marriage, much less a baby a year later. I am pretty sure that being one of 10 children in a very poor family probably helped make her decision a wee bit easier. However, she really did love my father and they had almost 60 years together before he died recently. Their love and life together is still kind of amazing to me. So, yes, I do believe that young love is very real.

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    1. Shirley--My, yes, I can see the allure of the courtly manners of Mr. GFE, most certainly! He is completely sweet and the consummate Gentleman.

      You make such an important point, too, that over the years, the age of people when they get married seems so relevant. You couldn't conceive of being ready for marriage at the age your mother became a wife. I can't imagine Jared or Sam being a husband at 22, the age Rick and I were when we were wed. But it's not a question of Love, just Readiness for the Commitment And Effort Of Marriage.

      Your mom's story--marrying for escape, too--is fairly common for the time, as I know you know. Far from being a Bad Thing, it probably strengthened and enriched her love for your dad. She had a wonderful Love Story.

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  11. No. You are right on. But what I love about teens is their passion for the underdog and so many Worthy Causes.

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    1. Mary G--For many teenagers, yes, they do love the Lost Or Losing Cause. But I will say that, among a surprising number of my honors students, I did find an astonishing lack of understanding for the struggle of the underdog. Some of them had been successful for so long in almost everything that they simply saw people who weren't as Whiners.

      It was a tough mindset to crack. We worked hard at it.

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