Of course, you will fall in love. Falling in love is a part of dating. In fact, most young people fall in and out of love several times during their teen years. It’s normal to grow fond of members of the other sex with whom you associate and share interests and have good times.
Learning to love and to be loved is an important part of growing up. But it can be confusing. When love feelings come so rapidly, so often, and with so many expressions, how is a girl or a boy to know how to behave? How do you handle these strong feelings? What happens when your heart is broken and love is lost? How do you recover from love’s hurts? And, most important of all, how can you know when you are really in love—enough to make plans for the future?
NOT ONCE BUT MANY TIMES
Each of us loves many, many persons in many different ways during a lifetime. We start by loving our mothers and the other members of our families while we are still infants. We move on to love our playmates. And then we love anyone who is nice to us. As we get into the second decade of life, loves come and go in kaleidoscopic profusion as we find ourselves drawn to many other persons of our own and the opposite sex.
The evidence is that the average teen-age girl falls in love with about a half-dozen boys before she finds the man with whom she wants to spend the rest of her life. This is not to suggest that girls are emotional athletes, nor that either sex is to be considered fickle. It simply means that falling in and out of love is part of growing up.
NOT ONE BUT MANY KINDS
Love is “a many-splendored thing” indeed. In fact there are so many different kinds of love that any listing of them is inadequate and incomplete. Love means so many different things to so many people that no one person can know all of its forms. Yet there are enough universal love feelings that are generally experienced to impress one with the variety of forms love has.
The love we feel for our parents is our first love. Throughout our early years we run to Mother for comfort, for loving, for attention; and we look to Father for strength and support and a sense of what it means to be manly. As we grow up, we put away these early childish ways and become more independent. Yet we continue to love our mothers and fathers for the very special persons they are in our lives.
Those of us who grew up with brothers and sisters learned to love them for themselves. We may have “fought like cats and dogs,” but we developed a family loyalty and a special sense of togetherness that carries over into new relationships as well. This special sense is a feeling of relatedness to all men everywhere, which develops as our associations with others grow. We express the meaning of brotherhood by trusting others even before we know them. We become men of good will as we re-enact the drama of brotherly love in many new relationships that stretch far beyond the family.
The Green-eyed Monster
We may not be proud of our jealousies, but most of us have them. When we feel insecure, unloved, unsure of ourselves, we tend to become jealous of what we want to hold for ourselves. Like the little fellow who hangs on to his toy fire engine and won’t let anyone else look at it, we cling possessively to our friends and loved ones. We’re afraid to share, afraid of losing what we love, insecure about our ability to hold our rights, and as a result we’re jealous and possessive.
Claire may gloat in her boy friend’s jealousy and feel that it’s a sign of Tom’s ardent love. Actually, jealous love is a painful love that has very little future in it. As Claire and Tom become more mature, they will learn to trust each other, and to have faith in themselves. Until then, their insecurities make them cling to each other jealously.
No love is so painful as the aching love of frustration. To love and not be loved in return is a blow to one’s ego, a stab to one’s pride. Even more agonizing is the knowledge that you have lost someone forever, while love for him still burns within you. How often have you seen a girl “carrying a torch” for her lost lover, refusing to be comforted or distracted from her hurt. She rails against the one who took her lover away. She sets out to hurt him in return for all the pain he has brought her. But nothing works, until she faces the fact that her love is gone and she turns to getting over her heartbreak. Similarly, until a boy can fully realize that his girl is finished with him despite the fact that he still loves her, he will know the anguish of unrequited love.
With adolescence comes the stirring of physical maturation that is deeply moving to members of both sexes. Hands brush in passing, and the blood pounds in one’s ears. A desire to be close, to touch, to possess, to have and to hold one’s lover, wells up recurrently with crescendos of feeling that are bafflingly urgent. A girl may be perplexed by her sexy thoughts and dreams. A fellow may be amazed that brief encounters with the opposite sex can cause such strong, intense, and urgent sex feelings. To the inexperienced young person, these surging sex-toned emotions which are so new, so powerful, and so insistent may be confused with “the real thing.” Sexual attraction is one facet of love, but only one. There are other kinds of love that are just as much a part of relationship between the sexes.
Before long, the dating boy and girl may find that they are becoming fond of one another in a warm, gentle way. He is protective and considerate of her. She is thoughtful and kind to him. They discover a tender sympathy growing up between them that is sweet and meaningful. This, too, is a part of love—a very important part, both in dating and in life together through the years.
THE COURSE OF LOVE
It is generally recognized that the course of love rarely runs smoothly. But it took two university professors to plot the course that love takes in the lives of actual young people. Professors Kirkpatrick and Caplow found that the most usual course of love is one starting with mutual indifference and moving upward through attraction to love, and then either dropping again to indifference, with the broken love affair, or remaining in love at a high level of mutual involvement.
One out of every five love affairs studied is irregular in its course, with unpredictable shifts from love to hate to indifference to liking in various combinations throughout the history of the relationship. Somewhat fewer young men and women experience an even more vacillating kind of love that is off-again-on-again, with ups and downs like a roller coaster’s.
Experience teaches that while being in love is fine while it lasts, there are many love affairs that fail to grow into anything important. So the question arises: How can one recognize infatuation for the short-lived thing it often is?
IT MAY NOT LAST
There is a tendency to believe that one is in love as long as it lasts, and that any love that did not last must have been infatuation. The formula is a simple one: if it was, it was infatuation; if it is, it is love.
A girl says something like this: “I thought I was in love last summer, but by Christmas time we were not even good friends. I guess it couldn’t have been real love after all. It must have been just an infatuation.”
A young man looks back over his most recent love affair and likens it to emotional fireworks—bright and colorful while it lasted, but completely dead when it was over, with nothing left to remind him of the glory he once knew. So he concludes that what he had felt was not love at all, but simply infatuation.
While this makes sense in retrospect, it’s not very helpful to the girl or boy trying to determine whether the present feeling is infatuation or love. So let’s take a look at some of the general characteristics of infatuation.
What Is Infatuation?
One of the main components of the “love at first sight” kind of infatuation is sexual attraction. A fellow is thrilled with the way a girl walks; she is deeply stirred by the way he looks at her, and before they know what hit them, they are “head over heels in love.” Sometimes this kind of attraction deepens into lasting affection. But more often, as the two become acquainted with each other as persons, they find they have little in common to hold their interest and attention.
This is why infatuation tends to center upon an unsuitable person, or even on more than one person at a time. If the “dream boat” is but one of several at the time, the chances are that none of them in the whole flotilla is more than just the expression of “being in love with love.”
When the adored one is completely unsuitable, the probabilities are that the young infatuated person is either suffering the “call of the wild” kind of biological thrill or is rebelling from what friends and family consider appropriate as friends and dates. Studies find that infatuations are often marked by parental disapproval, and that they tend to focus upon undesirable love objects.
For the Very Young
Dr. Ellis’ study of love relationships among young people concludes that infatuation tends to be more frequent among young adolescents and children under the teen years than among young people in the late teens and early twenties.
By the time a teen-ager has had some experience with dates and with his own developing feelings, he is not so easily swept overboard into unpromising infatuations. He learns to recognize his various feelings for what they are, and to withhold judgment about any of them until time and a closer acquaintance guide him.
In Brief …
One of the characteristics of infatuations is that they last a very short time, only a few weeks in most of the cases studied. The two people may have eyes only for each other for a while, but as they really get to know one another the thrill wears off, and they drift apart or break up in a stormy scene of mutual recriminations.
Because infatuations are so common among young teenagers, most boys and girls have known the sting of a broken heart at some time in their lives. Parents may smile and say it was just “puppy love,” but the sad part is that it hurts just the same.
RECOVERING FROM AN INFATUATION
Getting over a broken heart is a hard and lonely business. While it lasted, the infatuation was exciting and preoccupying.
Every waking minute was devoted to thinking about the other person, going over what had happened, and planning what would happen when next you met. And now suddenly, you’re alone. You see little of each other, and when you do it doesn’t mean anything. You wonder if you will ever care again about anyone else. You doubt that you can get over this painful experience. But time does wonderful things to heal the hurts of the heart, and especially for those who are willing to work toward their own recovery.
Out of Your System
The first and most important step in getting over a lost love is to face the fact that it is all over. It’s so easy to brood, to wish that things were as they used to be. It’s morbid to pretend that all is well when deep down inside you know that the whole affair is washed up. The sensible thing to do is to get rid of all reminders of the lost lover and get back to your normal life again.
There are several practical things you can do immediately. First of all, you can return his (or her) gifts and letters and destroy the sentimental reminders of your good times together. Remove the lost love’s picture from your room, and either burn it or put it where you’ll rarely see it. Put away the scrapbook, the diary, and the mementos that you have been saving—they only serve to remind you of the past.
Talking out your hurt with an understanding friend or counselor may be a real help in getting over a broken heart. As you put your feelings into words, you’ll feel the hurt draining out of you and the will to get better flowing in. The other person need not advise you; he just has to listen. What you need most is a chance to clarify your own feelings and to find within yourself the resources you can draw on to get started socially again.
After you have been hurt in a broken love affair you may want to retreat and nurse your wounds for a while. And perhaps taking a breather may do you good, if you don’t prolong it. It may be fun to see something of the family once more and to go on family jaunts again. There is satisfaction in getting your room in order, and perhaps digging into your work more earnestly.
A New Interest
There is nothing quite as satisfactory as finding a completely new interest when you’re trying to get over some hurt in your life. Perhaps you have always been interested in photography and now you have time to do something about it. You might join a camera club, visit photographic exhibits at the local library, or go on a picture-taking expedition with a group of local camera bugs. Your interests will take you into any number of avenues if you let them, and you will find life opening up for you again.
As you get absorbed in new interests, the past will drop away into proper perspective and the old wounds heal. One of the things that helps is that new friends and acquaintances come to take the place of the ones you have lost.
As long as you hang around with just the old crowd, their sympathy may retard your recovery. They know too much about how hurt you were. They may possibly refer too often to the old days, and to the old lover. But as you get into a new circle of friends who didn’t know you during your infatuation, you can start fresh and build anew.
New friends can be found where your new interests take you. They are probably the ones that are interested in the same things you are. When they recognize that you are available for friendship, they will welcome you.
There are some happily married couples who proudly report that they never loved anyone but each other. They were childhood sweethearts, dated only each other in high school, went through college together, and then married each other without ever having had eyes for anyone else. This does happen, but it’s not usual. The far more frequent pattern is for a teen-ager to fall in and out of love a number of times before he or she finally settles on the one who becomes the married partner.
The young person who can face the fact that “love” can pass, and who has the courage to recognize that this is part of life as a teen-ager, has won half the battle. It’s the “why did this have to happen to me?” attitude that delays emotional recovery from one of the normal situations of the dating years.
Love is so highly valued in our country that many young people start looking for it very early. They want to believe that each love is IT. Actually, only relatively mature young adults are ready for the kind of love that leads to marriage.
LOVE AND MARRIAGE
The grown-up love that leads to the altar can be distinguished from immature infatuations by a number of characteristics. First of all, real love usually comes during the late teens or even later in the life of the individual. Infatuations tend to be an experience of the early teens, lasting love to be characteristic of the more mature young adult.
Share and Share Alike
Love substantial enough to last wants to give and share with the beloved. A person who is really in love enjoys giving gifts to the lover. He or she wants to do things that will bring the loved one pleasure. There is a desire to share not only what one has, but what one is. There is delight in sharing memories, successes and failures, triumphs and disappointments, with the lover who understands. There is joy in sharing dreams of the future together which marks the couple truly in love.
The couple who learns to get through to each other with a full sense of sharing will find their love growing through time, because it is built on a sound foundation of mutual communication.
“A Many-splendored Thing”
An infatuation may be a grand passion that is all-absorbing, dramatic, and insistent. True love may have elements of this kind of intensity, but it knows other moods too. The kind of love that lasts satisfies many emotional needs in both the partners. It can be tender and sweet and protective. It can be casual and comradely. It can be inspiring and uplifting. It can be relaxed, with a comfortable sense of at-home-ness with each other. To last, love must indeed be a many-splendored thing.
Not Really Blind
Love is blind, so the old adage goes. It is true that those who are deeply in love, as well as those who are madly infatuated, tend to idealize each other. They see only perfection in one another. They are blind to the human frailties, the foibles and follies, that are common to all men and women. But the love that lasts through the years has enough realism to protect the partners from being too grossly disillusioned about each other. They see one another and themselves clearly enough so that further acquaintance is a pleasant adventure rather than a painful discovery.
This may be the reason why lasting love is usually based upon full acquaintance. The two people grow more and more fond of each other as time goes on. They grow into love rather than just fall into it. They find each other lovable through actual experience and not just in fantasies. They have a love that is based upon reality, and it lasts precisely because it is real.
A Change for the Better
A young lover may protest that his love will never change. But if it is to last it will have to change and grow with time. As two persons develop and share new roles and tasks in life, their relationship with each other must shift to fit new situations. This doesn’t mean that married people are any less in love than they were during their courtship days. There are few couples who could stand the strain of consuming passion day after day. But there are many who live out a full lifetime of quiet, loving devotion to each other in their common life together.
Two people at the altar quite probably love each other differently than they did when they first met, or than they will after the honeymoon is over, or the first baby has come, or the first family crisis is past, or when they share their later years together. If their love lasts, it must be as flexible as they are, to stretch up and out as they do to encompass more and more of life.
Dating is a proving ground for love. Loves arrive and are given a whirl on the dating merry-go-round that is common during the teen and young adult years. Most of these loves will last only a short while. Each new special friend, each new relationship, each new feeling, helps the person gain experience in the wonders of human interaction and insight into himself. As loves come and go, the emotional repertoire of the individual is developed to the point where he or she is increasingly capable of loving widely and deeply in the many ways that are important for fulfillment.
Loving and being loved is terribly important for the welfare of any person. It is necessary for a sense of well-being. Without it a person is lonely, cold, cut off from others. With love, there comes a feeling of relatedness with the whole world.
Learning to love and to be loved is not all pleasant or painless. Some experiences during the teen years are difficult, but none need be disastrous. There probably will be heartache in the lives of most young people—as there always has been. But fortunately, the heart does not break; it merely opens a bit wider for each new experience.
Falling in and out of love is to be expected as part of dating experience. It can be maturing as it is assimilated by any young person who wants to grow through it.