One of these days Zach is going to fall in love.Not the love like when he used to come home from Sunday School every week and say, “Mom, I’ve come in love!”
With who, Zach, I would ask. (The word `whom’, it seems, is now redundant.)
“With a girl with yellow hair clips, Mom.”
What was her name, Zach?
“I don’t know, Mom! I didn’t ask!”
In case you’re wondering, that particular girl did exist. He left his pencil box behind in the Sunday School classroom. I took him back on the scooter to get it, and she was waiting at the church gates with it.
She had yellow hair clips on.
And she knew his name.
Anyway, since then there have been other girls he has “come” in love with. And got teased about. And fallen out of love with. Currently, he is not in a relationship, other than occasionally being the object of adoration of a three-year-old he has known since she was tiny. He tolerates her running around him, and climbing on him, and studying his ear intently in church.
But soon, soon, it will begin again. And Kevin, who firmly, conveniently, believes all such things are my domain (I don’t know how breaking the news to Zach that balls are testicles was my domain), will leave me to deal with it.
Which is why I am happy to have found, via Facebook, John Steinbeck’s letter in 1958 to his teenage son when said son reveals that he has fallen in love. There is so much affection and empathy, and so much good sense in it.
Dear Thom,We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.
First if you are in love – that’s a good thing – that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.
Second – There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you – of kindness, and consideration and respect – not only the social respect of manners but the greatest respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.
You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply – of course it isn’t puppy love.
But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know that better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it – and that I can tell you.
Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.
The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.
If you love someone – there is no possible harm in saying so – only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.
Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.
It sometimes happens that what you feel inside is not returned for one reason or another - but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.
Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I am glad you have it.
We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.
And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens – the main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
There is a learning that comes from some years in the love game. It is this: Not all relationships work. Not all relationships are meant to. But what both people in a relationship need to work at is not leaving a relationship worse off than when they came into it. If you have respect for the other person, and you consciously work at not making him or her feel small when it all falls apart, even in retrospect, then the relationship can be a good part of your memories. Many of my relationships left me shattered, questioning my judgement and good sense. Which is perhaps why I can think fondly of the man I went out with – and broke up with - before I met Kevin again. That man made me laugh; with him I found I had a sense of humour, I discovered I could let myself go and dance like a dervish with him. I will not forget that he made me feel good about myself. It was the greatest gift he could have given me; it is the greatest gift anyone can give you in a relationship. When we broke up, yes, I did question my judgement, I did blank out six months of my life, I did hurt. But I did not feel abused, or violated. I did know I was a person that someone else could love, that I could bring something into another person’s life. It made me a better person to be Kevin’s friend and partner.Thank you for that.
I wish that for many more people in – or looking for – relationships. The minute you find that you don’t feel good about yourself is the moment you must start questioning why you are in the relationship. The minute you find yourself hurting or being mean to the other person (and you will know when you are doing this), do him or her the courtesy of breaking off the relationship. Gently. With respect. With an appreciation for what has gone before and a recognition of the potential of what can come – with someone else.