Q.I’m not a teenager, but I read your column every week and I enjoy it. I often feel sad when I consider the things teens face these days. Last week, I felt like the girl who wrote was dealing with a jerk. You were a lot kinder than me, but I think you tried to make her see that he wasn’t really in love with her, which was good. Can you share what happened to her – if you know? Also, I went to your ceremony Monday night. I really liked the play the teens did about love. All of this has made me think about love a lot. I’ve had more relationships as an adult than I ever thought I would. I think I’m still searching for the right person. Like the girl in your column last week, I’ve questioned if I was really in love many times. Was the play connected to that column? Finally, even if I’m not a teenager, can you give me some ideas about love? You can sign me “in my thirties but still looking for love like a teenager.”
Mary Jo’s response
Thank you for writing. I appreciate the feedback, and I’m thrilled you enjoy the column. I typically write each week’s column over the weekend, but I put aside the one I’d planned for this week when your email arrived.
The young writer in last week’s column ended her relationship. I often meet with the young people who write me, and I always try to follow up, even if just by phone. She made her own decision. My goal is to inspire a young person’s critical thinking – to help with problem-solving without being directive. Choices made by someone else aren’t really choices. I do have an objective, which I openly share. In this case, the young woman knew her best decision, she simply needed someone as a sounding board. Listening is the best gift an adult can give to a teen; it may be the best gift any of us give to one another.
Thank you as well for attending our Awards Night. Our Real Talk Performers touched me deeply. Our performers faced a radical change only nine days before our event. The play they planned to perform was dropped. They worked very hard to make “The Real Love Story” perfect. No, the play wasn’t connected to the column. I actually wrote it in 2003 and revised it this year. Its content is predicated by the many life stories I’ve observed over the years. Many people struggle with the idea of love. You’re not alone.
Love is a complicated emotion. Not long after I received your email Tuesday another email arrived in my inbox. Sent by a wonderful colleague who has earned my deepest respect, it addressed last week’s column and discussed love. I have permission to share the email, albeit anonymously. I think the words are wise.
Thoughts from my colleague: One definition of love involves couples solving issues by growing together, not by one of them winning. In this definition, love exists when the happiness of a person’s partner is as important to an individual as his/her own happiness. The other person’s happiness is not MORE important (as in “as long as he’s happy, I’ll deal with my own lack of happiness”) and not LESS important (as in “as long as I’m happy, all is OK”).
If we apply these thoughts to everything in a relationship, not just to sex, I agree with my colleague – two people can grow to a place where they mature as a couple. By this definition, the young woman from last week’s column would very quickly know her boyfriend was only interested in his needs, not her needs. That’s a deal breaker. Long-term, committed couples reach moments when their needs are not easily sorted out. If they problem-solve without force, with respect, with growth, and with a sense of humor, they can both reach a deeper level of trust. No matter how difficult the issue, they have a partner committed to finding a solution that works for both of them. Those types of relationship can last.
A quote in the play “The Real Love Story” is from psychologist Erich Fromm: Infantile love follows the principle: “I love because I am loved.” Mature love follows the principle: “I am loved because I love.” Immature love says: “I love you because I need you.” Mature love says: “I need you because I love you”.
One of my long-term goals is to empower young people with the skills needed to conceptualize love within a mature, healthy relationship. Many teens are not exposed to long-term, committed relationships at home. Media exposure of relationships too often models “love at first sight” where consequences of unhealthy relationships are glossed over (unless the movie is in “after-school special” mode … which most teens dismiss). I fell in love with the movie “Frozen” when Elsa told Anna, “You can’t marry a man you just met.” Lust at first sight is common – typically love requires getting to know one another.
You’re not the only person who was inspired to write by our Real Talk Performers. A 13-year-old wrote Tuesday: “I watched the play at Trinity and I wanted to tell you that I took your advice and talked about love with my mom last night. We had a good talk. She said it took her a long time to understand love, but when she and my dad met she knew he was someone she could fall in love with. I asked her if she knew right away and she said, no, but she knew she wanted to try. I want to be part of your group next year. What do I do?”
Real Talk Performers is a high school group, although our first middle school performance, “Invisible,” was successfully presented Monday night. Getting involved is easy. Any young person is welcome. Auditions are a breeze – I rewrite plays until I have enough parts for the number of interested young people. Connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The group meets on Thursdays at our Common Ground Teen Center (53 N. College St.).
Thank you to all three Tuesday letter-writers. Good luck with love!