Love. That single four-lettered word has such great importance to people. Love seems to be the main underlying goal that we all strive for in our lifetimes. We are taught from a young age about love. Love is when you really really really like something. “Mommy, I love cookies!” As we get older, we learn that love can be applied to people too. “Daddy, I love you!” Love is taught, always by precept, sometimes by example. By the time we are adolescents, we assume that we know what love is. We’ve read “Romeo and Juliet,” we’ve watched our parents, we’ve listened to the latest pop song on the radio. But if you asked us the definition of love, we would probably question what sort of love we are being asked about. People love, or material love? I undoubtedly love my true friends who always have my back, yet the emotional happiness and satisfaction I feel when eating a hot juicy pork dumpling that has been bathing in vinegar cannot be described as anything but love. Family love, or romantic love? The love I have for my family is innate and unconditional; my love for my boyfriend is something I learn more about every day. That is the tricky thing about love; the English language has one main word that is used to cover such a diversity of meanings. When we say “I love you,” do we have any idea of what we are actually saying? Or are we just saying words that we’ve been conditioned to say since we were little kids and had no true concept of romantic love? Our society looks down upon the young couple “in love.” The high school couple that want to go to college together? “Love, puh; you are too young to know what love is.” Is it possible for us to truly be in love?
Well, the definition of romantic love is impossible to delineate because the meaning of love is constantly changing depending on the situation or person. But perhaps we can all agree that love is an abstract emotion or feeling that is profoundly tender and passionate. Not only can love be a sort of personal affection, it can also be a sort of attachment. That aching in our hearts that accompanies the absence of a loved one is an experience that is truly profound; the realization that we have become dependent on this person is exciting but also terrifying. No longer are we completely fine on our own; to some degree we depend on our loved one to ensure our happiness. The idea that someone holds that sort of power over us is daunting, but love also demands a degree of trust and understanding that allows us to take that risk. Love usually starts in our thoughts, then spreads to the physical world through our actions, and then it will produce the emotional feelings. Falling in love is a gradual process; we do not wake up one day and arbitrarily decide to love another person. I remember when I first started “going out” with my boyfriend I had no intentions of ever loving him. I just wanted to have fun and try the whole “boyfriend thing” out. As I spent more time with him and began to truly understand him as a person, I could not get him out of my head. He was always on my mind. I became aware that I was happy when he was happy, I felt his affliction when he was upset about school or basketball; I only wished that I could fix it for him and make him happy again. These thoughts reflected in my actions- the warmth of a comforting hug, the gentleness of a caress on his unshaven cheek, the tenderness of a kiss on his lips. I think he probably knew I loved him before I even realized it. Love is a euphoria that makes us view the world through rosy glasses, painting the world and our lovers in a hue of warm, subdued colors. Love is best understood through experience, which is what most adults believe that we lack. Apparently age equates experience with love.
But what mother would deny that her child loves her when that said child says “I love you, Mommy?” A child’s affection for their family is never questioned. If a child can love their parents, then certainly an adolescent can love another adolescent. One might argue that familial love is very different from romantic love, and yes, there certainly are many differences. Familial love is a love that is bound by blood; we do not love our family members with the sort of infatuation with which we may look at a romantic partner. Yet the sort of dependency and attachment that is present in familial love is present in romantic love as well. While the two situations are very different, the feelings of compassion and care are very similar. We depend on our family for unconditional love and support even when we know that we are not at our best, but we also turn to our lovers for a different kind of support. Our lovers provide a sort of comfort that is special because we know that they do not necessarily have to care. They have no obligation to love us like our family does. There is something immensely satisfying about knowing that we earned the love that our lover bestows on us. It was not something that they have always known. They love us because they saw who we were as individuals and fell in love with that person. When one loves another person, often they put that person before themselves. A father would die for his daughter, a boyfriend would die for his girlfriend. While these are extreme examples, it goes to show just how powerful love can be, familial or romantic. We should not put limitations on any sort of love because love is a profoundly personal experience.
Perhaps the lack of experience in life that we have makes our love more pure than love in adults. Our minds are not tainted by the worries of society to the degree that adults minds are. We still have innocent, young minds that pay little heed to such things as money, power, or status which can influence love in adults. There is no pressure for us to find someone to be with; we are young, we have our whole lives ahead of us. Often our relationships begin as friendships. We do not date the way that adults do. The only motive that teenagers have for love is purely the desire to love another human being, while adults’ motives for love can be confused with their desire to be stable and successful. We only have to look at our parents and see that adults do not know any more about love than we do. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce these days; in an age where marriage is not just a financial arrangement, this is surprising. Perhaps we can attribute these divorces to adults’ misconceptions about love. My mother’s earliest advice for my sister and I about marriage was: “marry an old wealthy man, when he dies you will inherit all of his money and be happy.” I was shocked to say the least, I remember looking up at my mother’s face which seemed impossibly far away and wondering about the love I had seen in the fairy tales that held a special place in my eight year old heart. I verbalized this to her, and her response was “Marilyn, when you get older you will realize that love is about more than just that.”
In contrast, we can look to countless examples in literature of young love based purely on love rather than ulterior motives. Westley and Buttercup in “The Princess Bride” deeply love each other despite their class differences in a society where status defines a person. They fall in love when they are young, before they allow society to dictate who they should love and marry. Their youth allows them to see past the superficialities of money and status, and understand each other as people worthy of each other’s love. Perhaps the most famous young couple in literature, Romeo and Juliet in the beloved classic also fall in love with each other, undeterred by the animosity that existed between their families. While Romeo and Juliet have the sort of love that is often scoffed at by adults and adolescents alike, there is something pure and innocent about their relationship that we all are drawn to as well. They were fearless; they had no inhibitions in their love for each other. We cannot help but love Romeo’s temerity when he climbs into Juliet’s yard to see her, the urgency with which Juliet questions her nurse about Romeo, the ebullience of the soon-to-be newlyweds. Romeo and Juliet offered each other their love with no restrictions, something common in young love. We have no past negative experiences. We have no inhibitions; we are fearless. Love is an involuntary and automatic emotion for us, and we act on it because we believe that we have nothing to lose.
Love is an unconditional feeling that can never be lost. I am not immature enough to believe that love fixes all problems and leads to a happily ever after. We do not live in a fairy tale; the people we meet are not all good and all bad. We are human, we are flawed, but love is about seeing beyond those flaws. If we can look past a person’s flaws and still want to offer them everything, than our love is real. Love is not selfish, love gives people faith and the courage to continue when all hope seems lost. Those trials and tribulations can occur at any point of our lives, whether we are teenagers or adults. If high school sweethearts can stay together beyond high school and later marry in the name of love, then did they not always love each other?