I mean, really, what do teenagers know about love??
I was amazed to hear a man in his 30s ask this question recently, in a most dismissive tone. It was pretty clear that he thought teenagers were entirely ignorant on the subject of love, and thus should not attempt to be heard on the topic.
The wild inaccuracy of the assumption took my breath away.
We are born knowing about love. Watch a baby look into its parents’ eyes, and you will read everything that was ever written about love. To see a heartbroken 9 year old girl when her best friend moves away is to sample the eloquence of Shakespeare at his most tragic.
Kids know everything there is to know about love. Teenagers feel with an intensity that is both thrilling and a little terrifying to an onlooker. A broken heart at 15 is no less shattering and formative than at 35. What we learn as we age is not how to love, but how to recover from loss (if we ever learn that at all).
Experience teaches us more ways to be hurt, and how to recover. It teaches us how best to express our love, and how to care for others. It may even teach us how to recognize love, but it does not teach us how to love.
Psychologists used to believe in the tabula rasa – the blank slate. That children were born empty, without feelings or personality. Doctors used to operate on newborns without anaesthetic, utterly convinced that babies did not feel. The sheer breathtaking horror of such stupidity is hard to fathom.
We now know that babies recognise their parents’ voices in the womb. Their distinct personalities make themselves felt from before birth. They know who they are – they are simply limited in the ways they can show us their true selves. Nonetheless they are eloquent and expressive to those prepared to look. I watched a baby today playing a tickle game with an adult. She proffered her foot, snatched it away when the tickling got too much, and then proffered it again. When she tired of the game she grabbed a foot in either hand and clutched them to her chest, saying wordlessly, but nonetheless incredibly clearly “MINE!”
You don’t need a gameboy to tell you when it’s game over.
Babies love with every fibre of their beings. Teenagers do, too. It’s as we age that we become scarred, and if we are unlucky we learn to keep a part of ourselves separate and “safe”, closing ourselves off from the ability to give our whole heart to another.
It’s possible that teenagers know more about love than we do.