What do teenagers know about love?

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.

10 thoughts on “What do teenagers know about love?

  1. Joe

    “Know”? Mmm… no. “Feel”? Oh, yes, absolutely.

    ps I cringe every time anyone makes the assertion that love is “unconditional” or “accepts (the other) as they are”. I’ve never seen *any* evidence that this is true. Love, in all versions, is a mess of need and gift. Give AND take. Acceptance and desire to … shape and improve.

    1. lindamciver

      I have to disagree. They may not have experienced a lot (although some have – experience is not measured in years), but they know a lot about love.

      And I agree with the rest!

      1. Stephen

        I agree withe the first part and disagree with most of the rest :-)

        Lack of experience with unconditional love is not evidence for it’s lack of existence. In the experience of most though, it is as you describe .

      2. Joe

        There is always a limit to love, “conditions” that deny the sense of unconditionality, albeit that invoking those limits may seem unlikely in the face of feeling we “really know” the other person. “I will love you as long as … you don’t turn out to have been deliberately lying to me all these years in order to enact your plan to detonate a nuclear device on the city where everyone else I love lives.”

        My observation is that people who love someone “unconditionally” merely don’t recognise their conditions. And those conditions are much more immediate and practical (and sensible) than the ones above.

    2. Stephen

      There is a “knowing” and knowing, the latter evidentiary based, the former is commonly described as a “gut feeling”. This type of knowing is honed by experience, some bitter, some better, getting to know oneself – for better or worse. Teenagers know – they _may_ not understand.

      1. lindamciver

        True. But experience is not measured in years. I know 50year olds who have barely lived, and teenagers who have experienced more than most ever do. True, these are outliers. But it is dangerous to judge on age alone. Hmm. I detect a theme.

  2. Sarah

    Love for teenagers has got to be the most raw love their is. They don’t care how much money a guys got and what job he has or anything of the sort. The other factors don’t matter. And you do hav those few immature teens that use the word love loosely but just because there’s a couple immature, you can’t stereotype every single teen. Honestly, if you don’t believe teens can love, you’ve forgotten your teen years and is probably some crotchety old adult wishing they can feel the love from their uncaring spouse that we experience.

      1. Joe



        (I checked recently, and it seems somebody snuck in and secretly falsely added a few to my tens digit. But really I’m still a teenage boy. Well, at least, if you ask my wife she’ll tell you I am.)

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