Far too often, teens and young adults confuse the intense feelings they have for another person for love. Popular culture doesn't help: movies, books, social media, TV shows and music tell stories of these intense feelings, but none of these tales of "love and woe" is really love at all - just the "illusion" of love.
When young people see this version of love, they believe it. These problem emotions that describe one person's "love" for another person have NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the person who is the object of "desire." They describe only the emotions of the person telling their side of the story, and that is the very opposite of love. How can you have real love when you only focus on one side of the story?
Rather, emotions such as infatuation, jealousy and obession don't show "true love" - they point to the insecurity, anxiety and in some cases serious mental health issues of the person feeling these intense emotions.
More often than not, a person who "falls in love" very strongly for another person very quickly is a person who assumes they're in love but is likely just consumed by an infatuation.
Once again, the key is, the person feeling those feelings is NOT concerned about what the OTHER person is feeling, only THEIR OWN emotions.
The person who is infatuated wants to hoist their feelings on the person they desire, wants to feel vindicated for their feelings and wants the other person to feel the same, sometimes to the point of coercion. If you're trying to convince someone why your relationship is so awesome - or begging someone to love you - or threatening that individual because you fear rejection - how can that be called love?
Clearly, it's not love in any way, shape or form. But many love songs, social media posts, etc., can make a young person think otherwise.
I don't want to pick on a gender, but I clearly remember junior high girls "falling in love" with a boy in class, spending the class period writing their first name with the boys' last name, drawing hearts with his name in it and telling classmates what names she would like to call the children she wants to have with this boy.
In many cases, the boy wasn't even aware the girl felt this way (and I'm sure there were boys who also felt strongly towards girls - but in junior high, I was only a witness to the female side of things through friends or classmates).
If an older teen or young adult is carrying over these immature thoughts into their emerging adult life with new dating relationships, they're bound to be disappointed and have unrealistic expectations of their partners and not understand what it means to develop a true relationship.
With tweens and young teens, we parents should tell our kids that healthy relationships may start out with "chemistry" - a feeling of common connection - that warm or fiery feeling with someone is just a start. Shared interests, common beliefs, and respect for the other person are what will make a relationship last. These feelings are the key to a great friendship - something that romatic relationships ought to start out with.
For older teens and young adults, chemistry that leads to sex can make the meaning of "love" even more confusing, since whether they want to admit it or not, sexuality for most people makes a deep connection with another person.
Interestingly, I remember watching an episode of Steve Harvey in which he was giving relationship advice to three couples. His challenge was that in the first 90 days of their courtship that they didn't have sex. The ones who waited spent more time on getting to know the person - and even though it was hard to wait and they felt even silly for waiting - their relationships were much stronger and lasted, as compared to the couple that chose to have sex within the 90 day period.
It's safe to say that quality relationship building over time is what will make a relationship work best. Partners need to see how each person will handle themselves not only in good times but in times of stress and difficulty to decide if they've found a worthwhile mate.
If a partner continuously lashes out, is demanding, doesn't have boundaries, is controlling, thinks of their own feelings first, can't truly empathisize, doesn't have trust, has rigid thinking, etc., there is little hope of the relationship TRULY becoming one of love.
Of particular concern to me in relationships for young people these days are mapping apps like Find My Friends and Snap Map on Snapchat. While a parent knowing where a child is may be necessary for that child's safety and well-being, when dating partners feel the need to "check up on each other" then all trust and respect begins to erode. Trust is based on faith - not on a "tracking app."
I wish high schools and colleges taught classes on how to model respect and seek out the best way to form relationships. We parents are the main role models here, having these ideas reinforced in public settings is ideal.
Truth be told, a lot of these emotions - infatuation, jealousy and obsession - are merely signs of immaturity. In some cases, these feelings can result in dangerous situations where an individual is threatening suicide due to their unrequited love, or wants to harm the other person that is not returning the "love." Unfortunately, it only takes a quick look at the news to see too many stories of this awful behavior.
For most of us as parents, we won't be facing that kind of circumstance with our children and their partners. However, I don't think it's a bad idea to talk with our young people about emotional control and appropriate thinking. While "getting carried away with love" sounds exciting and appealing, without a proper rudder, all hell may break loose in dating relationships and knock any potential for real love completely off course.
When we care about someone and they don't care about us back in the same way, it's called heartbreak, and most people in previous generations felt sad, but moved on. They didn't blame the other person or hold resentments - at least not for very long.
In time, most people who exhibit these behaviors will grow out of them - infatuation, jealousy and obsession SEEM romantic since they are very intense emotions and are often tied to sexaulity.
But in the end, these emotions have nothing to do with love. They are only about selfishness, anxiety and are juvenile feelings. Helping young people to understand that when a relationship doesn't work out "this too shall pass" is a healthy way to look at life.
It's often these circumstances in a young person's past that helps them to approach a real loving relationship by allowing enough time to pass during the relationship to see it fully flower, respecting themselves and another person, opening up over time with appropriate emotional vulnerability and developing trust - again, over time.
Real love is never in a hurry, doesn't demand attention, allows each person to be themselves, seeks friendship before sexuality, isn't desperate, respects each person for who they are while seeking to care about another. A real relationship flows naturally between two people.
And another important thing for we parents to remember: While young relationships are important to teach people about themselves and others (so even those junior high crushes, high school and college relationships count for something!), most people, especially today, lack the true emotional development to create a sustainable relationship until they are typically in their mid-twenties or so.
That is a time when I hope young people will measure who makes a great partner for them - by looking at the facts of how a potential partner behaves as well as the feeling they have in their heart for that person.
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