First of all, I'm sorry if this letter seems a little trivial. I'm a fairly young reader of your column, but I've been wrestling with this problem for ages and I don't know who else to talk to.
When I was in my mid-teens I did a lot of school activities, and met a boy a couple of years older than me through them. I was too young to date, but started talking to him and we began seeing each other in private. I was intensely attracted to him in every way possible, and I somehow justified seeing him under the "But it's True Love!" exception to sneaking out behind parents' backs and lying. Eventually my parents found out, and we stopped seeing each other, and just continued exchanging passionate e-mails.
Eventually, around the time I turned 19, I ended it, mostly for my mental health's sake. My mother took a firm stance that the guy would never be allowed in our house, and the choice would be between him and the family. They never would even consider letting me see him or speak to him in any way, and this made me even more panicky and desperate for any sort of connection. I remember tripping over my own feet when I first met him, and never have doubted for a second that I was entirely in love with him. I went about it in a stupid and irrational way, but I was young and completely certain that I knew what was best.
He clearly felt the same way all along, but I stopped speaking to him two years ago. He told me he'd leave me alone, but he would contact me again in five years to see if anything's changed. Cary, I know nothing will change. I may be in love with him after not speaking to him for so long, but I can't shift my family. I don't want to choose between the two. I want to put the nightmare of losing sleep and comparing people to him to rest. I want to stop avoiding news of him and trying to forget about him, but I can't. I'm sluggish, drained, depressed and hollow. Constantly. And I know I'm young, but I can't stop obsessing, losing sleep and berating myself about where I went wrong.
Worse, I have this unspoken, seething resentment for my family for doing this to me. In my heart, I know I'd have done the same thing as a parent, but I can't help blaming them all the same. I feel like I somehow destroyed my life before I was even a legal adult, and it kills me.
Any help would be appreciated, but please be gentle. Thank you!
Hurt by Young Love
Dear Hurt by Young Love,
I want you to picture your love for this guy as a living being that appeared on this earth for a reason; I want you to imagine that this connection you felt with him was in some ways divine. It arose without your conscious deliberation or involvement and was powerful beyond description; in its construction and influence, it was beyond the ability of any human to create; it arose of its own accord and seemed powered by forces beyond you. What happened wasn't a character flaw or a mistake. It was love being born. The fact that it came into your life means something; the fact that it happened when you were young and had no power to nurture it and defend it from those who would destroy it does not diminish its power and beauty.
Please, consider the beauty of this thing that arose between you and this young man. Hold that in your mind.
Next, I want you to consider what you lost. Your parents forced you to kill this thing. And they enlisted your agreement in it. They somehow got you to say that you, too, would do the same thing, if you were in their shoes. You were thus divided against yourself.
I don't hold with the view that young people should just get over these things and move on. That trivializes it. Love signals the emergence of the divine. Young love gives us our first glimpse of the body as a divine mirror, an extraordinary antenna tuned to a frequency of extravagance, power and mystery.
So of course adult lives and stable family structures are threatened by the emergence of this terrible beauty in their children. Of course they would rather, for their own convenience, stamp it out or ignore it or wall it off. But that does not make their actions right. They are merely the actions of the more powerful over the less powerful. And these actions are taken at a cost to all, not just to the child. Sometimes the cost is the health and sanity of the young; sometimes the cost is the family relationship, shattered when the family forces a young person to choose, in stark terms, love or family.
So let's not pretend that there is no cost. And let's not pretend that your love for this boy wasn't a rare and wondrous, once-in-a-lifetime thing. It was. I mean, even if you want to say it was just a crush, a crush itself is a rare and wondrous thing, certainly as rare and wondrous as a flower blooming.
As there are poisonous flowers, so there are poisonous crushes and there is deadly love. I want to emphasize its power and its danger; I want to fight against the trivialization of it. Your parents may indeed have recognized the danger in this love. They are not fools. Neither are you. Maybe there was something truly dangerous there. Maybe they were protecting you.
Your parents took the view that this was dangerous or unwelcome. But you believed different. So of course you disobeyed. You obeyed a higher commandment within yourself. You responded to something that your body told you was utterly real, a reflection of a universal spirit.
And now, of course, you are a prisoner as a result. This is what happens when we respond to the universe. Our society cracks down on us and makes us prisoners. And so we have to endure being locked up. It happens again and again. It is the nature of the world. So we learn to be careful during our imprisonment and after.
This initial experience will fade over time, but love will return again and again, in slightly different form. Emissaries from the same spirit will continue to appear before you. Each time you are visited you will remember.
You are a veteran now. You know how love can come, how it appears, how it feels, and what it can cost. You know how powerful love is, and how dangerous, and how delicious, and when it comes again you will be ready. You are experienced.
Here is something else to face and face squarely: This was a loss. Every now and then you have a loss and you pause to feel pain and sorrow and you keep going. You are changed. You're not the same afterward but neither are you ruined.
For instance, even if you never see him again, for the longest time if you hear his name you will have a reaction. That will be your body's way of remembering, and thus of defeating time and the stern, implacable stares of the jailers.
Haunted by lost love? See page 140
Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.
What? You want more advice?
- Read more Cary Tennis in the Since You Asked directory.
- See what others are saying and/or join the conversation in the Table Talk forum.
- Ask for advice. Letter writers: Please think carefully! By sending a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org, you are giving Salon permission to publish it. Once you submit it, it may not be possible to rescind it. So be sure. If you are not sure, sleep on it. You can always send tomorrow. Ready? OK, Submit your letter for publication.
- Or, just make a comment to Cary Tennis not for publication.
- Or, send a letter to Salon's editors not for publication.