Dave fell in love for the first time when he was 23. Choirs played and angels sang and all that jazz. The only problem was that she was 15. Oh, the tangled webs we weave. Dave recently explained to me why he thought that his love wasn’t wrong, why society’s stigmas often are and what we should do about it.
Ok, so she was beautiful first of all. Let’s just get that out there right now. And I don’t mean your run-of-the-mill developing innocence beauty. I’m talking full-on womanhood; the summer before I met her Matt Dillon approached her in a restaurant and gave her his number. Now, I’m not comparing myself to Matt Dillon, for better or worse, I’m simply using him to serve as an example.
Anyway, we fell in love in the usual way which was naturally unusual. Of course I didn’t act on it. How could I? She was 15. Well, almost 16. What could a 15-year-old know about love, right? I figured she was deluding herself, struck it all down to an infatuation for an older man. But I was wrong for it wasn’t infatuation at all.
We adults relish telling our kids that they know nothing about love. We delight in lording over them, sneering at their trivial and overwrought dramas. Sure, there about as many different types of love as there are shitty Steve Martin movies. Many of these take years to understand and appreciate (the love, not the movies). Yet, the act of loving and first love, that pure outburst of energy and emotion, is simple and timeless. It requires no studying, no framework. It could be triggered by something as simple as a smile, the first line of Catcher in the Rye, a certain type of cologne. It is something that anyone can do and those that do it best are not us adults. I contend that most of us have forgotten what it feels like to be young and in love, that terrible suffering.
There are many self-help books and websites dedicated to getting over love, especially first love, but why should we? We are emotional creatures; this is what makes us human and sets us apart from other animals. It is precisely this renting of the heart, this void in the soul that makes us who we are. Hell yeah it hurts and will for a long time but we shouldn’t be so quick to bandage it, wrap it in layers and layers of gauze until we no longer recognize it as emotion, as humanity. Until we’re walking emotional zombies.
You know who’s good at feeling? Kids. Teenagers. Especially teenagers. Hell there’s more emotion in a game of spin the bottle or that first unrequited phone call than I would bet most adults feel in a decade. We have become afraid of feelings. Our fear of being hurt has led us to shut out other emotions, even the good ones like love. Teenagers lows are lower for sure but their highs are a hell of a lot higher too. Us, we’re content with a flatter spectrum, a more pancake breakfast type of meal. Without maple syrup or bacon. Let’s have some cold pizza, damnit! Let’s have some frozen cookie dough, leftover Chinese food straight from the carton, a goddamn Bloody Mary.
Of course kids are irresponsible but so are most adults. It is almost impossible to adequately measure someone’s maturity level. But Allie was more mature at 15 than most adults will ever be. You can believe me or not; as they say, it takes one to know one. Society has placed all these stigmas on loving someone younger. In the course of human history they are a bleep, implemented only in the last hundred years or so. Laura was 15 when she married, two years before Petrarch fell in love with her and gave the world the Italian sonnet and the Age of Humanism. Poe gave us The Raven inspired in part by his dying wife who he married when she was 13. In contrast, I suppose, we have the intense psychological trauma of Lolita as a precautionary tale. Yet, these people all recognized something that we as a society have forgotten or falsely relegated to the dark ages; that love knows no age. We can no more stop a teenager from feeling once that spring bursts than we can bottle the ocean.
Nor should we try.
In most countries we become adults the day we turn 18 whether we are ready for it or not. On that day we reach the age of majority and become a part of the majority. The majority based on what? Age? It’s five to one, baby, one in five. Or is it based on responsibility? Ha. I want to know who’s measuring this and handing out diplomas.
That magical day we have to throw away our comic books and our ice cream sundaes and pick up a Wall Street Journal, a lease, or maybe even a rifle. That is if we haven’t yet. No amount of fussing or screaming will slow that advent and no amount of sufferance will hasten it. But when that day arrives, whoever we were before we can no longer be. That person must disappear, evaporate – and for no other reason than a date on a calendar.
What a paradox; on that day we become adults who are also teenagers. Heaven forbid.
This is the connotation of ‘adult’ we have built our society around. This is the connotation of ‘adult’ that we have built our prejudices about love upon. Prejudices that are hypocritical; that day we become adults, granted full rights (including the right to abuse those rights) but barely granted the right of love. We are still unfree to love whom we choose and discriminated against for that choice.
Don’t love her; she’s an adult. You can’t love him; he’s just a kid.
Stigma upon stigma.
Look, I’m simply suggesting that love should be seen on an individual basis. It is not like getting your driving license. The disparagement of loving a 15-year-old, a 16-year-old, a 17-year old is as antiquated and inapplicable as Truro, Massachusetts’s law which requires a groom to prove his manliness before being wed by killing six blackbirds or three crows. Clearly, in many cases, the young adult is simply not mature enough to love and so to coerce or manipulate them is immoral. Like Lolita. Like so many other occurences in the past. Laws were passed to protect the innocent but now this idea has become so deeply imbedded in our collective morality that we have sacrificed the occasions when love has been ready. We have regressed from a necessary protection to an overprotection. Once there may have been a time when this type of prudence was required but no longer; it has outlived its usefulness.
Allie taught me about love. She reminded me how to feel then took those emotions, threw them in a blender and splattered them all over the walls. And that’s ok. She was beautiful, intelligent and unpremeditated but she was never innocent. Sure, in some ways she was inexperienced, but being inexperienced doesn’t always equate to being naïve. After all, we all have varying degrees of experience and inexperience in all manner of matters.
If it’s not teenagers, then who knows what love really is? The 20s crowd sneer at the teenagers. The 30s sneer at the 20s. The 80s sneer at everyone. Maybe it does take 80 full years of human experience to know what love is.
Or maybe it takes 15.
So go ahead, lock up your kids. After all, there are people like me out there – 23 and morally decrepit – but do not tell them they don’t know what love is. Instead of dismissing them, let’s learn from them; let’s remember how to feel.