John Steinbeck, a Nobel laureate, the author of East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men wrote a letter giving advice to his son who was madly falling in love with a girl. Below is the letter.
November 10, 1958
We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.
First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.
Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.
You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.
But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.
Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.
The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.
If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.
Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.
It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.
Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.
We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.
And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
What I like the most about his advice is that he didn’t belittle his son’s love “You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love”. He was not protective but he shared his wisdom about love, that when you love someone and you say it, it comes with responsibility that you ought to take – living up to it and taking the other party’s feeling into consideration.
I personally believe “I love you” (I’m referring to ‘romantic love’) is not something that someone can say lightly, for example “I love you but let’s not rush commitment into this”. I think that is b*llshit (pardon my language). Good in paper but does not work in reality. When you say “I love you” to other party, the other party (who happens to reciprocate the feeling) cannot help but expect that there will be a continuation, a relationship that includes commitment and loyalty despite of the refusal to label the relationship. Saying ‘I love you’ means that you are willing to take responsibility of others’ feeling and expectation. If a person, man or woman, cannot bear this responsibility, it is best to say nothing.
“I just want to ‘release’ and say this to you but we cannot go further than this”, I believe, is a selfish act.
“I love you” is the three words that one should really think about before saying it and can only be said when the person means it and is willing to live up to its beauty but also fragility – accepting the probability of losing it too. For, according to my experience and my friends’, the journey of love sometimes is bumpy and we may make it or we may not. Although at that time, we may find it really difficult not to replay our memory trying to find out what’s wrong, toying with ‘what if’s and blame ourselves, I believe or I want to believe that, like a bottle of wine, it gets better with time, that it is a process to prepare myself to be ready for better and better love journey in the future with myself or with different person.
Dedicated to a good friend of mine. Girl, I admire your big heart and is really grateful to be your friend.
Jakarta, 16th January 2012.