Let’s talk about teenagers. Let’s talk about teenagers and their emotions, and teenagers and falling in love, and teenagers feeling things like no one else feels things. I’ve been thinking a lot about youth recently (this is probably because I’m in my 20s, and when you get into your 20s and you have more responsibility and more fear, you can really almost literally feel your youth slipping away). And I’ve figured out when youth is over FOR REAL: it’s when every single pop star on the planet is younger than you. THAT’S WHEN, BB. We should all be able to eternally idolize pop stars and, at this point, I can’t even say I was a senior when Lorde was a freshman. I had already graduated from a four-year university when Lorde was a freshman in high school (!). I had a full time job, and healthcare, and bills to pay, when Lorde was a freshman in high school. HOW ANNOYING.
But back to teenagers. Teenagers are naturally, instinctually, and unknowingly vulnerable and fearless. That’s why everything is so emotional, so END OF THE WORLD INTENSE, because it really legitimately feels that way. When you’re a teenager, you are never thinking more than two days ahead. You live presently (until college application time rolls around then you live anxiously). Teenagers are so open to feelings and they don’t live their lives protecting themselves because they don’t know they have to. Life is so scary and so painful because everything is unguarded. So when you get hurt, it cuts deep. Do you remember? Do you remember going about your life and then all of a sudden you’re IN LOVE. Or you HATE SOMEONE. Or you’re DEPRESSED. And it just hits you. Fully. Totally. All at once. It’s nuts!
If any adult human walked around like every teenager walks around, you’d have them hospitalized for having no filter and for being a maniac and for being too susceptible to emotional pain. But there has to be something to it, right? If there wasn’t, everyone wouldn’t be so obsessed with trying to capture it in film and in books and in articles (like me right now). It’s the openness of teenagers, their rawness and willingness to just do exactly what they feel like without thinking about consequences that we all miss, that we all admire, and that we’re all too scared to do and to be. DOES THAT JUST SOUND LIKE RECKLESSNESS? MAYBE IT IS RECKLESSNESS.
Most teens can afford to be reckless because they’re actually really safe. There’s this safety net of youth (you can’t really go to prison), of family (your mom is in the next room), of context within your social life (you know everyone’s entire life story) that makes everything seem okay, and doable, and worthy of risk. It’s the same reason why people like scary movies. Because you like to feel scared when you know you’re actually safe. You’re in a theater, you’re with your boyfriend, or your girlfriend, or your best friend, and the scene might make you flinch, but you know where you are. There’s no real risk. The exorcist isn’t going to jump out of the screen and get you.
I “fell in love” with someone in high school who I never even kissed…I put fell in love in quotes just there because, looking back at it, I’m not really sure I can honestly qualify that experience as “in love”. We were sort of strangers. As an adult, it seems psychotic that I felt that way. But that’s the grownup in me talking (I am really mature). As a 15 year old, you couldn’t TELL ME NOTHIN! I was in love and that was it. It didn’t matter that we never said anything real to each other. That we just sort of talked in circles about nothing. It didn’t matter that what we thought was deep and real and important wasn’t actually anything deep or real or important.
Could you imagine being so sure of everything now? No questions. No doubt. Just an assured belief that you were right, your parents were wrong, and no one, IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD, has ever felt the way you’re feeling right now.
So how did we change? Did experience make us cynical? Are we too scared to trust our gut now? Too embarrassed? Too proud? Too self-conscious? Did technology do us wrong? Did we grow out of talking on the phone, the one thing that brought me (and everyone else I know) the truest romance I’ll ever experience? Teenagers fall in love on the phone. It was true for me, it was true for my friends, it’s true for my siblings, and it was true for Hazel and Augustus in The Fault In Our Stars (that’s really all the analysis this theory needs). And now a story.
This Gandhi situation is a really real thing that happened and it’s so mortifying but so worth the story that I don’t care. I know you all have some too (plz, share them below). I would sit on the phone for hours at a time and listen to someone read me very broad, out-of-context quotes from philosophers and peacemakers. They weren’t deeply hidden philosophers or writers either, they were the famous ones. Gandhi. Mandela. The CLASSICS, HELLO! This happened night after night after night. I didn’t have my own line (I wish!) but I did have my own phone, so I felt like I was talking in my own private world. I was not. I was talking in my parents private world. I discovered my “private world” was NOT private at all when I walked into the kitchen once and found my parents collapsed on the floor crying because they were laughing so hard at me. The reason they were laughing? My mom tried to make a call when I was on the line and overheard some of this quote-and-response phone call. Can you imagine?
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” (Gandhi)
“Wow. He was so brave, you know? What an honest thing to say. I LOVE YOU!”
MY PARENTS OVERHEARD THIS. And they still love me, how sick is that?!? I had to ignore their hate because THEY WERE BEING MURDERERS OF LOVE. They were being typical adults who wanted to squander my grandiose ideas about romance. Just kidding. They were being adults who had a sense of humor, and I was a teenager who thought that nothing about what just happened was funny. That was my life. That was my LOVE. How dare they mock me!
When I look back it’s hilarious, and embarrassing, but I’m so happy I had that because that’s how you’re supposed to feel as a teenager. And now I know what that felt like. How intense that feeling was. How much I believed in myself and in that other person. It truly didn’t matter to me what anyone else thought, because it didn’t occur to me that I might be wrong.
As I watch my friends date in their 20s and 30s it’s a whole different game. Everything is masked with uncertainty and fear and complications. Nothing seems simple or definite. I can’t honestly suggest reverting back to our teenage ways because too much has happened. Too many bad dating experiences, or one dating experience that was so good it can’t be matched, or too many friends cheated on, or too many friends lied to, or too many breakups had – whatever it is, it’s history, it’s context, it’s story. And it’s a part of EVERYONE now. Gross. Every single person you meet has this whole entire back story that’s part of them. And it’s deeper and more complicated at 25 than 15. That’s just that. There’s no changing it. But I can honestly suggest thinking about how you felt, the rawness of it all, the pain of it all, and what it gave you. It’s so much more than what it took from you, right? It gave you a story, a moment, a memory so strong you can smell the room it all happened in a decade later. It gave you a look at real acceptance, at real love (even if your elders didn’t quite agree), it made you brave and bold and capable of so many things. Do you remember?
Now think about operating out of that place instead of out of fear. What would change for you? It would make me a much happier person, I think. It would make me capable of doing so many more things.
Maybe teenagers had it right, and us grown ups got it twisted.
What do you think?