What the teenager learns about romantic feelings and relationships goes through major changes from the young adolescent to the older adolescent. It is easy for an adult to misunderstand the romantic life of the teenager because they tend to assume that others (including the teenager) think and feel the same way they do. The way a young teenager understands a romantic relationship is quite different to the mature adult and thus one needs to understand how it is different if one is to be able to assist the young person. This is the first time in their lives they will have such romantic, love and sexual feelings for their peers. They need to learn to accept these feelings, understand what they mean and how to manage them.
This really includes a group of feelings not just love. All children have felt jealousy but jealousy takes on a new and powerful meaning when it comes to human courtship and romantic relationships. These can be a powerful group of feelings and one needs to not underestimate this and the fact that this is a first for the young teenager. As we know humans can go to extraordinary lengths when it come to love and jealousy, some will even murder for it, suicide for it or stalk others for it. These types of emotions can make people behave in ways which are quite out of character. Another emotion teenagers discover is a broken heart and unrequited love. As we all know, these feelings can be painful and may last for many months. Up until this age they have never had to deal with such feelings and all of a sudden they are experiencing these potentially powerful emotions. If one is allowed access to the secret world of the teenager they can help the teenager with such painful emotions and assist them through the grieving process for the loss of a love relationship. Another example of why parents must never cut off the lines of communication with the teenager.
Many teenagers begin dating around the ages of 13 and 14 years but it is not until late adolescence that they develop the ability to have genuine intimacy and deep romantic emotional involvement. This means the younger teenager will have to learn by experimenting with emotional, and not necessarily sexual, relationships. The younger teenager tends to have what can be called infatuation rather than the experience of mature love feelings.
In this period of early adolescence the teenage boy tends to have an interest in all girls because they are girls and of a girl in all boys because they are boys. This is an interesting way of looking at the psychology of love for the younger teenager as one could better describe it as infatuation rather than love. It certainly is not love in the usual sense of the word. What could be called teenage infatuation for a girl involves her as falling in love with a boy, as a boy, but not the individual boy she is in love with. Whilst the young teenage girl is in love or a relationship with another boy she is still not able to psychologically love the boy as himself.
For the young adolescent it is a new skill they have to learn, like learning how to ride a bike. Most adults have forgotten this a long time ago. How do you fall in love with someone the first few times? How are you even meant to behave with someone you feel romantic with for the first time? How do you hold hands, how do you kiss, how do you be physically close to the other are all brand new and unknown things for the young teenager. Even more perplexing for the teenager is how to emotionally connect with a romantic other. What emotional and psychological things are meant to happen? Up until this age boys have tolerated girls and girls have tolerated boys but usually they have not had that much to do with each other, certainly any emotional connection with them has usually been minimal. How do you talk to a romantic other, what are you meant to say, and what are you even meant to do with them?
Then of course there is the sexual aspect to the romantic relationship. This also is completely new for both the boy and the girl. How does the boy (usually) request sexual contact with the girl? How forward does he be? How does the girl respond to the request, how does she communicate that to the boy? How celibate does she be? Many 40 year old adults have trouble with this so one can only imagine what it is like for the 15 year old teenager. Of course with some level of sexual contact comes another set of strong, new and unknown feelings. How does the boy and the girl manage these in their own mind and in relationship to the other? They do not have classes on this at school and because it is so intimate they will be reluctant to talk to others about such matters. Hopefully they will confide in the parents to some degree, but usually they confide with their peers and then it is the blind leading the blind and very unwise advice can be administered.
For romance to work both young people have to learn how to
coordinate and cooperate and if not done before that is hard to do.
All these practical unknowns combined with strong unknown feelings lead to a psychological state of overload. Like learning to drive a car. Firstly there are so many things to remember one gets lost in the practicalities of it all. One is concentrating on so many different new things all at the one time. As they start to get routine and automatic one then can begin to understand what it means to drive a car. They can begin to understand the experience of driving a car. Not wanting to be trite with such an metaphor, but it could be seen as a parallel with the young teenager falling in love for the first time(s). This can be used to explain how initial teenage love is infatuation and only later do truly romantic feelings develop. As all the new ‘romantic things’ the teenager has to do become more automatic, the teenager is then afforded the ‘psychological space’ in their head to begin to experience the other in this new way. They can begin to experience the personality of the romantic other. They can begin to experience romantic communication with the new other. What the experience is like when communicating romantic feelings for another to that person and have it communicated back. How to understand the personality of the other in a romantic way and experience a love connection to the other can only occur when the practicalities of a romantic relationship have become automatic to some degree. When this change occurs one could say the teenager has developed from young teenage infatuation to a more mature form of love found in late adolescence.