In post WW2 America, young romantic love has been constantly maligned by adults trying to both belittle it and to make it seem unreasonably dangerous. For years it was endearingly dismissed as "puppy love" in a deliberate effort not only to delegitimize teenage love but to pretend there is no erotic element to it at all. Listen to songs about teenage love from the 50's and early 60's. If the songs are to be believed, teenage lovers know full well their feelings are an illusion and while they might be pining for romantic love, that kind of love did not come with an erect penis or moist vagina.
Perhaps even worse than patronizing teenage love, starting in the 1980's the adults made a concerted effort to actively present teenage romance as something from the past that modern kids just don't do. Though not precisely spelled out in the multiple versions of the "abstinence only" campaigns, these efforts were an attack on intense teenage romance as much as on teenage sex. When the very feelings of desperate love naturally come with the desire to get naked and fuck, it was thought the most effective way to stop the fucking was to stop the "pairing up" of teens. While conservative adults now decry the casual sex of millennial's "hook-up culture"; the simple truth is those same adults actively worked to stamp out the couple's dating culture that had developed in the post-war years.
Historically romantic love was something almost exclusively identified with people in their mid-teens. I think most people know that when Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliette was originally presented, Romeo was assumed to be around sixteen years old and Juliette about fourteen. Yet, no one would deny that that play in many ways is the model for romantic love and unfulfilled sexual desire. If we look even further back to the courtly love of the Middle Ages, the poetry writing knights would have still been in their teens and the object of their unrequited love would have been young married women who had not yet given birth to a child. Thus the "women" to whom the teenage knights pledged devotion until death would have been in their mid-teens.
In the 1968 version of Romeo & Juliet, Olivia Hussey turned 16 years old during shooting. One of the few times an acutal15 year old was cast to play the part.... but of course that was over 50 years ago.
I found it interesting that when looking for an illustration for this post, I found Google had essentially scrubbed any images of 14 & 15 year old lovers. Do a search of ‘young lovers’ and all you get are twenty something’s. Even images of that age group kissing seems to frighten the powers that be. Even if there is romance of young teens on TV, the parts are inevitably played by people in their twenties. There appears to be something about young love that truly frightens most adults to the point they pretend it simply does not exist; though of course, we all know it did in our day, and it certainly does now.
The simple fact is that until the Victorian period of the 1800's, romance was the sole province of teenagers, usually under eighteen. Why? Because by the time someone was twenty they were well into the burdens and challenges of adult family and work life. Romance as we think of it today requires a person to have leisure time to devote to love. Prior to the Victorian era, only people who had reached sexual maturity, but were not yet fully engaged in the adult world had both the desire and the time to pursue romance for the joy of romance.
Sure adults fell, and still fall, in love with new people. But adult love is tempered by the responsibilities and hard-knocks of life. My wife loves to be in love. She dates other men not for the sex per se, but for the joy of finding new love. Sure she full well expects to express that love with hot sweaty sex and strings of body numbing orgasms; but it is the love not the sex she craves. But unlike teenagers, she knows full well romantic love is a game and will pass. On one hand she savors the moment of "new relationship energy," that teens do not, while on the other hand she is not as fully consumed by those feelings the way teenagers are. Adults know full well that the consummation of their emotional desire for the new person in their life is the act of sex, and without that the relationship will not seem worthwhile. It is important to recognize that healthy adults do not see romance as the fulfillment of all life's desires. They have other desires such as a nice home, a comfortable car, career satisfaction, the welfare of their children and yes, even food. These competing interests naturally temper adult romance so that it fits into a larger framework of life.
Teenage romantic love has no such bounds. To a teenager in love, the relationship is all consuming, unalloyed by the cares of adult life. Especially that first passionate love where the river of sexual hormones are mixed with the idealism of youth. Yes, the desire for sex is central to first love just as it is with adults, but what is different is the lack of experience to know the limits of romantic love. To young lovers the act of lovemaking is not just a pleasurable biological function, but a way to join oneself, body and soul, to your one true love. For both male and female lovers the act of coitus is a mystical union that makes them into soul mates for all time. For teenage lovers, even if they have not yet consummated their love in sexual union, the idea that when they do they will arrive at a place of happiness and contentment that will never, ever fade away. They simply don't understand that linkage between romantic love and personal fulfillment is fleeting. It is precisely that naive expectation that makes young love so overwhelmingly powerful.
In contrast to those who seek to dismiss young love or to do away with it altogether, I would suggest that we adults need to rejoice with young people in this unique moment of life. We need to let our children and grand children know how we understand and celebrate how they feel, even though we have not been in their shoes for many, many years. We also have an obligation to help them with the journey. Rather than telling them their feelings are invalid or evil, we have an obligation to provide them with guidance on how to fully embrace this special time without taking unnecessary risks to health and safety. That includes the obvious things like birth control and disease prevention; but just as important it requires teaching them how to spot those who seek to take advantage of them in an unequal relationship. Afterward, when that "high" of romantic love passes, usually followed by a painful break-up; we, the adults in their lives, need to be there for them to help cushion their fall back to reality.
As a semi-retired professional in this field, who has worked with many, many people over the years, I am convinced that teenage romantic love is healthy and an experience that helps young people prepare for the adult relationships that will follow. We adults must do our part to help those young people who look to us to give them the encouragement and the guidance to get the most out of the experience.