Juliet was only 13 when she fell in love with Romeo, and, spoiler alert, about a week later their relationship met a tragic end. Long before and long after the Capulets and the Montagues, parents and teenagers have struggled over the nature of young love.
“Romeo and Juliet was just a fling,” Shannyn Schack ’16, who just ended a six-month relationship, said. “You can’t really fall in love in high school. I feel like I can’t fall in love love, like really deep in love. I feel like there’s a part of it that’s reserved for when I’m older.”
“Teenagers think that love is something,” Genny Thomas ’16 said. “But they’re all wrong. It’s a waste of time and energy. Everyone makes such a big deal about relationships, but they’re stupid. You might as well just be friends because labels are stupid. I just hate seeing couples around school. They’re annoying, and they take up space.”
For many people though, love is a big deal. Many people who believe that teenagers have the same capability as adults to feel real, romantic love.
“Sure, things are a lot more volatile for teenagers,” English teacher Jeremy Michaelson said. Michaelson is the father of Aidan Yetman-Michaelson ’14, who has been in a relationship for the past three years. “But that doesn’t keep them from falling in love. I believe that Aidan loves [his girlfriend]. I would never question that if he told me that. It wasn’t like he was just swooning around the house after he just met her saying that he was in love with her.”
Among those who believe that teenagers can fall in love, there is a debate as to whether or not this love is the same as the love shared in adult relationships.
“When you fall in love as a teenager, it’s a singular and unique experience,” Michaelson said. “When you’re married 20 years, the love takes a different form. When you’re married this long, there’s a comfort that comes from a stable abiding friendship that you have complete faith in. It doesn’t have the tingly excitement [of a teenage relationship], but it’s no less satisfying.”
School counselor Luba Bek believes that the passion in teenage relationships, when combined with the fact that most teenagers aren’t seeking lifelong partners in their boyfriends and girlfriends, results in a love that is much more pure than adult love.
“It’s more pure, and it’s more intense,” Bek said. “You never forget the first love. Even people who have Alzheimer’s, the memory that’s forever etched in their brain is the memory of the second decade of their life because this is the memory of the first love, first kiss, first heartbreak. In adults, the love is more accepting than enchanting. It’s love and companionship as opposed to passionate love. There’s trust, there’s acceptance, there’s forgiveness. It’s calmer. It’s less volatile. It’s kind of less bipolar.”
“You can love someone at any age,” Alyssa Spratt, Yetman-Michaelson’s girlfriend who attends Viewpoint School, said. “A lot of people fall in love, but the emotional depth is the same. I think that you can have a mature relationship at any age. Loving someone can be the same when you’re a teenager as when you’re a full-grown adult, but the situations you’re put in are entirely different.”
The situations teenagers face while romantically involved are generally characterized by both adults and teens as being more passionate and less pragmatic.
“Even though it’s been going on for a long time, it’s still sort of a honeymoon-type thing, and obviously I don’t see that with my parents,” Yetman-Michaelson said. “[Their relationship is] more an honest caring for each other, not like a hot and steamy romance.”
“You have different responsibilities in adult relationships,” Spratt said. “You have a job, and you have to deal with finances. It’s just lifestyle differences. Aidan and I always tell ourselves that if we were adults right now we’d probably be married, but, being teenagers, it isn’t very convenient because we can’t do all the things we want to do.”
Parents are almost inherently involved in teenage relationships. Many parents attempt to provide relationship advice to their love struck teens.
“Honestly, I was, initially a little bit concerned about [Spratt and Yetman-Michaelson’s relationship],” Michaelson said. “Early on, I said, ‘Look. You’ve got to consider your future, and it can’t be completely dependent upon your relationship.’”
“My parents are totally cool with all the stuff that’s going on,” Yetman-Michaelson said. “They just want to make sure that I take my time and get some more experience and make sure that this is what I want.”
Yetman-Michaelson said he prioritizes his schoolwork over his girlfriend.
“He’s not let his relationship narrow his world in a way that I’m concerned about,” Michaelson said. “He’s not letting his relationship be his number one priority. None of the schools that he’s applying to are closer than 3,000 miles to where she’s applying to. I think he has enough perspective to realize that his relationship shouldn’t dictate his life.”
“We’re not going to organize our college experience around each other because we know education is important,” Yetman-Michaelson said. “I’m going to go on a sort of spiritual journey in college so that I can know who I am and know what I want. I do see a permanent future with her, but I know if I don’t focus on getting a good education right now, then I won’t be able to have that with her.”
However, Yetman-Michaelson said, once he has finished his education, Spratt will become his first priority.
“Sometimes, I’d rather talk to him than do my homework,” Spratt said. “But he’s also a source of motivation.”
In spite of the potential negative effect of relationships on academics, some parents think relationships themselves can be seen as a sort of schooling.
Michaelson is happy that Yetman-Michaelson has had the opportunity to be in a relationship in high school, seeing it as a part of growing up.
While most seniors are focused only on college, Spratt and Yetman-Michaelson’s thoughts of the future extend beyond that.
“I know it’s probably cliché, but I can definitely see a future,” Yetman-Michaelson said. “We’ve sort of planned out what we’re going to do. [We plan] to live together, get engaged and get married. I never went into a high school relationship expecting to even fall in love, much less find someone I want to spend the rest of my life with. I pretty much knew I was attracted to her from the day I met her, but I just kind of considered it a friendship. What I probably want [now] is being married.”
“When I was going out with boys in middle school, I would get ahead of myself and be like, ‘Oh my god. He’s the love of my life’ or whatever,” Spratt said. “From the very beginning in my relationship with Aidan, the attitude was different. It wasn’t wishy washy ‘oh I wanna be in love and stuff.’ The relationship kind of started out as just this boy I liked when I was 14.”
Some adults don’t have any problem with marriage expectations in teenage relationships, although they acknowledge the short-sightedness of such far-reaching expectations.
“[Teenagers] see the world in black and white,” said Bek, who sees nothing wrong with thinking about marriage while in high school. “It’s idealistic. I’ve been with the school for 23 years. I know very few couples that actually stay together. You can decide you want to go to Harvard, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”
Many people attribute the inability to maintain a lifelong or even long-term relationship that starts as a teenager to the constant changes in oneself and one’s self-perception that kids undergo during this developmental phase, but Spratt, while acknowledging she’s changed, does not believe that her development as a person has been a hindrance to her relationship.
“We’ve coevolved,” Spratt said. “Obviously you’re not going to know who you are at 14, and you still don’t know who you are at 18, but we’ve changed together. You never reach a point where you know who you are. You’re always changing.”
Lack of realistic expectations is, for many, one of the main differences between adults and teenagers in relationships, but these expectations vary greatly from one teen to another and even over time within relationships.
“Back in seventh grade it was just like ‘oh, she’s cute,’” said Lucas Hernandez ’14, who didn’t think his nearly five-year-long relationship with his girlfriend Desiree would last longer than a few months. “We got together because she and I were good friends, and she was always complaining about Jesse,” her boyfriend at the time.
In the five years since then, Hernandez’s views and expectations of the relationship have changed greatly.
“The great plan is to get married,” said Hernandez, who started thinking about having children with his girlfriend in the eighth grade. “I want kids and so does she. She wants to have kids with me. She could be a great mother to the kids that I would have.”
Hernandez does not think his relationship or the expectations he has are typical of teens, but that’s because Hernandez believes he is more mature than most people his age.
“I can say that who I am right now is already figured out,” Hernandez said. “I stopped being a kid at 14.”
Hernandez said that his parents, for the most part, stay out of his love life, although they don’t necessarily approve of it.
“[My mom] didn’t like it,” Hernandez said. “I mean, who wants to see their little boy grow up?”
But Hernandez said that his mom believes that as a teenager who’s about to leave for college, it’s up to him to make his own path in life.
While Hernandez doesn’t believe his relationship affects his schoolwork, his girlfriend, he said, is his top priority.
“If she calls me and she really needs me, I’ll ditch school right away,” Hernandez said. “I’ll take a train and go see her, [but] we keep each other focused. [She] makes herself second [priority].”
Visual arts teacher Marianne Hall, who has been both married and involved in a teen romance, said that the feelings she felt for her husband were very different from those that she felt for the boys she liked as a teenager.
“[As a teenager,] I was in love as much as you can be at the level of maturity I was,” Hall said. “It was a kind of love, definitely. Love changes as you get older. There’s the kind of love you get from having a child together, the kind of love you get from being best friends. There’s all kinds of love.”
Teenage love, Hall said, is much more sexually driven than adult love.
“The big plus I think is the sexual one in teen years,” Hall said. “Teenage love can be so passionate because the hormones are just way wilder than in any other time of your life, and you don’t know what to do with it.”
Teenagers, Hall believes, often get in relationships because they’re attracted to the newness of romance more than because they’ve fallen in love. Hall said she believes sex is the strongest biological drive in teenage relationships because one’s adolescent years are the best time to reproduce.
“Throughout history, most mothers become mothers when they’re 13. I think that’s what nature did to help us as a species,” she said.
When she was growing up, Hall said, having a boyfriend was a requirement for certain parties and social events.
As an adult, Hall acknowledges that her view of boys and relationships as a teenager may have been slightly skewed.
“I just had this fantasy that immediately we’d be married, we’d have children, what our house would look like, this whole crazy thing,” Hall said about Buddy Campbell, her high school crush.
“We know what we want,” said Cassie* ’16, who wears a pre-engagement ring.
Cassie plans to get married to her boyfriend Blake* ’15 when she’s around 26. “We’ve thought about it a lot. We’re going to have two kids. We’re going to have a girl for sure. Three would be hard. I think two is a good number.”
While acknowledging that most teens aren’t mature enough to make decisions about children and engagements, Cassie, like Hernandez, believes that her life experiences have caused her to mature more quickly than most and qualify her to make these choices.
“I’ve been through it all,” Cassie said. “I had to take care of myself from a very young age. I feel like I got to my mature point when I was 11. We’re 16 now. [Adulthood] is really not that far away. Developmental-wise, I’m not that worried about it. I’ve done that already. We’re definitely at our mature point.”
Cassie doesn’t believe that her relationship has a bad effect on her schoolwork.
“It actually has a great effect on my school work because now I have a goal,” Cassie said. “It makes [the future] a lot more tangible when you know you’re going to be with this one person.”
“I don’t think that there’s a detriment to your education,” Bek said. “Every relationship is an exercise to perfect your skills of finding and staying in a relationship. You learn something from it.”
Learning how to be in a relationship, Bek believes, comes from practice and repetition.
“You do it. It’s over. You learn. You move on,” Bek said. She compared being in a high school relationship to learning a foreign language: “It’s not the newness of the relationship but the newness of being in a relationship. It’s learning as opposed to living. With adults, it’s living. When you’re fluent in a relationship, it’s less of a newness.”
Waiting to think about getting married is generally regarded as a good idea, but there is disagreement among both adults and children on whether or not waiting until after high school to start a relationship is a good idea.
“I just don’t feel that I’m ready for it,” Tigist Menkir ’14 said. “Maybe after college, post Ph.D. because by then I’m done with school.”
In addition to not wanting to be in a relationship, Menkir doesn’t believe that she is yet mature enough to be in one. More maturity, she believes, is necessary for her to have more proactiveness and independence, two factors Menkir considers essential parts of any romantic relationship.
“You’re more independent and have more control of your life [as an adult],” Menkir said. “If you’re not proactive in a relationship, then you won’t be able to keep the other person involved.”
Thomas thinks teenage relationships are pointless.
“Honestly, how do people not get bored of each other,” Thomas said. She said she thinks adults need relationships more than teens because they don’t have as many opportunities as teens to spend time with their friends. “I get bored of people after 20 minutes. I love my friends, and I love my family, but I can’t see myself being in love with somebody more than anyone else. I’m just not ready to be committed to anything because I’m not even committed to feeding my fish. I’m just not mature enough to take anything seriously. I’m in love with this boy in my chemistry class, but I wouldn’t date him. I’m just not ready to be in a relationship, so I’ll just pass him the hydrochloric acid.”
According to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Bek said, being in a relationship as a teenager is actually very important.
“Having satisfied the basics, your most prominent need is the need to belong,” Bek said. “To have your family love you, even to have a dog.”
Bek said being in love, particularly in romantic love, is especially important as an adolescent.
“In adolescence, [love] is just crucial,” Bek said. “You experience a lot of things for the first time. This is the first time you do something on your own. You fall in love on your own. Together with love and relationships, you’re also searching for yourself, and you’re identifying yourself by who you love and who loves you.”
Love, which is the third level of the hierarchy after psychological needs and safety and security needs, is closely intertwined with self-esteem, the fourth level.
Romantic relationships are actually more important than friendships in high school, Bek said. In middle school, meanwhile, because kids are less developed, romantic relationships aren’t as essential.
Relationships take time, and time usually passes more slowly for teenagers than for adults.
“A long term relationship [for a teenager] is like three months,” Bek said.
“If it’s like a year into a relationship or maybe less, I think I’d believe [a teenage couple that says they’re in love],” Schack said. “They’ve accepted their flaws, and they’ve matured in that relationship and they’ve matured as a person. With time, you mature. I don’t believe in love at first sight, and I think that everything takes time. I do believe in lucky chances. I do believe in soul mates. That can happen anytime. It can happen when you’re 82. It can happen when you’re 11.”
If Juliet had met Romeo at 30 instead of 13, poison and daggers may not have characterized their relationship. Maybe, as adults, they would’ve handled their love for each other differently, or maybe not.
*Names have been changed