Maybe you’ve seen the letter floating around the Internet. John Steinbeck was a prolific writer and replied to his son, Thom’s declaration of love in a gorgeous, intuitive, supportive 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.
This is a letter I would love to receive. I would feel so “seen” to get a letter, email, or text from someone accepting my feelings of confusion. And Thom, Steinbeck’s teenage son, must have been hopeful and optimistic while writing his true feelings to his dad.
I’ve experienced lots of confusion in the name of love. I’m sure you have, too. To riff on last week’s blog post about how I tend to over-complicate situations, love is one such area in which I’m all-too-aware of my perceptions and desires. I see clients who are in relationships that cause them great pain and they don’t feel they can be their true selves. I have other clients who see their partners with rose-colored glasses and overlook glaring problems in the name of love. Then there are friends who share very healthy, respectful relationships but don’t feel “passion.” What works? What doesn’t work?
John Steinbeck offers such wisdom and care in this letter. He trusts Thom and doesn’t convince him that it’s “puppy love” or something like infatuation. Steinbeck also differentiates between types of love: the mean and ugly kind and the beautiful, respectful kind. My dear, longtime friend Erin has the “good” kind with her husband. I observe how present they are with one another. I was with them the other night and her husband took such great care to listen to her without a phone in his hand, to make eye contact, to thank her for the meal she’d made. In return, Erin spoke lovingly to him, supported his ideas, and hugged him in my presence. She was married previously and the difference between the two relationships is marked by seeing her smile and her confidence increase drastically. Side note: I witnessed both relationships up-close and personal over the course of our twelve-year relationship. Erin is a magnificent, strong woman. Her husband comments regularly that his life is so much better since they’ve been married and his only regret is that he wishes they would have met a decade prior!
This type of love feels supportive. I see the respect she gives and how he cherishes her. In my estimation, this is an ideal that I’m seeking. No longer do I desire someone who “completes” me; rather I think the best relationships are when he cares enough to know me and encourages growth and a sense of connection. Love no longer means perfect agreement on music and food choices, but a giving and receiving aura with both eyes gazing toward the same direction.
Steinbeck’s final sentiments are so comforting to me. It’s not too late! When we are on the same page and both feeling this deep love, it will be there. “The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”
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