Lessons in true love, adolescence and John Green

Mamma, Hans was not Elsa‘s true love, Re said the other day.

Why do you say that, I asked.

He kissed her because he wanted to take over Arondel, he replied, very matter-of-factly.

Hmmm, I said.

I think he was her bad love. Only Anna was her true love, he declared.

How can love be bad, I asked him.

When love is not good for you, it’s bad love, he said.

This is my five year old. The youngest love ambassador I know. I wish he was around when I was falling in and out of ‘bad love’, through most of my youth. But then, if that wasn’t bad, he wouldn’t have been here, so thank you universe, for all that bad love.

I loved Frozen. After watching it only 47 times, I had no choice not to, but I loved that sisters (or women) are doing it for themselves. I liked the message that redemption doesn’t come in the form of a handsome prince. I loved that not only was a handsome prince not a saviour, he turned out to be the film’s villain, underscoring the message that love-at-first-sight is generally all baloney.

I didn’t grow up on Disney, but through my child I am now. I never realised that all Disney stories have their climax in true love’s kiss and that subliminally, romance enters our children’s minds much earlier than we think.

While teaching English to grade seven and eight, I see a shine in their eyes when we talk about love. Once, I gave the younger ones an essay to write. The subject was “Narrow Escape”. What genre should it be, they asked. It can be anything, I said. Adventure, thriller, mystery, fantasy… you choose. What about romance, a boy asked. Yes, why not, I said. It was music to their ears. Evidently, teachers seldom talk about love or romance. He wrote a funny-tragic story about a narrow escape from true love’s kiss.

Elsewhere on campus, a boy has been marked as a sort of crusader of romantic fiction. He loves John Green and has read all of him and soon had passed the bug around; everyone was reading him. Some adults were not too happy about the John Green epidemic; they found him age-inappropriate. It bothered them that children were not reading what they were “supposed to read”. They had me at “even boys are reading romantic fiction”.

I like this boy. I like that even at 13, he is cool enough to hold his mother’s hand as he escorts her on her visit to campus. I like that he is polite, gentle and wears his machismo lightly. That while other boys are flexing their muscles in rugged sport, he spends his free time reading. I like that he is nonchalant about the fact that he is going against the grain.

The books were confiscated. But by then, Green had become the most popular guy on campus. The children can’t wait to go home in the holidays and read more.

I was intrigued enough to read him too. As a writer, I wanted to know what he was doing right. I soon found out why they labelled him a teen whisperer. He writes in a clever, confiding voice about sweet, twistedly intellectual teenage boys smitten by complicated, charismatic girls. There are some clever lines, smart banter, a larger message about the self and a little sex. I read a few books and found myself smiling at places, although I am quite over tear-jerkers and I have figured out his strategy, so yes, I’m judgemental. May be I have become too adult about love and that perhaps is a sad thing.

I wonder why romance novels are often dismissed as guilty pleasures and something to be ashamed of by both men and women. We all want our men to feel deeply and communicate about it, but what I see all around is how real life men are constantly conditioned otherwise. We want our men to be sensitive, in touch with their feminine side, but guys reading “girls books” confounds our gender expectations. And there is always an element of surprise and snark that comes with the genre of romance —  no matter who is reading it.

Adolescent love is a big concern for parents and schools. It is often discussed as an affliction, a cause for intense worry, a result of some deep-rooted insecurity, a problem that needs to be solved. “Let’s create other interests, so they don’t feel the need to seek the opposite sex for validation,” they think.

It’s trendy to ban. But banning creates more desire. Censorship creates new demons. The sad truth is that we think we are insulating them from sex. But it is love that takes a beating. Because sometimes, adolescent love creates an imprint for a lifetime.

May be this is the beginning of another kind of love jihad. May be if we see love as a journey and not a destination, it will seem less formidable. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. But every time I see a boy standing in front of a girl, asking her to love him, I feel warm and fuzzy inside. May be I’m not the cynic I thought I was. May be we all need enough shots at bad love to get to the real thing. Or maybe some of us get it right the first time.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 13th October, 2014)

 

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5 thoughts on “Lessons in true love, adolescence and John Green

  1. Pingback: Lessons in true love, adolescence and John Green | Blueturtle's Space

  2. LOL … now you made me curious about John Green “the teen whisperer”. Loving that handle a lot ..
    Here’s a book that your school library can afford to keep (or not) – maybe you could .. that sets some practical traffic lights to help navigate that complicated roads and alleys teenage years stretch into ..

    “The Little Red Schoolbook”, by Soren Hansen and Jesper Jensen (school teachers in Sweden). Written in the 1970’s the book was banned until recently when it was resurrected and one copy sits on my shelf. I wish I had that as a teen.

    cheers,
    Suj

    p.s. a link to explore
    http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jul/08/the-little-red-schoolbook-republished-soren-hansen

  3. Hi, I love reading your columns in Pune Mirror. Disney hasn’t entered our household yet, may be because we don’t watch TV or animated movies. I am also wary about fairy tales where inevitably the girls wait for their prince charming. I haven’t figured out a way yet to tell fairy tales to my 3-year old son [though we are big on reading]. I am neither wary of love nor his display of emotions; I am far more wary of the messages we unknowingly pass on in the guise of what girls are supposed to do and what boys are supposed to do. For example, on rare occasions when I put on a bindi or wear a piece of jewellery, he wants to do the same. I go with it but honestly I am no crusader. I don’t consider myself brave enough to walk against the tide but neither do I want to feed gender stereotypes to my son. Every day is a learning experience in parenting.
    P.S. I loved ‘the Fault in our Stars’. Haven’t stopped recommending it yet.

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