Marguerite Kelly
Family Almanac

Unrequited love among teens

Q. My daughter, an attractive, funny, smart and talented 14-year-old, developed her first crush last year, and it soon became an obsession. My child wears her heart on her sleeve, so she tries to bump into this boy at school; she sends him notes and e-mails; she thinks about him constantly — and she even told him that she loves him. He has no interest in her, however; he has asked her not to e-mail him anymore, and he ignores her when he sees her at school. Even more painful: He has shown an interest in someone else.

Some girls, whom she considered to be her friends, encouraged this one-sided romance last year, and she talked to them about this boy ad infinitum. Apparently the conversation began to bore them, so now they often avoid her or refuse to speak to her or they won’t let her sit with them at lunch.

(Hadley Hooper/for The Washington Post)

I hate to see this lovely young woman pine away over something that was not meant to be. Even though my daughter saw a counselor and was told that she couldn’t nab the boy, she sometimes lives in a fantasy world or in a state of tearful despair. On other days, she accepts the situation as it stands and handles it well, but she gets angry with me if I try to give her some motherly advice.

She also regrets the way she handled things last year and wishes she could do it over again, but she keeps busy and continues to do well in school. But she just isn’t happy, and she doesn’t try to make kinder, more trustworthy friends.

Should I be concerned?

A. You definitely should be concerned if your child is sad (or scared or angry or worried), just as she should be concerned if you are upset. A strong family gives the most to those they love the most.

Your child doesn’t need your advice, however — it’s too late to shut that old barn door — but she is grieving, and she needs to be consoled. The boy may not have cared for her, but he was her first love, and her first loss, and her pain should be acknowledged. The sooner you give her your unconditional sympathy, the sooner she can laugh about the mistakes that she and everyone makes between the ages of 11 and 15.

This complicated age is awash with more anxiety and angst than you’ll find in a soap opera. Never again will cliques and bullies be so prevalent, gossip so rampant and calamities so poignant. Girls and boys are growing physically, mentally, emotionally and morally, but they grow in each area at different speeds, even within themselves. A teen who now thinks in abstractions might lose interest in a friend who still sees the world in concrete terms, and a teen who looks like a fashion model might pull away from her old friend who wears baggy jeans and has become overweight.

Now toss a few hormones into the mix. Suddenly a young teen falls in love with someone of the opposite sex (and sometimes with everyone of the opposite sex) simply because puberty has hit her harder or earlier than it has hit her friends. This affected her judgment, just as it probably affected your daughter’s judgment, but count your blessings. If that boy had liked your daughter as much as she liked him, it might have been hard for them to say no to sex, because the impulse center of the teenage brain doesn’t work as well at 14 and 15 as it did at 12.

It’s time to tell your daughter that puberty can push teens too far too soon, so she can begin to forgive herself for chasing this boy, and also to keep her as busy as you can so she can forget him. Perhaps the two of you could take a cooking course together or she could run errands every week for the old couple next door, because every child needs to be needed.

She also needs to learn new skills, and this would be a great time to teach them. College might seem far away right now, but your daughter will be on her own in just four more years and she should know how to cook, make small household repairs and handle her own money by then. These life skills will not only strengthen her self-esteem but also make her feel confident enough to apply for a really special job — and to get it.

 
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