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My mother is really fond of telling this story of how I was madly in love at the ripe old age of four. Or maybe it was six. Either way it was serious. For the sake of six-year-old privacy, I'll call my first true love Scott. One day well into our relationship -- which consisted of many memorable games of doctor -- we were at my house. Before giving us our afternoon snack, my mother asked us to wash our hands. Scott and I obediently trotted off to the bathroom. When we didn't return after a while, my mother set out to see what became of us. She opened the bathroom door just as I was just getting off the toilet (apparently I wasn't too modest). I chose that moment, with my pants around my ankles, to pull my shirt all the way up and admit, "Scott, I love you." My mother burst out laughing and went to call my father.
Things weren't always so blissful with Scott. I can't remember the details -- although I can remember the golden hairs on the back of his tan neck, and the way we used to imitate the people who kissed on his mother's soap operas -- but he somehow broke up with me. I wandered around blue as can be, telling people Scott dumped me. My father thought it was a riot that I used such a phrase: to dump. So funny.
It didn't feel funny. Why would people dismiss my heartache as cute because I was only six? By the time I was a teenager this broken heart thing had happened a few more times, and people were still calling it adorable. But author Kimberly Kirberger wouldn't call my young pain cute or adorable. Kirberger cowrote the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul series, and her latest book is Teen Love: On Relationships. This is a book I could have used between Scott and now. Especially in high school. The best thing about On Relationships is that it isn't just Kirberger the adult telling kids what love is and how to fall in and out of it. Much of On Relationships grew out of a teen letter project Kirberger started. There are pages and pages of the letters from teens on love and relationships followed by her answers. It reads sort of like an extended Dear Abby for teens, with personal anecdotes and poems.
Kirberger's strength lies in her capacity to understand. She answers questions thoughtfully. She shares painful love stories of her own and even provides readers with her email address at the end of the book so they can get in touch. Most importantly, Kirberger speaks teen; in a section on unrequited love, she advises one girl to get over being obsessed with her crush by inviting her friends over for an evening of obsessing. "Talk about him nonstop....Act out your first date and continue on to the day you are married. Completely, totally indulge in this crush....Continue this all night or until you fall asleep." The next day, she says, you must resign yourself to the fact that it is over. "By letting yourself indulge and obsess it will help you to get sick of it and get him out of your system."
On Relationships is not intended to be read cover to cover but rather as a reference guide. If you do read the whole thing through, Kirberger's themes leap from the pages: take care of yourself, love yourself, love is ageless, heartache and/or love will help you grow as a person....She encourages teens to be honest and open to all kinds of things but most especially with each other. If you like someone, don't tell your best friend to tell their best friend to spread a rumor and hope it all works out. Bite the bullet and -- gasp! -- tell them yourself. Or, if someone is spreading rumors about you, confront them. Or ask a teacher to help you confront them. All sound advice.
Also noteworthy: Kirberger makes a point of answering questions from guys and girls. It is fascinating to see how little difference gender makes. The worries here are across the board. If only I knew that in the sandbox, maybe Scott and I would still be smooching soap-opera style today.