Teenage Intimacy & Infatuation

Teenage Intimacy & Infatuation

Duncan Macleod

Links between teenage infatuation, intimacy, passion and spirituality - By Duncan MacleodTry as I might, I cannot forget my first experiences of falling in love as a teenager. Those times of longing and desire have formed me, developed me. The way I relate to my wife, the friendships I share with those around me, and my relationship with God ∆ all have been strongly influenced by my teenage crushes.

On the Up Side

The transition from being a child to being an adult inevitably involves seeking out others around you, being fuelled by strong doses of excitement, fear, wonder and loneliness. There is the ‘thrill of the chase’, the sense of wonder, awe and imagination. And of course, the sense of deep loneliness and pain that comes from rejection and fear of rejection. There’s a sense of disappointment when the ‘beloved’ does not measure up to the ideal human being that lived in our hopes and dreams.

From the safe position of adulthood it is easy to discount the importance of ‘puppy love’. We know from experience that ‘loves’ will come and go. Deeper experiences of faithfulness, loyalty, understanding, awareness, trust and commitment are yet to come, hopefully.

And yet teenage infatuation is not to be discounted. We’re talking about a move towards deep intimacy, which involves physical and emotional engagement with other people. Obviously we hope young people won’t move too quickly, before they have learnt to make mature decisions about whom they can trust, and with whom they can make meaningful commitments. At the same time we don’t want to repress the sense of delight that comes with sexual attraction.

Despite the limits in a young teenager’s capacity for intimacy, the all-absorbing obsession with another human being is a vital part of character development, not only in terms of sexuality but also in terms of spirituality.

Spiritual Passion

Have you ever wondered how infatuation might appear in spiritual terms? Passion and zeal are key elements of the ‘Pentecostal experience’. Wesley talked about his ‘conversion’ experience as having his heart being ‘strangely warmed’. I’ve seen older Christians pour cold water over this kind of experience on the grounds that it won’t last. Does it matter if the feelings don’t last if they lead to a deepening intimacy with God?

I would go even further and say that for an effective communication of the gospel, young people need a good reason to respond to God’s invitation to follow. Neither stark facts nor plain duty will awaken a desire to sign up with God. That’s why we have a flesh and blood affair in the person of Jesus. Love him or hate him, but don’t ignore him. Do we give young people a chance to meet Jesus in a way that engages the emotions as well as intellect?

The Down Side

Passion and religion together can lead to abuse. Just like passion and sexuality. Sometimes infatuation can have disastrous results. We can make decisions about relationships that we regret later on. We may discover we have fallen in love with an image of the other person that has no link with reality. We can be manipulated to enrol in causes that ultimately cause their destruction.

In the same way, many young people will idealise other people, God, Jesus and even the church. They may put a particular metaphor for God on a pedestal. Most young people will gradually learn to love with care and realistic attitudes. They will pick up skills of discernment, learning how to listen, watch and make their own decisions. They will learn to be vulnerable with people they can trust. They will learn love can continue and deepen even when the initial excitement has worn off.

An important role for adults during this time is to be there in support in the painful times of adjustment, when the image crumbles and the passion disappears. We can model enthusiasm in our relationships, alongside loyalty in the emotionally dull times. Instead of pressuring young people to return to the exhilaration of their ‘first love’, we challenge people to grow in their capacity for faithfulness and intimacy.

Healthy Environment

So how do we create an environment in which healthy passion can develop? I’d like my own kids to grow up knowing that their fascination for others and for God was neither manipulated nor repressed by those around them. I hope they will be able to develop a relationship with God that is marked with both passion and loyalty.

A practical example of healthy environment is the balance my local congregation seeks in the choice of music each week. We have songs that express something of our community together. We have songs that express something of our shared beliefs. We also have songs that express our passion for God, that enable us to be open about our desire for intimacy with our creator. We find songs that challenge us to change in our attitudes and actions in the world around us.

We ground our worship in the reality of life in a fragile world. And yet we expect to encounter God in mystical moments of uncertainty and ambiguity, surprise and spontaneity. While we give ourselves in worship to God, we do not profess God to be merely the idealisation of all our dreams.

As we work with young people each week, we seek to build a safe environment where they can grow in their confidence to build intimate human relationships, alongside an intimate relationship with God. This is an approach in which passion and self-control go together. We seek to model an awareness of our own personal needs and desires, and responsibility for the welfare of others.

For Further Reading:

Schaef, Anne Wilson Escape From Intimacy: Untangling the “Love” Addictions
Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1989

Starkey, Mike God, Sex and the Search for Lost Wonder 
InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1998

Sturt, John & Agnes Created For Intimacy: Discovering Intimacy with Yourself, Others and God 
Eagle, Guildford, Surrey, 1996

Tyrrell, Thomas J. Urgent Longings: Reflections on Infatuation, Intimacy and Sublime Love
Twenty Third Publications, Mystic, Connecticut, 1994

Whitehead, Evelyn & James A Sense of Sexuality: Christian Love and Intimacy 
Crossroad, New York, 1996