A Letter Offering Lessons in Love

Here is a letter written by the renown John Steinbeck, dated in 1958, to his son who had proclaimed that he had fallen in love. It’s a great letter from a father sharing his wisdom on the subject of love, and maybe a little more.


New York
November 10, 1958
Dear Thom:
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.


Looking at the message he is delivering his son, it seems like there is more that can be taken away than his take on love, but rather some wise advice for everyday living. Which is good for me, because the closest thing I have to falling in love with is my kindle; an animal might come in at a close second.

At this point in my life, as I worry about my steps going forward, with many things on my plate such as grad school applications, job opportunities, planning and organizing some of my ideas moving forward, his final words make a world of sense. He writes, “And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.” 

Let’s see if I can remember to take that advice and run. Hopefully, piece after piece, my future will come together. If it is right, it happens.


via Letters of Note