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Age and Love
Passionate relationships are one of the most profound aspects of human social and individual development. Passionate intimate relationships are the next developmental stage after the childhood learning done in a family. It is through our passionate and intimate relationships that individuals learn the life lessons of becoming an adult. Some argue that young people do not have the capacity or reasoning skills to have passionate intimate relationships because they lack the ability to make adult decisions. Yet there is no evidence that people under the age of 18 are not fully capable of healthy passionate intimate relationships. This work will argue that age is an irrelevant aspect when it comes to the ability to have healthy intimate relationships because age does not determine maturity. With maturity comes the skills needed to develop respect for your partner as well as the communication skills needed to maintain a healthy relationship. Age is just a number, not a description of the individuals' maturity level.
Hatfield et al. demonstrate in research conducted on children of both genders ranging in age from 4 to 18 that children even at the youngest of ages are capable of feeling and expressing feelings about their own passionate love experiences. This clearly gives evidence that assigning a number stipulation on passionate love ability is in error yet is something that our culture, many other cultures and the laws of those cultures dictate. The reasons for this are in part associated with the perceived need of our society to protect children from the potential pitfalls and complications that are associated with intimate relationships. Additionally, the laws exist in the way that they are written because there is no way to codify emotional maturity. Yet one of the most difficult aspects of these restrictions is that many apply the age designation as a determining factor as to whether an individual or individuals are capable of experiencing mutual passionate love. In other words people simply take the age issue too far when deciding how "real" an individual's feelings are, discounting the real emotional connections associated with passionate love in people under a certain age.
Davila et al. In their research on romantic competence among adolescents demonstrate that though age plays some role in romantic competence it is not the determining factor and should not be used as a restrictive guide. Davila et al. also point out that, "Since 1902, there has been virtually no research on the development of passionate love." (37) Additionally the researchers stress that romantic competence and emotional competence in general is an important factor in social and individual development that should be nurtured rather than stifled and understood rather than avoided. One would then assume that "practice" passionate relationships should be encouraged among children. To conform to the law and the history and intent of protection that is associated with it caregivers and educators should make some attempt to ensure that the physical nature of the relationship is age appropriate and that the two individuals are somewhat compatible in their level of emotional competence. Yet these distinctions should not be made based on age alone as age seems to have very little real bearing on the level of competence one has acquired through life experiences and other communicative relationships.
This is not to say that the laws associated with issues like age of consent should not be respected for their historical precedents as they exist to ensure that extremes such as a clearly emotionally immature individual is not taking advantage of by someone much more mature and likely to have ulterior motives. For instance a 13-year-old is assumed by the law not to have the emotional maturity necessary to have an intimate physical adult relationship with someone twice that age. Yet the law simply goes too far when it makes distinctions about age of consent that bars a 17-year-old from having a mature adult relationship with someone who is 18 or 19. Following the letter of the law and responding to these situations as a clear and unmitigated violation of the law is in error. This would be like saying that a 25-year-old does not have the emotional maturity to have an intimate adult relationship with a 35-year-old. In many circumstances that 25-year-old could easily have a level of relationship competence that is equal to or greater than the 35-year-old and the same can be said of the 17-year-old and the 19-year-old. Clearly the legal restrictions are based on the precedence of mature adults taking extreme advantage of young inexperienced people who the law and society believe need protection. Yet the issue of "justice" in many circumstances needs to be divorced from intimate relationships.
In one research article the authors seek to develop a list of attributes that individuals look for in three varied types of relationships; friendships, casual sexual partners, and potential marriage partners. (Sprecher, & Regan) The researchers find that though age may be a demographic factor that relates to partner preference it has no attribute bearing and is not something individuals indicate as an important factor in making decisions about adult intimate relationships and passionate love. The work notes that other researchers have indicated that age is a factor in the meaning of relationships and friendships at different times in one's life. (478) This is also supported by Dragon and Duck in their analysis of a great deal of research literature regarding love and relationships, most content that the "meaning" of relationships change as we age, but not that a certain age indicates any specific level of maturity or relationship competence. (48) Yet again, the issue of age as a codifying tool is likely at play here because it is impossible for someone to say "I am at this level of maturity and/or relationship competence," because there is simply no language that represents the stages. Yet an individual can simply an easily say, "my biological age is" and this information can easily be recorded and compared. Therefore age is commonly used as a generic demographic factor that is comparable and is often included in research about relationships.
Recalling back to psychology 101 this researcher distinctly remembers all of the major theorists who developed staged theories regarding personal development did so with the stipulation that age as a number was simply an abstract aspect of the stages. Meaning that, generally certain developmental tasks are focused on and acquired during rough age estimates the actual numbers in reference to the developments are variable. Those who placed a great deal of emphasis on stages being discrete and biological age being certain as an indicator, sparked a debate that continues among developmental theorists today. (Jarvis, Holford, & Griffin 34) Theorists stress that, younger individuals as well as older individuals experience and acquire skills at different ages depending on levels of intelligence, and emotional maturity. These theorists also stress that people are always a "work in progress" meaning they can go forward (progress) or backward (regress) depending on the circumstances of their lives and this can happen in an unpredictable way. (Jarvis, Holford, & Griffin)
This would again indicate that the number assigned to biological age has very little real relevance with regard to relationship competence. An individual at five years old, given the right circumstances could have a mutually loving relationship with another child that involves feelings associated with sexual maturity and it is only our social taboos that stress the inappropriate nature of this kind of relationship. Among these two children there may be age appropriate communication, the respect of one another's level of comfort regarding what is OK in what is not OK to do and say. With these elements in play there can be an absolutely essential emotional and even physical relationship occurring between these two children that helps each of them grow as people and develop the skills needed to have mature intimate passionate relationships. In such relationships people are learning valuable skills. That will likely in the future help them experience empathy, mutual respect, personal boundaries, personal intimate desires, all of which work together with other factors to support natural growth and development in an essential way.
It is impossible to set an age limit on the ability to love. We love in different ways, according to the person and the situation, all of our lives. Valid and deep feelings have no age limits. However, the character of love may change depending not so much on your chronological age as on your emotional maturity and feelings about yourself. (McCoy et al. 45)
It is an unfortunate aspect of cultural and social taboos that makes so many people make the assumption that one's biological and age the determining factor of so much about an individual's identity and capabilities, absent of all environmental circumstances and past social interactions. According to Dragon and Duck the issue of age is often one that is dictated by social taboos, in the perceptions of how and individual sees him or herself. This is supported by the idea…[continue]
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