It's been famously claimed otherwise on TV recently, by grown ups who should know better, but let me be absolutely clear with you, and let you be absolutely clear with your children of every age: you can so choose who you fall in love with.
The interview with Barnaby Joyce and his new family was one of two fairy stories I heard this weekend. The other was in a lushly illustrated book for small girls that I came across in my doctor's waiting room. (It was more interesting than the magazines.) Some princess fairies, who were extremely beautiful and lovely were sitting about doing nothing in particular, when they were visited by some prince fairies from out of town, who were handsome and strong. And they immediately fell in love.
I almost choked - and had I had a child on my knee, it would have been time for a change of plan. What the fairy! Did these gossamer winged girls have thistledown brains? Were there no background checks? How did they know the dozens of important things you have to find out before you mate for life? What if these were abusive, dumb, boring, untrustworthy, narcissistic prince fairies. (Are you listening, Melania?) So please mums and dads, tell your kids, if you tell them nothing else — love takes time! Someone can look good and sound good and turn out to be a total dud. And even you — adult, intelligent reader, check out what you really believe — are our hearts some kind of wild brainless creatures disconnected from our brain which leap out of our chest and throw themselves at the first strong jaw that gives us a cheesy grin?
The words we use really matter. The verb for getting oneself in love is to "fall". Not to step boldly with eyes wide open, or to carefully and slowly gather the evidence that this person matches our high criteria. More like tripping inadvertently while in a dark place and an alcoholic haze. Good luck with that turning out well!
In The Making of Love, a book I wrote with my wife nearly 30 years ago, and motivated, unconsciously I am sure, by the divorce of some of our best loved friends, we looked into how attraction works, and how relationships go through phases of pain and growth. There are three kinds of attraction between men and women (apart from a rather unworthy one of their financial standing, which has featured surprisingly often in Australia's public life). Love, lust, and liking, the three Ls, all play a part in relationships short and long. What our kids, boys and girls, need to be taught is that they are quite different things. Love is the heart warming sense of tenderness and trust, it takes time to grow. Liking is no small thing either, it takes experience under trying circumstances — we recommended backpacking in India, or the Inca Trail. That way you can test under conditions, corresponding to "in sickness and in health" and see how your loved one behaves with a tummy bug and monsoonal heat. Lust needs no explanation, and is really the only one that is lightning fast!
Each has its part, and when all three combine then thats an amazing thing. But don't whatever you do mix them up.
Now, I know almost everyone reading this has gone impulsively and madly into relationships, but most of us did this in our teenage years, and we learned fast. So as parents, for our kids sake, at least giving them the language of the three Ls. Let them know random attraction is an age old pitfall, so that they can keep their brain engaged when their trousers start smoking. Women and girls, boys and men, need to ask that question — how long would it take to be bored with a great profile, if that's really all this person has going for them? (Answer, three minutes, maybe 10 if you're a male). Even a 16 year old can observe that yes, this person presses buttons, but that's not a reason to think you love them. Good things take time to grow. And love, real selfless, caring and time-tested love, is the most worthwhile thing of all.
Steve Biddulph is the author of 10 Things Girls Need Most, and The New Manhood, and the out of print The Making of Love.