Don’t become the person who refuses to acknowledge themselves and gives themselves entirely to those around them. Don’t do it. It’ll only bring you misery. I know, you’re thinking, “But it doesn’t matter if I suffer! At least they’ll be happy!” I’m sorry if you’re at the point of believing this. I truly am. Because I’ve been there. It’s a dark abyss of guilt and shame. Don’t tread these waters. Turn back now, you’ll be safer that way. Heed my warning.
New York
November 10, 1958
Dear Thom:

…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…

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



Steinbeck, John. ”Falling in Love: A 1958 Letter.” Letter to Thomas Steinbeck. 10, Nov. 1958. 

  • Steinbeck shared his words of wisdom about love with his eldest, teenage son, Thom, who confessed to have fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan while at boarding school. Read full letter here
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