Relationships

On falling in love

Back in 1958, John Steinbeck, author of East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men, got a letter from his teenage son Thom, in which Thom confessed that he had fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan at his boarding school.

Steinbeck wrote this wise and wonderful letter back to him the same day…

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.

Love,

Fa

(Via Letters of Note. Top photo of Bob Dylan; photo of Steinbeck with his sons John and Thom in 1954, courtesy UC Berkeley; the letter originally appeared in this book.)

  1. Awww, its such a cute post.

    My boyfriend did the same thing, he wrote an email to his father confessing his love for me. I can totally relate to this post :)

  2. I really loved the inspiring thoughts mentioned in the love letter. It’s so nice to hear that we are inlove but sometimes no matter how much you love that someone if your not appreciated and be loved too you will end up giving up.

    Back to the topic, it’s very nice to hear that sweet thoughts you mentioned above. Thanks for this.

  3. Joanna,

    I am so glad you posted this entry. I ended up using an excerpt from this letter in the speech I gave at my best friend’s wedding last weekend. It was perfect and everyone loved it :)

  4. Anonymous says...

    If it’s not too personal I would love to hear more about your big break up you’ve mentioned a few times here. It’s so nice to see someone so happy in their life and know that we can all get there someday, even through the bad times.

  5. My favorite part: “And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

    Lovely post. I’ve been reading your blog for ages, but have never commented before. Your blog makes 24-year old me feel confident that life will sort its way into something wonderful and full of love. Thank you!

    calmanduncollected.blogspot.com

  6. Love this. Thank you for posting.. I’ll be coming back to this one time and time again!

  7. That was amazing! Thank you for having an equally amazing blog! I’ll be back for sure!

  8. My absolute LOVE for John Steinback just grew deeper. He is a profound writer of truth.

  9. That’s an amazing response from a parent. And it’s sweet to share it now. Aww :)

  10. “girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.”
    very true! unfortunately most guys don’t know this…if only all boys had fathers like Steinbeck! :)

  11. That is so sweet!

  12. Aw, that’s awesome. It’s incredible to hear somebody talk about love like that, I don’t think enough people know what that feels like these days.

  13. Such a beautiful letter and what wise words. Love this. Thank you.

  14. How wonderful! And wise words.

  15. Wow. I can’t say I would respond to my child’s letter the same way.. this is beautiful.

  16. oh how i love this man. i’d read most of his book but had never read grapes of wrath up until a couple of months ago and just loved it. beautiful letter. what a special guy.

  17. Thank you for posting that. It made tears well up in my eyes. It’s really beautiful on it’s own, but even more so from one’s father. What a sage Steinbeck was…

  18. Anonymous says...

    that was beautiful!!

  19. “Nothing good gets away.” I love that.

  20. This is insanely beautiful. Thanks for sharing. It just made me instantly teared up.

  21. I’ve been reading book on the life of C.S.Lewis and his wife Helen Joy Davidman Lewis lately, very meaningful as much as reading this one. Thank you Joanna.

  22. That is such a beautiful and caring letter. It is interesting to me the different ways parents respond to their children’s love interests.

  23. This is so sweet! I hope that one day I can write a similar letter to my children…

    windeater.blogspot.com

  24. Love this posting so very much indeed.
    Love is all you need

  25. That’s Claire and Nathan in the picture !!
    Oooh that letter…
    I love that a father would write that to his son. He’s so caring and amazing.

  26. What a lovely letter, a letter of encouragement and inspiration for one to follow their strongest feelings.

    A

  27. Reading his personal letters are just as lovely as his fictional writing. There is a compilation of Ansel Adam’s letters to his wife, parents and his grandmother that I think you’d also enjoy going through.

  28. Perfect. And perfect timing. Thank you, Joanna.

  29. “Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.”
    Perhaps wiser words have never been spoken.

  30. This is wonderful. Exactly what I needed.

    Kelsey

    besos-blog.blogspot.com

  31. Anonymous says...

    Wow!

  32. Your blog is great! Thank you for posting the letter, it’s beautifully written. <3 Steinbeck.

  33. So beautifully written. My husband and I fell in love and it took a lot to stay together. Nothing good gets away is right :) All that effort to be with him is worth it every single day. Good or bad.

  34. I love the last line! “Nothing good gets away.” So beautiful.

  35. This is such a beautiful letter.

  36. i have to admit: this made me tear up!
    so heartfelt and beautiful!

    tks for this!

  37. Emily says...

    Just a note, given some of the comments above — Elaine was Thom’s stepmother (Gwyn was his mother, Steinbeck’s second wife, who had many problems with alcoholism). Steinbeck isn’t referring to her at all in the letter here, he’s referring to his current wife at the time, Elaine.

  38. Natalia says...

    Again, thanks for sharing! Your blog is like a cupboard full of little beautiful things that always makes me smile or moves me.

    THANK YOU!

  39. This is amazing!! I love it, thank you so much. You always have special finds.

  40. How perfect and beautiful! This is definitely a consideration for my upcoming wedding. So sweet and wise. Best part is, it’s Steinbeck :)

  41. Hannah says...

    This is a lovely letter, and so beautiful from father to son.

    As for great parenting, I think it’s quite sad that no mention was made of Thom’s mother and the valuable advice she too could have given him. I really disagree with divorced/separated parents who make their children deal with their opinions and feelings about the other parent, whether the child is 4 or 40. I hardly think Thom would have appreciated Elaine’s view on the matter given their history.

    In the end, Thom didn’t marry Susan.

  42. Really lovely, and especially so that a father wrote this to his son.

    It also speaks to the value of taking the time to thoughtfully express yourself. Too often we dash off an email or tweet without checking the quality of our words. As Steinbeck says, “The main thing is not to hurry…” Faster is not always better.

    Hope you don’t mind if I share this on my blog as well!

  43. Just beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing this. If only we could all be equip with such great words of advice.
    xox

  44. Love this! The last sentences speak volumes “The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

  45. I love this so much and would love to also read what Elaine had to say! Thanks for sharing!

  46. le sigh!

  47. This is your best post ever. (And you’ve had some really, really good ones!).
    Thank you Joanna, you are so inspiring and wise.

  48. This is a wonderful letter. I jumped to the Letters of Note blogged and read a few more. The writing is so lovely.
    I fear our dictionary will turn away from these beautiful words to: LOL, LMAO, :) :P TTYL…

    I’m losing hope for our future generations when it comes to vocabularly, face to face communication and writing.

  49. Anonymous says...

    This is beautiful! Included the passage about the two types of love in a letter I wrote to my love today. Thanks!

  50. this is just utterly fantastic. thanks SO much for sharing it!!

  51. Such beautiful wisdom. Thank you for posting this.

  52. I wonder if you have ever read Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet”? This reminded me of that book, which I read at a time in my life when I needed to be reminded about love and longing, and waiting. I think you would enjoy it :)

    – Marita

  53. I love this part…

    “Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.”

    So wise and true. It seems a lot of men don’t get that :)

  54. “Nothing good gets away” will be on my wall very soon :)
    Thanks SO much, I loved it.

  55. Anonymous says...

    what a nice sentiment!

  56. @maduvs says...

    sooo touching! Love it, from the perspective of a man! that´s a reals father duty and love proof!

  57. Thank you for sharing this, Joanna.
    I meant a lot for me to read this today.
    My favorite part was the explanation of the second kind of love with its emphasis on respect.
    Very profound and so very important.
    What a dear father.

  58. Such a beautiful sentiment to start the day with. Thank you for sharing.
    xo!

  59. This is so beautiful. I have been searching for inspiration for my wedding vows and John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors. Thank you so, so much for sharing. It has me all misty-eyed already. xo

  60. Anonymous says...

    Beautiful! So affirming and full of truth. I love your photo with Alex too!

  61. what a beautiful letter to read on this Thursday morning! it has me feeling romantic and wistful. great advice from a wise father that i will have to remember when my daughter is older. thank you for sharing!

  62. That is one of the most beautiful, truthful things I have read in such a long time. I shouldn’t expect anything less from such a honestly fantastic author, but I can’t believe I hadn’t stumbled upon this before.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  63. love it, I just gonna print it and frame, just in case my children ever ask me;))
    Love
    Yolanda

  64. I am crying like a baby now, this is so beautiful. I am saving it to read to my daughter one day. Thank you!

  65. What a gem! I’m not sure, though, that “Nothing good gets away.” I think sometimes it does.

    I hope I can give such a beautiful, thoughtful response to my own children someday.

  66. This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing.

  67. this is sooooooooooo precious!

    kisses from Spain!

  68. So wise. So lovely.
    Thank you for sharing.

  69. Anonymous says...

    Oh how I love Steinbeck. East of Eden is easily the best piece of literature ever written, or maybe travels with Charley…hmmm they’re all incredible. He brings things to life with words.

  70. Steinbeck is one of my favorite writers…I thought I’d read everything by him, but this letter is definitely new. Thank you for sharing his beautiful BEAUTIFUL words

  71. Its words like these you hope to be equipped with the moment your child comes and tells you they are in love. I will keep these close for that time.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Louise

  72. Just wonderful! Thank you for this!

  73. Absolutely beautiful. How precious it would be to have such a letter written by your parent. Steinbeck is on of my favorite authors and this really makes me love him more. :)

  74. This is so beautiful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that parents know too. I hope one day I can be as encouraging for my children. So lovely.

  75. “the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.”

    This exactly is how I know I love my David and he’s the one – when we got together I immediately started loving myself more. I wanted to be better to people and nicer and more gracious, and started realizing how blessed I am by everyone in my life. (Not that I think I was a horrible person before or anything – I just wanted to be better!)

    Leave it to Steinbeck to put it into words. Thank you for posting this.

  76. thanks for sharing! I love reading letters like this!

  77. Megan says...

    So beautiful. And what great parenting. I hope I can be this calm and supportive when my kids fall in love. In my early relationships (ages 16-18), I seem to remember parents being frantic and stressed out. Really, what we could have used was this kind of acknowledgement of feelings and guidance. Which is why I love the lines:

    “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.”

  78. Love a good sneak peek into a letter. Especially on love!!! How touching and sweet… I like the part about “girls know you love them, but they like to hear it too!” true that!

  79. That is so beautiful and touching! Thanks for sharing, we all need to hear something like that every once in a while…

  80. This is so beautiful, practical and simple. I love it so! Thank you for posting it!

  81. Beautiful, inspiring, simple and true.
    He must have been as good father as writer.

  82. Joanna, thank you for posting this! It is beautiful, and exactly what I needed to read. How lovely and encouraging!

  83. I recently read Sweet Thursday, and that man is seriously skilled with words of love. I absolutely loved this bit from the book:
    “They say of an amputee that he remembers his leg. Well, I remember this girl. I’m not whole without her. I am not alive without her. When she was with me I was more alive than I have ever been, and not only when she was pleasant either. Even when we were fighting I was whole. At the time I didn’t realize how important it was but I do now. I am not a dope. I know that if I should win her I’ll have many horrible times. Over and over I’ll wish I’d never seen her. But I also know that if I fail I’ll never be a whole man. I’ll live a grey half life and I’ll mourn for my lost girl every hour of the rest of my life.

  84. “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.”

    “But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone.”

    Often, adults belittle young people’s feelings. I believe that love is love, no matter your age.

    What a beautiful letter :) Their father/son relationship must have been full of love, trust and respect for each other.

  85. this is incredible. love that the father isn’t afraid to give his son advice on love…and perfectly emotional ( non-sexual) advice at that

    http://nuhasofiyan.blogspot.com

  86. That is beautiful and very sweet. I am going to have to read some of Steinbeck’s work, this little insight into his life intrigues me! Thanks for posting!

  87. Just sent this along to my fiance. I think it’s a great idea for a reading. Love the line “And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.” Spending nearly half of our 9-year relationship long distance feels deserving of such a quote.

  88. I totally want to hear Elaine’s side now!

    I wonder if the son did marry Susan. Sigh… I love hearing about the lives of writers. They are often more fascinating than the books they write.

  89. “Nothing good gets away” is such a great thing to remember. Thanks for posting this!
    -Molly

    hitherekiddo.blogspot.com

  90. This reminds me of advice on love I’ve gotten from my father which was always so weird because he’s been in prison since I was a baby. He’s been writing me letters since I was five, though. I read them all now and get so much joy and understanding from them. I look forward to the day hes released and we can discuss these things in person.

  91. I have love John Steinbeck and his writings. This letter makes me love him even more. What a sweet and lovely family moment captured in this letter! Thanks for sharing.

  92. Yes!! I love that he gave both sides of the story. I wonder if Thom wound up w/ Susan…I have never read any Steinbeck novels but I think now I have to…his view on love is a very wise one indeed…

    Lemanie’s Randomness Blog

  93. This truly took my breath away and made me tear up. This is so spot on. Ah, I just love it!!!!

  94. so wonderful! i love when he says “And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

    how perfect :)

  95. Yay! I just read this somewhere recently and was so struck by it! What fantastic, insightful and loving advice on love. I hope to be the kind of parent who can write my child like that someday!

    Do you ever write letters to Toby? (or rather his grown up self?)

  96. Oh what a sweet letter, I hope that I can teach my little girl the same thing about love, when she falls. :)

  97. I can honestly say that is the most wonderful and interesting thing I’ve ever read. I want to be a light like that for my future children. I cried a little :)

  98. I love it!
    Such wonderful words and kindness. So important to validate your child’s feelings in this way.
    My 26 year old has recently had her heart cracked a tad after expressing feelings that weren’t returned, going to have her read this – mostly the nothing good gets away part, genius.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  99. steinbeck is one of my favorites! what a beautiful message to pass on to his son! i’m gonna have to check out Letters of Note… as always, thank you!

  100. This was a great thing to read at the start of my day! Thank you, Jo!

  101. I will save this for my little sister and brothers. =)

  102. Lauren says...

    Hi Jo! I love this letter, particularly the last lines. The link to the book that it originally appeared in isn’t working for me. Could you tell me the title? Thanks!

  103. Lauren C.T. says...

    I wish I had seen this before my wedding. What a great reading it would make! :)

  104. That is so sweet and tender and beautiful! I especially love where he said :Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.” Wise man.

    Thanks, this made me smile!

  105. R. says...

    I love this! What book did it appear in? The link isn’t working for me…

  106. my favorite line: “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.”

  107. One of the most beautiful, insightful and inspiring texts about love. Thanks so much for sharing! xoxo

  108. what a beautiful letter to receive from a parent. I adore Steinback’s style (Letters from Charley is a great travel book and as its written about his own travels you feel you really get to know him!) I hope I can impart such wisdom on my children to help them on their way…particularly regarding matters of the heart!

  109. love this! going to post about it on my blog today!
    Danielle

  110. Andrea says...

    I’m so glad you posted this. I’ve been wracking my memory for something simple and sweet to read for a toast at my little sister’s wedding. Part of this may be exactly what I need. :)

  111. This is one of the most beautiful and insightful things I’ve ever read. I love that the entire letter is not based on the feeling of love.

  112. so sweet and true. love letters of note. xo

  113. What a loving response to loved son!

  114. I wish people still wrote like this… Thanks for sharing!

  115. Beautiful

  116. my sister sent it to me from the great website Letters of Note xoxo