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My son turned seven two months ago, and will begin his second year in elementary school after this summer.

Yesterday he received a love letter by one of his class mates, a girl of the same age. She wrote that she is in love with him and asked if they could meet in secret. She also asked him not to tell their class mates or parents. I learned of the letter, because I was sitting at the table with my son when we opened the day's mail, but I suspect he would have told me anyway, because he was clearly out of his depth with that declaration.

You might think the whole matter cute, but the problem is that my son vaguely dislikes this girl and at the same time is the kind of person who strongly feels the pain of others and does not want to hurt her.

The girl lives two houses away from us and visited the same kindergarten as my son. When we moved here, four years ago, we tried to get the two kids to befriend each other and went to the playground, swimming and elsewhere a couple of times with the other family. The girl very much liked and wanted to spend time with my son right from the beginning. But my son soon lost interest in her as he made other friends, and his initial openness slowly turned into a mild form of dislike as he realized a basic incompatibility between them yet she kept attempting to connect with him.

My son is quite popular with his peers, and he has a score of close and favourite friends, about a third of which are girls. The girl in question, on the other hand, appears to have only a few, exclusively female, friends. My son and his friends are of course interested in each other's physical differences and show their private parts to each other when they believe no adults are watching, but as yet none of them have shown any signs of attempts at romantic love.

Against this background the love letter is doubly incongruous: because my son is not yet intetested in girls in this way, and because he is not interested in this girl even as a friend.

Since my son did not know how to deal with this letter, I helped him compose a reply. I thought and told him a reply is a neccessary courtesy and that he should make his disinterest in a romantic relationship unmistakeably clear. I'm the kind of person who immediately gets cured of an infatuation upon being refused, so I try to quickly set those free who are unlucky enough to fall in love with me and not encounter a corresponding feeling.

To my surprise my son also said he would be willing (not interested!) to go swimming with the girl. So he added that offer to the reply. He went and put his letter in the girl's mailbox this morning. Her reply promptly arrived around lunch: she asks if he wants to go swimming tomorrow, which is fine, but covered the letter in lipstick kisses, which clearly shows that she did not understand (or believe) my son's refusal and that she lives in a fantasy world quite unlike that of my son, in which love letters covered in kisses don't yet exist. He knows of love, of course, but in his conception it is something that adults do and he is interested in it in the same way that he is imterested in where money comes from or what cancer is: as something that does not directly affect him.

My son is gone for two weeks now and won't receive the girl's second letter before he returns. I have called the girl's mother and told her that my son won't be able to go swimming with her daughter tomorrow (and nothing else).

But the question remains how he (and I) should deal with this matter. I am worried that the girl will keep pressing for my son's affection and make both herself and him unhappy with her dependence. But should I interfere? Should I tell the girl's parents and hope they will be able to help her accept my son's disinterest and turn her desire for, I guess, friendship to more likely candidates? What kind of advice can I give him, who is not only not interested in this girl, but also not even interested in the problem of love, and now has to deal with emotions that are not part of his current stage of development?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


Update:

I was so unsure about this that I did not do anything at all at that time. The summer holidays and a length trip came on between the two kids going swimming together, and then I forgot about it all until, a few weeks ago, a second letter arrived. I hesitated to deliver it and put it among my paperwork, where it remains unopened and unread. I felt and still feel that the letters take this all to a different level and put more pressure on my son than he deserves. The two kids are in the same class, so they meet and interact almost daily, and twice in the intervening time my son came home telling me that that girl is in love with him,and after a short pause, but he not with her. Then he proceeded to tell me that another boy from his class is in love with another girl, but she not with him either. And then he turned to other, more immediate matters. So I feel that it is not such a big issue after all, neither for him nor the girl, and I do not interfere as long as it remains so.

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My gut feeling would be to advice the girls parents that this goes on. I hope you get some good answers on how to talk to your son about it. –  Ida Aug 4 at 19:29
    
Keep in mind that 7yo infatuations are very different from teen infatuations. You probably should let the parents know that you're uncomfortable with the level of some of this (wanting to meet in secret is kind of troubling to me) and then just let it go. –  Amanda Dec 1 at 3:07

2 Answers 2

I think that your son and the girl are incapable of understanding love as we understand it - and we adults are just as incapable of understanding of what is going on in their heads and hearts.

I would not tell the parents immediately. They may overreact. See how the situation evolves. Also, they may already know (though the lipstick kisses on the letter make it seem improbable).

If your son is willing, I would allow them to spend some time together, get to know each other better. It will most probably not be a start of a romance, but it could be the beginning of a great friendship. But be near and supervise, so they don't do anything stupid (even such young kids can, supposedly).

If your son strongly dislikes the girl... I have no idea what to do;)

Tell your son that he doesn't have to love her back, but he should be "adult" about it and not push her away. Take advantage of the situation and explain that real relationships often begin with one person being more interested than the other - they grow to really like each other, and then they fall in love.

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I think this is one of those situations where the saying, "Girls mature faster than boys" really comes into play. Your son has zero interest in girls beyond that of friendship right now, which is exactly what I would expect out of a seven-year-old boy.

On the other hand, the little girl has obviously hit the stage where she's starting to become more interested in boys. I can remember having my first crush on a boy at around that same age (he was older--8--and his name was Shane Pinture. And I just thought he hung the moon...) so what she's experiencing isn't abnormal for girls her age, either. It took a lot of guts for her to write that love letter as evidenced by her request that he not tell their classmates.

Clearly, the little girl has not understood the message that your son is not interested in her. I appreciate your encouraging him to respond to her, but those first crushes are tough and it's easy for young girls to cling to any shred of evidence that their crush is really interested in them and simply too shy to admit it (I know, this sounds really dumb). It sounds like this is what you've got on your hands now. Letting people down easy is great in adult relationships, but childhood crushes aren't quite as nuanced.

I think, if it were my son, I would do the following:

  1. He has all ready committed to going swimming with her, and he should keep that commitment. Why? Because when we make commitments, we keep them. Monitor them closely so that if it becomes apparent that the little girl is "fawning" over your son and embarrassing him, you can swoop in and give him an out. You're the parent; that's what you do.
  2. Explain to your son (if you haven't done so all ready) that it took a lot of courage for this girl to write this letter, not knowing how he would respond to her. He should absolutely not tell his classmates about the letter. Since he's not interested in girls yet, he probably has zero interest in doing so anyway. One of these days, the situation will be reversed and it will be him espousing his love to someone.
  3. If the little girl continues to write him letters after the swimming play-date, I would simply ignore them. Any response (even if it's just to say "Let's just be friends") is likely to just lead her on. A lack of response will eventually be met with realization and acceptance on her part. She might wind up thinking your son is mean, but if he doesn't like her anyway then there's really no harm done is there?
  4. Reinforce to your son that it is never appropriate for anyone to ask him to meet them in secret. I'm sure the little girl meant no harm, has seen it on a show or movie, and just thought it sounded romantic so she threw it in there, but once your son gets older and does start expressing an interest in relationships you'll probably want to be able to monitor him more closely.
  5. If the letters continue after the play-date, you should probably tell her parents. They might be able to make her understand when you or your son can't.

Best of luck!

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