By Emily Bingham
"How do I know I’m in love?" It’s the question that nags at young adults. At holidays, family parties, or anytime they can, relatives will ask, "How’s your love life?"
How do we even know what love is?
Love isn’t only on the brains of adults, love has been in the minds of us all from our birth.
"Even babies love," said Dr. Carol Munschauer, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst in Buffalo, pointing to attachment theory. "There are different attachment styles, even from infancy."
But what about teen love? Can teens even fall in love?
Elaina Bolles says yes. Elaina, 19, of Grand Island, is engaged to Tyler Mondoux, 22, also of Grand Island, who she’s been dating for three years. Tyler is in the Air Force, currently stationed in New Jersey.
Only three months into their relationship, Tyler was deployed. It was then, at only 16, that Elaina found herself falling in love. Within three months, Elaina said, she knew Tyler was "the one."
"He would pick me up from school, hang out with me and my family, and he always made a point to do those little things that you would never really think of that someone at that age would do," she said.
Not long after, Tyler knew he was in love, too.
"Every time I’m away," he said, "knowing that I have her by my side waiting and not having to worry about anything going wrong just kept showing me how much I really love her."
While they were apart, Elaina and Tyler wrote letters to each other. It was in one of those letters that Tyler first brought up the idea of getting married.
"We dated three months, then he went into the military, and we wrote letters, and while he was in the military he wrote a letter that said he wanted to get married someday," Elaina recalled.
They kept seeing each other, even taking trips with his family to his graduation in Texas. The prospect of marriage was one that was constantly discussed. Both of them wanted it to happen, the only question was when.
"He was gone a year in Korea, and I knew he was going to (propose) when he came back, before he left again, but I didn’t know when," said Elaina.
Interviewed separately from Elaina, Tyler said, "It really hit me when I was in Korea."
On Dec. 22, 2016, it finally happened. Tyler, with the help of Elaina’s family, arranged for the proposal to happen at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, where he would get down on one knee and give her his grandmother’s ring.
Outside, the marquee said "Now Showing: The Story of Tyler and Elaina."
They don’t have a date set for the wedding, but there’s no rush. For them, it was just the natural next step.
"It was the next step that we felt like we had to take because we were in this relationship for so long and we went through so many things that other people don’t really go through with him being in the military," Elaina said.
"For normal people, (our engagement) seems weird, but with him seeing people who would get married to their significant other right after they got out (of basic training), it seemed more normal," Elaina said.
"Plus he loves me."
Admittedly, Elaina and Tyler’s situation is different from that of most young adults. Elaina is barely a teen, and Tyler is 22. But for younger teens, romance can feel like an elusive concept, which may be why teens so often struggle to define their relationships.
"Sometimes we need an outward and visible sign of something that we feel internally," said Munschauer.
Dr. Julie Bowker, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo, points out that teen romances can provide a sense of security.
"Romantic relationships during adolescence can be quite supportive and can be protective," she said. "If an adolescent is struggling with friendships and peers, a romantic relationship can fulfill their social needs."
Munschauer pointed to many reasons why teenagers date.
"They may feel isolated, they don’t have any friends, or they may just want to have fun, or maybe they’re going to fall in love because it builds their own self-esteem," she said. "Teenage relationships can be very mutual. They confide in each other, they trust in each other, and they can be very very loving."
Talking about those relationships, however, can be a struggle. This is true of both genders, but perhaps more so for males. Several teenage boys contacted for this story declined to discuss their views on romance. One who did agree, 16-year-old Nathan, asked that his last name not be used.
"(Love) makes the life of a teenager more stable," said Nathan, who has a girlfriend. "This is around the time when you have to start applying to college, struggling more in your academic life, you already have a lot to worry about: drama and finding people to be with – it’s stressful, and knowing that I already have someone to be with and I can find comfort in them and that provides stability, that’s one advantage of making this life a little less crazy."
Emily Bingham is a sophomore at Mount St. Mary Academy.