The Lessons Of Love: An Open Letter From Allison Pearson

September 14, 2011 at 2:49 pm , by

I was thirteen years old when I first set eyes on my future husband. There was no doubt in my mind that David and I were made for each other. He was handsome and sensitive with a love of dogs and horses and a breathy voice that felt like a summer breeze on the back of my neck. I had it all planned out. We were going to get married on a beach in Hawaii and wear necklaces of pooka shells round our necks. There was only one small problem: David and I had never met. Actually, there was another problem: I had thirty million rivals for his affections. That’s how many girls belonged to David Cassidy’s fan club.

Ridiculous, right? The teen crush is a silly, passing fancy—except that, when I started to think back to mine, I realized that I remembered more about David Bruce Cassidy than about guys I’d actually dated. The crush doesn’t last long in a female life, but while that beautiful boy burns in her mind’s eye he feels like the world entire. As an author, I was amazed that the crush, which has held so many millions in its thrall, from Sinatra’s bobbysoxers to today’s (Justin) Beliebers, had almost never been explored in fiction. Looking at my own teenage daughter and her passionate obsession with Edward in the Twilight books, I saw clearly how, for each generation, the crush is the great dress rehearsal for love: We are trying on romantic love for size.

In I Think I Love You, it’s 1974 and Petra Williams, who lives in a poor steel town in south Wales, is in love with David. With her best friend Sharon, she collects every possible fact about their idol. The girls enter a contest to meet Cassidy on the set of The Partridge Family. I don’t want to give too much away, but in the second half of the novel, when Petra is a grown woman, bruised by rejection and divorce, she gets a second chance at the prize and a second chance at real, grown-up love.

I wanted this novel to explore all aspects of love throughout a woman’s life, from the treacherous shifting sands of teenage cliques to the rich, sustaining relationships we enjoy with our friends in middle age. In the immortal words of Barbra Streisand, “Can it be that it was all so simple then/Or has time rewritten every line?/If we had the chance to do it all again/Tell me, would we? Could we?” Those are among the questions I wanted to ask—and, in some way, answer—in I Think I Love You. I intended it to be a bittersweet comedy of all our lives, one that makes you laugh out loud even as you shed a tear or two for your younger self. The self who lives on inside us our whole lives, the self who can be awakened by a song, or a kiss.