John Steinbeck on Love: A letter to his son.

“Don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens. The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.” 

In 1958, John Steinbeck—Nobel prize winner and one of he most celebrated American writers of the twentieth century—receives a letter. It was from his son Thom, who, while away at boarding school, had fallen in love with a girl named Susan. John answered his son that same day.

As an old correspondence enthusiast, I cannot help but archive this letter in the Beautiful, Tender & Wise files and pull it out every couple months, when I’ve had enough cynicism for lunch.

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.






John Steinbeck hated the telephone and used letters as his main outlet for communication.

You can find this letter along with many others, opening a timeless door into his life and work, in Steinbeck, A Life in Letters.



Read More: 

>> “Come closer to me, come closer, I promise you, it will be beautiful.” — An Anaïs Nin love-scented letter. 



{Nothing good gets away.}



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Andrea Balt
Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Rebelle Society, Wellness Alchemist at Rebelle Wellness & Professional Dream Chaser at Creative Rehab. Unfinished book with a love for greens, bikes and poetry; raised by wolves & adopted by people; not trying to make art but to Be Art. Holds a BA in Journalism & Mass Communication, an MFA in Creative Writing & a Holistic Health Coach degree from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. In her work she tries to reflect the wholeness of the human experience by combining Art & Health + Mind & Body + Darkness & Brilliance into a more alive, unabridged and unlimited edition of ourselves. She is also on a quest to reinstate Creativity as one of our essential Human Rights to (hopefully and soon) be included in the UN Declaration. Connect with her in the Social Media Jungle via Facebook, Twitter & Instagram and sign up for her FREE MuseLetter.


  • Stefanie commented on September 22, 2012 Reply
    Beautiful. It is hard to remember, sometimes, when you are trying to hold together the pieces of your own broken heart, that giving love with all its “kindness and consideration and respect” will bring love back to you, healing your own heart in the process. Thank you for sharing.
    • Andrea Balt
      Andrea Balt commented on September 27, 2012 Reply
      True. Mantra of the day: “Nothing good gets away.” It’s all ours. Always been. It can’t be taken. Just seen with new eyes.
      • Jim Fry
        Jim Fry commented on February 20, 2013 Reply
        Yes. What U C, depends upon how & where, U cast your gaze.
  • Melissa commented on November 1, 2012 Reply
    And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away. ~ yes. but that requires me to recognize what is good for me.
  • Arun Ks commented on February 20, 2013 Reply
    “The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.” The best that a father can say to a son about love in a very abstract way.!
  • Suresh Nair commented on February 20, 2013 Reply
    Excellent piece. Wouldn’t it be great if all parents spoke to their children this way? Thanks for sharing!
  • Philip Bond commented on January 12, 2014 Reply
    A letter I should too write.
  • gofasterrabbit commented on February 10, 2015 Reply
    Wow! So glad I read this. Such a beautiful description of love at its best … as it could / should be. Thanks for sharing this. xo

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