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The lasting impact of the first love

By Annicca Albano Published Feb 11, 2022 5:00 am

I met my first love in fifth grade. He was manly for a boy and wore a straight smile, and I was completely struck by his passion for flying. He was my biggest bully, but he changed his ways as we moved up. We’d go over our notes before exams and went on mall dates after. His soft hands were the first I held lovingly that weren't my parents’, and his gifts came with handwritten letters on Post-its. We went to our high school prom together and I introduced him to my family.

The day we graduated, it was sunny and the entire universe opened. It was his decision to stay while I moved cities to pursue my writing dreams. Somewhere along the line, our innocent perception of growing old together changed.

Our first love is merely a prologue to the world of romance and rarely the end of the story.

Out of nowhere, he stopped speaking to me. The next time I heard anything about him, he was already seeing someone else. Maybe if I didn’t go like he asked, we wouldn’t be apart. Maybe I should have given him what he wanted. Maybe four years of courtship was too long to say yes. 

Heartbreak can be the loneliest, most isolating thing in the world even if it happens to all of us. There were days I wondered: What if he’s “the one” and I let him go? Starting all over again seemed like a massive task. I wanted one more date, one more dance together, and one more “See you tomorrow.”

Oftentimes, heartbreak can make us feel like the most isolated person in the world, forcing us to look for an easy way out or search for cheap thrills just to forget. 

When chasing him didn’t work, I entertained anyone in college who paid me enough attention: a f**kboy, a gay artist, a gaslighter, an atheist who doubted everything, someone older but not ready to commit, and the one who hadn’t gotten over his ex. 

My first love became a template for how I understood romance: it was exciting but also hostile and unhealthy. I unknowingly sought our highs and lows and his attributes in my future relationships.

Don't jump right back into the dating pool after a break up.

Having parents who tied the knot at the age of 23, I saw marriage as a rushing game. A lot of women do. It was frustrating at best, dangerous at worst. Being crafty, I assumed, I could carve out the perfect partner out of any person. My savior complex allowed me to believe that my value could be found inside the untapped value of someone else. Somehow, it was my responsibility to build the dream guy every rom-com promised me.

As humans, we hardly get things right the first time. Young love comes too soon in life when we haven’t even dealt with bills or back pain. We don’t avoid potential connections out of fear of getting hurt. We only take a million chances. Our first love is merely a prologue to the world of romance and rarely the end of the story.

Marriage is not a rushing game.

From the time our heart breaks open, we grow up, our priorities shift, and many incredible people walk into our life unexpectedly. Some will love you in hundreds of ways. Others will leave you feeling wronged, vulnerable, and embarrassed. But they will all help you recognize what you need in a relationship, what you’re willing to compromise, and who you don’t want to become.

My personal growth as a single woman did not help me find a partner — being at the right place at the right time did — but it primed me to be better at being one.

One summer, I rummaged through my school memory box. I thought it would be torture, but it only reminded me of innocence and a time long past. Perhaps closure isn’t always a singular moment or getting answers to unresolved issues, but a quiet process that I was nearing the end of. I realized how far I’ve come yet still had my whole life ahead of me. Love had to wait.

Instead of jumping right back into the dating pool, like I was so inclined to do, I spent most of 2018 making strides in my career, visiting new places, and joining dance classes with strangers. I discovered that I am extroverted but I listen well, I am just as strict as I am messy, and I have many quirks. Self-love rose in popularity that same year. Beyond bath bombs and drastic transformations, it’s being at peace with who you are. Finally, I had achieved that.

Learning a new hobby is an opportunity to learn and grow as a person.

At 23, I met Anton at work. He helped me fix software bugs and I thought he was patient and kind. More than three months after his breakup, we went on a date at Mulberry Door. I found out we both fancied grocery shopping and feared ghosts. It was also possible to argue about how to budget, where to settle down, and when to toss expired food in a healthy way. My family adores him. He’s the person who reads my ugly first drafts and the first one to push me to fulfill my dreams wherever they take us. No matter what the future holds, I will always owe him for showing me love is capable of taking, not just giving.

When I think about the person I used to be, I doubt I would be in a solid relationship as the one I’m in today. My personal growth as a single woman did not help me find a partner — being at the right place at the right time did — but it primed me to be better at being one. If I wanted a great partner, I had to wait for a great partner who I deserved, too.

A girl will never forget the boy she shared plenty of firsts with, even if he isn’t her happy ending.

A year before I got introduced to my boyfriend, I saw my first love again. “We’re no longer the kids we were,” he said, trying to convince me to take a second chance. He was right; I’m now aware that hormones were never enough to make love last. I felt a deep sense of release when I said no that cold night. Looking back, I’m glad I chose myself.

When you’re young and naive, everyone is “the one.” We overlook whether they’d make a good listener, a fun travel partner, a lifelong friend, a passionate lover, a supportive partner, or even a kind human being to spend the rest of our days with.

A girl will never forget the boy she shared plenty of firsts with, even if he isn’t her happy ending. The tender feelings for that person may be gone, but the euphoria of a time when everything was new and possible keeps us from giving up hope. Perfect love requires maturity and maturity only develops when we’ve learned our lessons. That’s the beauty and tragedy of first love: through the bumps and blunders, we’re able to welcome our last love gently and gratefully.