I didn’t find my first love until I was nineteen and in college.
For the rest of this article I will, ironically, refer to him as X.
Now, I have had crushes before that that I thought would turn into love, but none of them compared to what I had with X.
I’m sure you’ve heard me tell parts of this story before. If you haven’t, just know that our relationship was not a very stable one.
You see, to this day X is still one of my very best friends. In fact, I just got off the phone with him a little while ago. Now, that did not just happen overnight and it’s not something that works out for most people.
We did have a long stint of no contact there. In fact, we had several. I think the fact that we were both determined to stay a part of each others lives played a huge role in this.
The funny thing about being best friends with my first love is that we’ve had a lot of time over the past 10 years to talk about our off and on again relationship. So I have been gifted with the opportunity to understand the reasons our relationship was an unsuccessful one.
But, I think one of my favorite things is listening to him describe the day we met.
“I was sitting in the foyer in the theater department in between classes. A few of the other students in the department were there. You and that one ridiculously tall guy walked in the door at the end of the hall. You were laughing. The sound echoed down the empty hall. I assumed at the time the two of you were together.
You hugged him and he walked out one of the other doors. You sat down across from me, put your headphones in, and started writing in a notebook. I don’t know how or what started the conversation, but before I knew it we were talking up a storm. I think we almost missed our next class. Our lives would be so different if you hadn’t sat down and talked to me that day.”
You want to know the crazy part of all of this. I hardly remember the day he’s describing. I hadn’t even decided I liked him yet. In fact, I didn’t even realize I liked him until a month later when some other girl in our group asked him out. It’s funny how things like that stick with us.
You listen to other people talk about their first loves you’ll hear them describe how their love was like watching a sunset or something equally poetic.
However, I think Daphne du Maurier got it right when she said,
“I am glad it cannot happen twice, The favor of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets my say.”
Her fever analogy just makes sense because love kind of sneaks up on you and takes over unannounced. You spend your entire life growing up with fairy tales and happy ending story is telling you that true love is out there if only you just keep your eyes open.
So, we go into that first love unencumbered with hesitation. Our expectations are so high, as if greeting a knight on a white horse who is here to make our every wish come true. And then we just jump in headfirst.
First love is often paired with a childlike innocence.
What I am saying is that first love tends to come about with a bit of naivety. You jump in haphazardly, ready for the adventure ahead, and placing the promise of a future shared with someone ahead of everything else in your life.
That being said, it takes a long time for a person to establish a sense of self. So, generally speaking when you choose to be with someone you usually choose someone that mirrors the way that you feel about yourself.
It has everything to do with self-esteem. If you have a low self-esteem, you are more likely to pair yourself with someone who treats you in the same way you see yourself.
If you go into a relationship without at least a strong foundational sense of self, then you were unlikely to have a healthy relationship. This is why it is so uncommon for young love to stand the test of time these days.
I see so many people trying to become an extension of their partner, to move through life as one. But in reality, having two strong like-minded people who continue to be true to themselves is much more conducive than trying to merge to dissimilar persons into one.
Not to say it is impossible. It just seems that it takes people longer to find that sense of who they are or who they want to be when they take this route.
Just like me with X. I was 19. I lived at home with my parents my entire life. I was very sheltered and I had no idea who I was or who I wanted to be. Well, to be more truthful, I was like most kids right out of High School, so overwhelmed by the possibilities that I couldn’t bring myself to choose. My entire existence revolved around what my parents thought and believed.
So, when I met X, who had a wild imagination, a thirst for adventure, and strange beliefs, I couldn’t get enough. He was the rebellious guy everyone’s mother warns them about.
We had been friends for a while at this point. He even dated someone else for a while, giving us ample time to lay a serious foundation for the friendship that still exists today. Eventually, they split up and we wound up giving things between us a go. This eventually led to me rebelling against my parents and going on a road trip with him, a fight that almost led to me being kicked out of their house. I can only assume that, if that had happened, they wouldn’t have continued to help pay for my continued education either.
At that moment, though, I didn’t care. I was in love and there’s nothing they can do to stop me.
You see, this is where my sense of self, that had been so wrapped up in the groundwork that my parents had laid out for me, began to gravitate towards his sense of self. Before, all that mattered to me was school and making decisions about my future. Unfortunately for me, his sense of self wasn’t very stable either at the time.
This led to me to do some major character building when he left me for someone else about a year into things.
Why Does First Love Have Such a Powerful Effect on Us?
It has been a long time since X and I met in that foyer back in 2006. Yet somehow, talking about it now, it feels like it could’ve happened last week.
So, what is it about first love that sticks with us so?
In a collection of research papers titled “Changing Relationships” edited by Dr. Malcolm Brynin, a principal research officer at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, they determined that the utter happiness sound in first love can damage future relationships.
The reasoning for this is because the euphoria that is found in that first taste of love become a benchmark for any following relationships. As with the first time you do anything, the senses register your feelings much more strongly than they might if it were something that happens every day. Future relationships might seem boring, which in turn might make them seem a disappointment.
Think back to the first time someone you liked ever held your hand. Did it send shivers up your spine? I can bring to mind the actual memory of the first time X ever held my hand and the way it felt. I can also tell you that holding hands with anyone else will never feel as exciting as it did that day driving to meet his mother.
It was the buildup, the excitement, and the newness. Brynin even went as far as to state,
“In an ideal world, you would wake up already in your second relationship.”
My only guess is that he meant that it would save you from having something to compare it to.
The emotions that come out during first love could be described as the highest of highs. This makes it easy for us to recall even the most minor details of things that happened during that time.
Several years ago, X had moved to another state to be closer to family while he waited to find out where he was going to be stationed. I hadn’t seen him in almost a year.
At that time, I was working for an oil company and bartending on the side at a local fine dining restaurant. I was opening the bar one morning and someone on the street was wearing way too much cologne, the same kind he wore before he moved.
The scent was so strong that it may as well have walked in off the patio and into the bar.
I was facing the back of the bar when it snuck around and hit me right in the face. My knees buckled and I had to hold onto the bar for a moment before I could stand upright again. I whipped around, positive that X was standing right behind me. I didn’t even realize it was the smell that caused this reaction until a few minutes later. It was completely illogical, but for some reason my sense of smell played a cruel trick on me.
He was still six states away and thought it was hysterical that he could make me weak in the knees from that far away. (his words, not mine.)
I have no idea why I told him all of this, aside from the fact that I had just called him up after several months of no contact and had no reasonable explanation other than the truth.
As you can imagine, I was less amused.
That was at least seven years ago.
Since then, I can honestly say that I have completely recovered from the fallout of my first love.
It took a long time to get to this place and a lot of honest moments with myself.
The Lies We Tell
After a break up, we tell ourselves quite a few fibs;
There is no one in the world like him.
I will never love again.
It won’t hurt to text him this once.
It’s OK if I drive past his house this once.
There is no better match for me out there.
I’ll be alone forever.
I am nobody without him.
Now, these aren’t going to make you feel better.
So, why in the world would you tell yourself these things?
The reason is, after a split, you need to feel as if the relationship the two of you had has been validated, like you didn’t waste your time. It’s not uncommon to put a recently lost relationship on a pedestal in order to preserve its validity.
When you get to this point and you feel like you can’t let go of your first love, you have two choices.
You can live with it, the feeling like crap because it’s over thing.
You could actively work through the grieving process, and then allow yourself to heal and move on with your life.
I’m not giving you any other choice.
Either you learn how to live in pain and push forward carrying that heavy burden or you can take action and move past the pain you feel right now by pushing through your feelings.
I’m hoping you chose what’s behind door 2.
Since you’re here reading this article, I’m going to assume you aren’t just going to sit on your butt.
You’re here to do something about the way you feel right now.
You will not let it overwhelm you.
You will not wallow in self-pity.
And for heaven sake, your world will not end without him in it.
So, now that we know that you will be tempted to lie to yourself so you don’t feel like you wasted time loving someone who is no longer around, let’s look at the actual truth.
You see, now that I’ve pointed out that you’ll lie, hopefully, you’ll recognize when you do.
This will make it impossible for you to believe the lie.
When you catch yourself trying to pull the wool over your eyes, ask yourself questions to get at the truth.
Is the really no one else in the world like him?
Well, if he was a jerk or a major tool-bag, then let’s hope so.
But let’s be honest, there are millions of people on this planet, I am certain that you will find someone with similar qualities at some point. The upside is that there’s a possibility that this person that you find will have even better qualities.
The reason that you can’t see the possibilities now is because you are tempted to stay close to what is familiar. Since this is not an option, you’re stuck with the unfamiliar. I know that can be scary, but it’s also an adventure all its own.
Will you really never love again?
Do you really think your capacity love ends right here and now simply because things didn’t work out with this guy?
Well if you do believe that, then let me just tell you right now… you’re unequivocally wrong.
This is a practice run. You can’t just run out of love. You might be tired of trying, but you’ll catch another wind eventually. Just keep moving forward. It’s just like learning anything. It is highly improbable that you’ll get it right the first time. If people just gave up after the first time they tried something and it didn’t work, we’d still be living in caves.
You’ll text/call/drive past his house just this once… Right…
If you have read any of the other articles I’ve written for this site, then you know I love the scientific side of love.
Love has the ability to make us do crazy things. One of the things it does chemically is that it makes our bodies create an amplitude of Dopamine. The effects in the presence in the absence of Dopamine can have similar effects as those had on people with an addiction, like to cocaine.
You wouldn’t give cocaine to an addict who’s trying to quit, would you?
Likewise, by giving in to that “just once” circumstance, you’ll find yourself doing it again and again and it will become impossible for you to quit. This is how you wind up being the “crazy ex.”
The great part about this, is that if you can learn to control the urge that makes you want to do these things then it will make this time of moving through the pain that you’re dealing with right now go faster.
Is there really no other match for you?
Well, seeing as this last relationship didn’t really work out and you probably saw that as a good match, we can’t really trust your judgment, can we? Do you
have any substantial evidence to prove this point?
Do you really believe you’re going to be alone forever? Or are you just getting into a cycle of self-pity?
Failed relationships have a tendency to make us see ourselves as less-than, a shell of a person.
This is understandable though, especially if you were anything like me, letting your self-identity get wrapped up in some else’s before it ever fully formed.
This brings me to the last lie that I listed before.
Are you really nobody without him?
I mean really, think about it. You’re basically starting out with a clean slate almost. You have just been afforded the ability to become anyone you want to be, and you have an excuse a surprise from almost.
You have just been afforded the ability to become anyone you want to be, and you have an excuse!! If that’s not exciting, I don’t know what it is. Take advantage of it!
A Few Extra Truths
No matter how much it feels like you were the only person in the world who will ever feel this way or has ever felt this way, you need to remember that almost every person on this planet has felt the way you feel right now.
The love that you had for your ex took time for you to build up to the heightened state it was in and it will take time to deal with it. It won’t disappear overnight. You should understand now that there is no shortcut to get through this.
There is one more thing we should discuss. At some point, if you haven’t already, you will start to wonder why things didn’t work out. This it’s part of human nature. I feel the need for things to be complete or finished. Have you ever done a jigsaw puzzle? We did them a lot when I was a kid.
And I would get so excited when we got close to the end only to find out that one piece was missing. It would literally bother me for weeks because that puzzle never got “finished.”
The human mind sees things in circuits. When a circuit is open, we look for a way to close it. So, when a relationship comes to an end we feel the need to understand why so we can close the loop. This is why you’ll hear so many people talk about getting closure. Like with the puzzle, short of sending a letter to the manufacturer asking for a replacement puzzle piece, you’re not going to get a reason, per se, that explains why your relationship didn’t work out, especially not from him.
You just have to find a way to move past it. In fact, accepting that you won’t get closure can sometimes give the feeling of having closure. Paradoxical, huh?
That is, until you realize that closure is really just that calm feeling you get when your mind finally gets past this point of unrest.
There is an upside. When you are in love with someone you see them in a kind of rose colored glasses sort of way. When you get over someone, you see
them through a much clearer view.
“I can see clearly now; the rain is gone…”
This makes moving on process and the act of “staying moved on,” as an old work buddy used to put it, slightly easier.
The Game Plan
(Firstly, let’s chat a little to make sure we’re on the same page.)
When you split with your first love, actually when you split with anyone, you can get stuck in the cycle of thinking called rumination. This is when you fixate on the feeling of disappointment.
Kind of like what we were talking about earlier, when we touched on the fact that you might get stuck in a cycle of asking “what happened?”
That’s one example. You could also get stuck on the expectations you had for the relationship. Think back to the times when you saw a future with your ex, when you saw past the actual happenings and dared to imagine the future of the relationship could bring.
If you allowed yourself, you could easily get stuck in the disappointment of “what could’ve been.”
The only way to move past this is to remind yourself that you have no control over what could’ve been as opposed to what actually will be. From here on out you can create whatever future you want, without depending on someone else being there to help create it for you. If that’s not a blessing in the skies, I don’t know what is.
There are other memories that will stick around as well. Some people might try to ignore them, however, in future relationships, they could be a great ally.
When X and I split up and went our separate ways, I found myself dating a string of guys that were all exactly like he was.
In fact, I’m pretty sure I even dated his evil doppelgänger. Each one had similar character flaws, and at the time I was dating them treated me in a way that
I didn’t deserve. However, when I started seeing X in the first place, I didn’t have a whole lot of self-worth built up. So, the guy I chose didn’t treat me like I had any worth. If I had taken notice of the memories, rather than pushing them aside, then I might’ve saved myself years of having a low self-esteem due to the way I let the people I cared about treat me.
Looking back, I realize now that I was trying to fix my first relationship with X by reliving it with those other guys. If you really want to know how that went, it didn’t. It was literally as if I lived in the same relationship multiple times.
But, on the upside, you get the ample amount of knowledge I accumulated during those relationships.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did. At least use the knowledge you gained from this relationship and use it to make better choices next time around.
However, the step-by-step procedure I’m about to lay out for you IS how I handle a breakup presently, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that it works.
If I could go back and deal with X this way, I would’ve moved on so much faster. But there’s nothing I can do to change the past, I can only keep pressing forward and pass on the knowledge I have to you.
Okay, now for the game plan, or at least the way you should handle the loss of your first love.
Set a Deadline and Grieve the Loss
There are two things at this point the absolutely do not matter regarding starting this process.
- The amount of time it’s been since you broke up. If you are still feeling emotional pain in regards to your break up, then this is where you start.
- Who broke up with who, or the specific circumstances surrounding the break up.
The deal here is the start right now and decide that you are going to give yourself a specific amount of time to grieve the loss.
Now, how you grieve is up to you. But, first things first, turn off your phone.
I am giving you permission for this short period of time to let your emotions ransack your body.
Turning off your phone gives you that healthy little reminder not to contact him hidden in the time it takes you to turn on your phone.
I usually prefer to stay locked in my apartment by myself for this grieving process. Reason being, it is human nature to try and sooth someone when they’re crying because it naturally makes us feel uncomfortable. If you have someone around to soothe you, then you’re not going to allow yourself to push through these emotions and get through this grieving stage. That is the goal. To feel it all and push through it.
I usually take this opportunity to gather all of the things I can think of that remind me of the relationship and put them in a box or a bag.
I spend the time gathering going over the hopes and expectations I had for the relationship and the future that I had imagined. Then, I run myself a bubble bath and sit and let the emotions overwhelm me. Sometimes, this means crying my eyes out. Sometimes, it just means walking through the memories of the relationship with a new perspective.
The bubble bath is optional, but I find that it is easier to let go of all of the tensions weighing on your mind when surrounded by warmth. The idea here is not to mourn the loss of the relationship you had, it’s to mourn the loss of the unfulfilled expectations that you had it laid out for the future.
Remember, you have limited amount of time to do all of this, so let it all out. If you’re going to cry, cry until you can’t anymore.
After your set amount of time is up, I’m going to ask you to take a nap.
There is a reason for this. Being emotional like this can be incredibly exhausting. When you wake, you should feel a small sense of clarity.
Snap Out of It
Here’s the true challenge. Get out of bed. Get dressed and put shoes on. Pull your hair back out of your face and go make yourself a vegetable-rich meal.
The reason for this is because vegetables are jam-packed full of vitamins that help create dopamine, especially green ones. Heavy carbs and comfort foods will simply make you want to crawl back in bed, which is not our goal here.
Now that you’ve had a good cry, a hard reset (read nap), and a good mentally stabilizing meal, you’re ready to get down to business.
Now that you have this mental clarity, the next step is being real with yourself.
Since the future you had planned with your ex is no longer a possibility, I want you to consider moving forward on your own.
This will require a lot of soul-searching and will require you doing one of the hardest things you will ever have to do, be honest with yourself. I will get you started with some of the questions that you need to ask yourself.
Did I leave any part of myself behind in being part of this relationship? Ambitions? Goals? Values?
Did I feel the need to change who I was in order to be a part of this relationship?
Did my ex value me for the person that I was or did he tried to mold me into the person he wanted me to be?
If I could choose what direction my life goes from this point forward, where what I like to end up? What ambitions and goals what I like to set for myself?
You can go on asking yourself questions like this. The idea is to gain clarity on the actuality of the relationship you were in. You see, when love comes into play all rationality flies out the window.
Looking back on my relationship with capital X, I see now that our relationship was incredibly unhealthy and manipulative. However, at that time, I never would’ve seen that.
This is why it is so important for you to answer these questions for yourself, without confirming or checking with anyone else. The truth can only come from you. Only you can decide what to do with that information and what happens next.
Find a Direction and Go
So, now that you’ve considered all of these things, I task you with setting your goals in motion.
If you found that you completely lost yourself in this last relationship, which is not uncommon with first loves, you might decide that you need to focus on re-centering the person that you are. That’s healthy. As an adult, having a strong sense of self can determine whether you accomplish any goals you set for the future.
Perhaps you found that you let some of your values fall to the wayside. Perhaps you let your health slide. Perhaps being athletic used to be important to you.
Perhaps your GPA stopped being as important as your relationship and you find that you don’t really know where you are in school anymore.
All of these are kind of where I fell after I did my bout of soul-searching. The solution being that I opted to join a gym and take on a personal trainer to get back in shape. This not only helped with the health and athletic side of things, but it also helped me regain the self-confidence that I had lost in allowing my identity to merge with my ex.
And, like I said before, my schooling had seriously taking a beating during the relationship. My solution was to go and talk to an advisor and see what I had left in my degree. I then went to my teachers and apologized for my lack of focus and asked if they had any suggestions to get back on track. As you can imagine, they were a little annoyed.
I joined study groups, borrowed other students notes, and reviewed everything The classes had covered since the beginning of the semester. I may not have made a huge change my GPA that semester, but the fact that I put in so much effort was apparent to my teachers and they were more inclined to help answer any questions that I had. I easily could’ve given up and failed the entire semester and the seven classes that I been taking. Instead, the worst grade I made that semester was at least marginally passing.
Making these changes can seem like a lot to take on and without the proper mindset and outlook you’ll easily find yourself back in bed eating hot Cheetos and crying over what might’ve been. I think we can both agree that that would be a complete waste of your time.
By keeping a positive outlook on things you are creating fuel to move forward and grasp hold of everything that you are capable of without having your identity muddled by someone else.
The basic way to do this is to keep a realistic view of the relationship that you had.
Just because it ended does not mean that what you felt was not real.
Just because it ended does not mean that you won’t find love again. And the most important thing for you to realize during this time is that and letting go of your first love you have provided yourself with the ability to evolve into the most powerful and confident version of yourself. Learn what you can from this experience and make it work for you.
What you Take from all of This
Take heart, losing your first love is the most difficult break up you will ever have to go through. Take the knowledge that you’ve accumulated from this one and know that any other breakup will not be as difficult as this one.
Yes, there will be other break ups. But the way I see it, that is a good thing. It means that you won’t settle for anyone who doesn’t honor the person that you’ve become.
I may be revealing a bit of the nerd that I am by adding this quote in here, but, hell, that’s part of honoring who you are, right?
So, I’ll leave you with this, one of my favorite quotes from my favorites shows. And although it says men, because it refers to a male character, it applies to anyone who has gone through a crucible.
“Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.” -Doctor Who