Today The Guardian published a piece, “Why you should leave your first love,” arguing that teenagers should not be coaxed into the belief that our first loves could be the ones we end up with. Daisy Buchanan (me thinks that is a pseudonym) argues that first love husbands are a dangerous myth; they’re just too hairbrained, too relentless, and too hormone-addled to ever add up to the venerable “soul mate.”
OK, I get that there’s a temptation to make our first love synonymous with the perfect love, because it eludes comparison and therefore, experience. While I’m a far-cry from sipping the Romeo and Juliet Kool-aid, I also think there are a lot of valuable lessons we can get from thinking of that first person as “The One” and falling into a relentless, unabashed relationship with them. Here’s what our first loves can teach us.
Your body hang-ups are everybody’s body hang-ups.
The legend has it that when Oliver Cromwell was commissioning a portrait of himself he asked that he be painted, “warts and all.” He was owning his shit: an aquiline nose, a funny chin, weird calves. That’s kind of what first love teaches you to do, come to terms with the fact that everybody has unsightly, embarrassing, perplexing body anomalies and that’s just fine. Getting into bed (even if just to cuddle or make out) with somebody that is giddy over you puts a lot of those hang-ups into perspective.
Somebody can love you.
All of you. No, you’re not a mutant. Just this simple affirmation is enough to quell the teenage misgivings of one who believes they are fundamentally unloveable. Ta-da somebody did it, and you have this knowledge to serve as the foundation for every other relationship you ever come across in life.
Hooking up for the first time is always awkward.
An unidentified writer at The Date Report (OK, it was me) got a fat lip during their first teenage make-out session, and that’s probably for the best. This set a precedent for the rest of their first-time encounters. When two bodies are mingling, blunderous and lovely things ensue, but we shouldn’t come to expect a seamless transition from just-friends to full-on humping. Sex is complicated, fraught with tension, and completely awkward. Our first loves teach us to eschew these fairytale expectations, and instead, stick around for the ones who laugh off your boob farts and cramped arm with aplomb.
Liking the same TV show/movie/band/book does not a relationship make.
One of the arguments in The Guardian was that first love was vapid because it’s based on “Oh, you like all of the same things as me!” While that’s the general instinct of us all, and part of the algorithm for most online dating sites, actually falling in love for the first time reveals the fallacy of that assumption. How else would you have acquired the complete discography of Fleetwood Mac or get hooked on Battlestar Galactica if you didn’t take a chance on someone whose worldview didn’t mirror yours?
Our exes make us better people.
For the most part, our exes shape us for the rest of our lives. Despite what you may think: it’s for the better. Research has been done that found that part of romantic relationship development is adopting the interests and behaviors of your significant others–I mean have you seen you and your ex’s “mutual likes” on Facebook? Even after you break up, a more diverse list of favorites actually makes you more attractive to new partners. It only takes the fond memory of a book your first love introduced you to in order to realize how powerful love can shape us.
Conflict isn’t always negative.
Your first love and you may have found yourselves entering the great Tina Fey vs. Amy Poehler debate or arguing over whether Rob Gordon of High Fidelity is really an asshole (he is). That’s plain healthy. Our first loves give us a relationship fight-barometer to live by. Fighting is normal. It might deflate the pristine notion you have of romantic love before you’d actually been in it, but it does add a drop of much-needed realism into your imagined “perfect love”.
We can only realize what we want by trying new things.
How do know you don’t like stuffed grape leaves unless you’ve tried them? Falling in love with people is sort of the same concept. We’re all just babies spitting out our food until we find something that satisfies our tastes. A man who sells hot dogs out of a minivan? A woman with a cake-sitting fetish? We don’t know what will satiate our desires until we try. Our first loves challenge the dualistic notion of a relationship either working or failing. Your expectations might change over the years, but we get to choose who we love. Consider the first a crash course.