Do you remember your first love and the way that nothing seemed complicated because you had no idea how complicated it could get? You went into everything with an open heart and didn’t know you could get hurt that way. My first love found me when I was in the eleventh grade at boarding school in Switzerland. He was a scruffy senior with a Tennessee accent and I had never known a boy who played instruments and spoke French. We would sneak into the bomb shelter behind the auditorium and he would play piano for me while I laid on the floor staring at him. When we had escaped our lives together long enough for one night and there was five minutes to spare, we would sprint down the street to our respective dorms, running in different directions, rushing to make it back by curfew, and finally catching our breath in the doorway as the teacher on duty marked our name down with ten seconds keeping us safe from detention.

The first time he stopped me before leaving and said, “I like you”, it sounded like he was saying “everything will be perfect for you now, we found each other”. And I had no reason to not believe that was true. I had never loved and never lost.

The first disappointment doesn’t even hurt that much, it just confuses you. You have nothing to compare it to, so it doesn’t really land. It was my first Valentine’s Day with a real boyfriend and I had such high expectations of what it was going to be like. I somehow convinced my dad to let me go on a trip with Tennessee Boy to Milan where we stayed in an old castle that had been converted into a hotel. When we woke up in the morning I looked at him expectantly and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” He looked surprised and then jumped out of bed. “Wait! I got you something!” He ran into the bathroom and came out with a serious look on his face. He told me to close my eyes, so I sat up and closed my eyes. He told me to hold out my hands and so I did. He placed something in them and then told me to open my eyes. I looked down and saw a piece of hotel paper, with “Happy V Day!” quickly scribbled on it and underneath the paper I found two miniature bottles of hotel shampoo and conditioner. When I looked up at him he was rolling on the floor laughing hysterically. Needless to say I didn’t think it was funny. It hadn’t occurred to me that my idea of this day could be different from his idea of this day. This is not what I thought love was going to feel like. Why couldn’t he read my mind and always know what I wanted?! That seemed like a pretty fair expectation at the time. And I wasn’t always the victim. I shattered hopes of perfect romance for others. I played the part of the beautifully unflawed girlfriend in the beginning, only to turn into a regular human a week later. I don’t think the first heartbreak is the worst, I think the second one is. That’s when you start thinking it’s a pattern you wont be able to escape. That’s when you start to expect it.

We’ve been through so much with previous relationships that we start a new one with a cocktail of warnings for the other person. “You should know that I have abandonment issues, and trust issues, and I’ve been cheated on before, and I’m sensitive about my time being spoken for, and I don’t like public affection…” The relationship is consumed with navigating all the mistakes that people have made before. And we don’t know how to separate an innocent intention from a hostile one. What if we could just reset with each new person? We wouldn’t anticipate the fall. But that’s not possible. I think the trick is to give someone the benefit of the doubt and check yourself before you react to something. Most people have good intentions, and want to make you happy. Most people who hurt us in the past regret it and wish they could have done better. I know I wish I had done better. I went to a wedding where the reverend said, “Marriage is about being a professional forgiver.” If we don’t forgive people in the past, there wont be any room for someone new to make any mistakes. And while I’m definitely perfect and not capable of any, I’ve heard that there are people out there who make lots of mistakes, like, all the time.

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