Thinking about my love life at 23 years old, it baffles me that I have spent nearly a third of my life in long-term relationships. I have had two relationships, the first lasting four years, and the second spanning three. Sometimes I wonder if I spent too much of my adolescent life learning to be with only one type of person. Why did I stay with my first love for so long? And more importantly, was it even worth it?
Looking back, I have realized that although I was only 15 when my first relationship began, I learned so much about myself. Coming face to face with my own shortcomings, mentally and emotionally, has (hopefully) made me a better person the next time around.
Here are eight things you'll learn from your first love:
1. Don't lose sight of yourself.
Everyone knows someone who is a "relationship chameleon." If their SO likes country music, then they just went out and bought every Kenny Chesney song on iTunes. It's awesome to introduce your partner to new things, but it's not awesome to sacrifice your own likes and dislikes because you want someone to stay interested in you.
When I fell in love for the first time, I was quick to get swept up in baseball, U2 and other things I didn't really care for. After the relationship ended, I realized how important it was to be honest about my interests with my partner and with myself.
2. There are people who will treat you the way you deserve.
It's easy to feel jaded in the modern dating world. Everyone is looking for the next best thing they can find with a swipe on their phone. Human interactions have changed drastically in the last decade, and it's easy to feel like casual hookups are the only thing left.
Despite the misconceptions, my first love gave me hope that there are people who will care. Someone will treat you the way you deserve. I knew what it was like to have someone care about me, so I was able to set emotional benchmarks before getting into another relationship.
3. Know when to say sorry.
When I was a teenager and in my first relationship, I was stubborn. I was a smart kid, so I thought that meant I was always right. Just because I got good grades did NOT mean I was emotionally smart. I put up fights just to keep from sacrificing my pride.
Getting your heart broken by someone you are in love with humbles you. You have to look at yourself and your flaws, and know when to say sorry.
4. Appreciate the little things.
The first time you fall in love, it's easy to overlook the little things. You don't appreciate the inside jokes, cuddling, compliments. When you are in love for the first time these moments feel infinite. After all, you're going to be with this person forever, right?
Losing my first love made me stop and think the second time around. Cherish those small moments because things might not always be that easy.
5. Know when to say goodbye.
People change, they move, they get new jobs, they grow. It's amazing to find someone you can grow with. In my situation, my boyfriend and I went to different colleges, and after four years of living in the same neighborhood, it wasn't easy to live hours apart. He was focusing on his schoolwork, and I was focusing on chugging beer.
Needless to say, we were becoming different people. If we stayed together, I am pretty sure we would have made each other miserable, and we wouldn't have been able to become the people we are today. At the time, goodbye wasn't easy. But I learned it's better to part ways if it isn't right than to force something that just isn't going to work.
6. Know what you're looking for in a partner.
My first love was one of my best friends. We had a lot in common, but that doesn't necessarily mean we made a good pair. He was so laid back, just like me, but I wanted someone who would take charge. He was a nice guy … but a little too much of a nice guy. I needed someone who would put me in my place more often and pull my head out of the clouds.
Being in love with someone who was so similar to me made me realize that I would probably self-destruct without some balance in my life. Falling in love for the first time, and then moving on, will show you what worked for you and what didn't. And you'll more aware the next time around.
7. Keep it together.
Relationships end. It's a fact of life. I would be lying if I said I didn't turn into a total psycho when my first boyfriend ended things. Then we got back together … and I ended things. Then he went a little crazy. We both said things, cried, had awful phone calls, stalked each other … OK, maybe I am a little dramatic, but it wasn't good.
If your first love teaches you nothing else, it should be to handle a breakup with grace. If things aren't working out, keep it together. Because if you could get over losing your first love, you'll be able to get over someone again.