Until I met my first love, I never understood what Tim McGraw was talking about when he said, “The memory of a first love never fades away.”
I met my first love at summer camp. We were young, awkward and inexperienced. Puberty was beginning to take root, and our rose-colored lenses had not yet begun to fade away.
We saw each other not long after our parents moved us into our dorms. I was playing football in the mud, and she was sitting on a bench, cheering us all on.
Much like what happens in your typical rom-com, we caught each other's gaze for a split second, but smiled and said nothing. Over the next week or so, we saw each other across the quad, in the cafe and all over campus. But we said nothing.
We were your quintessential awkward kids, so we were too nervous to approach one another. As the stars would have it, we ended up sitting next to each other at a performance of Blue Man Group. I was terrified, and I had no idea what to say.
I spent the first half of the show running through every witty thing I could possibly say. With about five minutes left before the show, I turned to her and said "Hi, my name's Mike." She looked at me, smiled and said nothing.
I would later find out she couldn't hear me over the music. She also thought that she was awkwardly staring at me, and was embarrassed. Later that night, as I walked through the quad, I heard a girl say, "Are you ever going to talk to me, or are you going to keep staring?"
I turned around. It was her.
I smiled at her, she smiled at me and I felt something I had never felt before. It was this warm, happy, safe feeling I will never forget.
We were inseparable for the rest of summer camp. It was great.
When summer camp ended, our parents came and picked us up. We both cried and swore that we'd stay in touch. She was in Maine and I was in DC. We told ourselves a cruel universe conspired to keep us apart, but that we'd fight through it.
We were in love. It was the real thing.
For over three years, we made it work. We traveled between cities for holidays and wrote letters the old-fashioned way. I snuck away to Maine – although that's a story for another article – for a secret visit, and she hid in my closet when my mom came home early.
In the end, we broke up when she left early for college. I've dated a lot of girls. I've even loved a few. But my first love will always be special.
1. This person is your "first."
Your "first" anything is special. Nobody talks about buying his or her second house, getting his or her second car or having sex with a second person. Everyone only talks about his or her first.
Everyone and everything will always be compared to your first love. Fair enough: It's all you have to measure against. You first love is the purist form of love. The world hasn't scarred you yet.
Life hasn't beaten you down, and a previous lover hasn't disappointed you. When they are good, relationships can remind us why we were put on this earth. But when they're bad, they can leave you asking, "What's the point?”
The “point” of love is to be vulnerable, to wear your heart on your sleeve and to give someone the power to utterly destroy you. For the rest of your life, your first love will always hold a small space in your heart. This shouldn't make any of your significant others jealous. It was about timing.
As Jana Kramer sang,
I got the first kiss and she'll get the last She's got the future, and I got the past I got the class ring, she got the diamond and wedding band I got the boy, and she got the man
2. Nostalgia will always win.
When you think about your first love, you will undoubtedly romanticize it. You'll think about the first kisses, the butterflies and the innocence that comes with having a first love.
You'll think about the way your first love made you feel, and the electricity he or she filled your body with. You'll think about the hope you had for the future, and they how deeply you believed love had no limits.
Everyone wants to remember his or her first love like he or she is in a Nicholas Sparks story. But, in fact, it might have read like a Stephen King novel.
It just depends on how removed you are from the situation. There's nothing wrong with nostalgia as long as you keep a healthy perspective. It may have been a great relationship. It may not have been.
The reason you feel so protective about your first love is because of his or her place in your story. Everyone will constantly ask you who your first love is, where you met him or her and what it was like.
No one wants to have a lame story about his or her first love. That's why we create romantic views about how everything went down.
I'm sure my first love did things that made me want to scratch my eyes out at some point or another. But almost all of the memories I conjure involve being curled up on a couch, laying on the quad on a warm summer's day or that look on her face at Blue Man Group.
3. You'll never get your "happily ever after" ending.
One of the best parts about having a first love is the passion that comes from the “new-ness” of it. You've never felt this way before.
So, you want to keep the high going. We constantly hear these great stories from our grandparents about how they met when they were teenagers. They instantly knew it was meant to be.
Disney has fed us stories about princesses and Prince Charming, so we secretly (or not-so-secretly) want to be a part of something like that. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all want our own happy endings.
No matter who we end up with, we will undoubtedly wonder about our first loves. What would our lives have been like with them? How would it have all played out if it had worked?
It's normal to wonder about those things. It's like wondering what would have happened if you had taken that job offer or gone to a different college.
Everyone goes through a case of the what-ifs. It's all about keeping them under control.
Just because you didn't marry your first love, that doesn't mean you didn't have a happy ending. Remember all the life lessons you learned from your first love. Remember how you've changed and grown since you were with your first love.
Everyone has a first love. It's a beautiful experience. Not every relationship will make it. Not every person will be willing to put in the effort necessary to make it work. But when it happens, it's a beautiful thing.
So, don't naively believe it will all be sunshine and lollipops. Don't trick yourself into believing your life is a rom-com. It's not.
Embrace the struggle, appreciate the pain and love unconditionally. It can be terrifying and risky. But at the end of the day, love is the best thing we can do. It's our purpose on this earth.
We're not here to make money, be famous, win championships or impress our friends. We're here to love. For the few of you who ended up with your first loves, congrats: You found your unicorn.
For the rest of you, cherish your memories. No one will ever know you the way your first love did.
You were innocent, inexperienced and vulnerable. You hopefully learned a lot about yourself and how to treat people. You hopefully learned what it means to be vulnerable, and you're open to being hurt.
This is the first of many stories in your book. Don't dwell on the past. But also don't forget to remember all the things that led you to become the great person you are.
Just because you didn't end up with your first love, that doesn't mean your story is over. There is always room for more chapters.