If you’re reading this and saying, that’s crazy! Our break-up was horrible and I never want to see him/her again, I get what you’re talking about. Bad break-ups suck. They hurt in ways that make most other pain seem trifling and unworthy of the word ‘pain’. But I’d like you to think about this, for just a moment: Do you think that bad break-up helped you become the person you are now? Did that awful experience help you understand the better nature, the kindest nature of really loving someone and being truly loved in return?
If your answer is ‘yes’… then you do still love the first person you ever loved, at least the part of you that is still that person who remembers the agony and the ecstasy of that first love. Because… it is that love that has brought you to this love. And if you’re one of the lucky ones who remembers your first love with warmth and genuine affection, then you should understand even better.
I’m one of the lucky ones, because the first man with whom I fell in love is still a friend, and still holds a place dear in my heart. And honestly, I think that that relationship helped me with other relationships, helped me determine their… oh, dear, I’m going to say this wrong… their ranking or their worth to me. It helped me distinguish between someone who was great fun to go out with a few times, and someone who might have potential as a partner. Does that make sense?
Martin & I met at a leadership camp in Caloundra while I was on my exchange year. He was one of the Australians, I was one of the ‘foreigners’. The moment I saw him walk into the main camp building, I thought he was very cute. Also very tall. Just as an aside, why do you suppose it is that girls who are short are so attracted to tall men? It must drive men of average or even less-than-average height completely mad! Anyway, I thought he was cute, and I walked right up to him, hussy that I am, and said “Your penguin is adorable.”
This is not the non-sequitor you might think. He was wearing a golf shirt that had a penguin symbol (like the Lauren polo player, but a penguin) embroidered on the upper left chest. When he looked as stupefied at my remark as I’m sure you did just a moment ago, I pointed to said upper left chest, and he laughed.
We laughed together for the rest of the week, or as much of it as we could spend together, considering we were in two different leadership groups and had separate courses to take and to lead. That week actually rather defined our entire relationship, because he lived 300 km from where I was being hosted, and between my schooling and program responsibilities and his working two jobs plus playing cricket, we didn’t see each other often during the remainder of my year Down Under.
We wrote letters. Lots of letters, and cards, and we did get in a few visits, but they always seemed to be too short, heavily chaperoned, and sort of bittersweet even as they were happening. Rotary has a rule, I think Number 7, which clearly states that, while dating may be permitted, there is to be no single romantic involvement while on the exchange. Didn’t meet a kid on the program before, during or since who didn’t have a single romantic involvement, some of which were easy & good and some of which were hard & awful, but all of which I think are almost inevitable.
So all the time Martin & I were writing and seeing each other when we could and talking about the future, I think in the back of both our minds, and certainly in the back of mine, that barring a sudden change in the direction of our lives – like he decided not to play cricket, or my family disowned me so there was no point in going home – this year was not likely to have a romantic, happily ever after ending.
Please know that I did love him, and if we had met when we were two or three years older, or we had met in some neutral country – neither his nor mine, I believe things might have been different. Maybe. I don’t know, and I can’t ever know, of course. What I do know is that, when I went back to Australia 28 years later, we saw each other again, several times, over two hour lunches in a few work days, and it was quite wonderful. All the reasons why I cared for him when we were younger were still so evident, and having that time together is also something I would not exchange for anything.
But here’s the thing: I have Jeff, and Martin has Elaine, and both of us have been quite happily, contentedly married for exactly the same amount of time. And we married our wonderful spouses a little more than two years after I left Australia. And we made the decision(s) to marry because, I believe, we had loved so well once, and knew what that was like, so when the best person for us came along, we knew it, and went with it, and are… happy. And are friends.
Wondering what Jeff thinks about this? He understands, truly, because he has the same kind of relationship with his high school love, his first love. Unlike Jeff, who has only spoken with Martin on the phone, I have met & spent time with Mary Jane, and I rather like her. I understand completely why she was the perfect person for him to fall in love with when they were 16. And I also understand how they found themselves on different life paths, even living in the same neighbourhood, just as Martin and I found ourselves on different paths in two different hemispheres.
I am not still in love with Martin, nor he with me. Jeff is not still in love with Mary Jane, or she with him. But inside us, as inside you, there is a person who is still 16 or 18 or 20, and that person, that once fragile and strong, happy and melancholic, that person remembers with love, always.