Making Sense of First Love
The long-term effects of first-love
Posted January 22, 2016
And I ain't down here for your money
I ain't down here for your love
I ain't down here for your love or money
I'm down here for your soul
"From the moment I met Jane I couldn’t get enough. But it wasn’t just me: it was all either of us could think about. I literally couldn’t get her out of my head. It seemed like it should have been more fun, though. Instead, it drove both of us mad. It was a long time before I realized I had used Jane to fix everything that had ever been wrong in my life.”
Peter and Jane were like many other seventeen-year-olds: limited life experience doesn’t yield a lot of insight into one’s behavior or personality. Down the road, perhaps, they might curiously look back and begin to understand how unmet needs and desires translated into pain and sadness, and how that made them react in future relationships. The first time we fall hard for another person—that treacherous tumble into first love—is one of the most dramatic examples.
"We were always telling each other that our love was forever. (Wasn’t giving up our virginity to one another the proof?). The rampage of miserable family lives and adolescent hormones drove us at one another. We hadn’t a clue that each of us was using the other as an escape hatch from the pain we were desperate to leave behind.
"When she was a kid, Jane’s parents had relegated her to the sidelines of a really nasty divorce, but I don’t know if my situation was better or worse: my parents stayed together, but like her, I was pushed to the sidelines of their ugly, cold resentment which they never even tried to cover up.
“Looking back, I’d say that both of us tried to create an alternative reality, some kind of fantasy about what it meant to be in love. We never really talked about it, but I think our ideas of a ‘perfect romance’ were, more than anything else, a protest against what we came from. At the time we both felt like our meeting was fate or a miracle or something. So naturally we tried desperately to hold onto it. And then it came time for college.
"I've never been clear exactly what happened. We tried to make it work from college in different states. We were determined that it wasn’t going to just fall apart like other people we knew. But all the normal college stuff—casual sex, drinking, drugs, and the peer pressure—affected us pretty much like you’d expect.”
“Finally we painfully agreed to allow each other to ‘move on.’ Or, so we thought. We had, I think, sincere intentions, but what we’d shared had hit us at such a deep place that letting go was complicated. And besides, we didn’t really want to. We’d try to get involved with other people, but then, on holiday breaks, we’d meet “just for coffee,” and end up in bed together. Then we’d feel so guilty that we’d tell each other (again) that this was the last time.
"When we were in high school we were always talking about getting married and having kids. But even when we were back and forth trying to split up, the idea of getting back together kind of scared me somehow. I couldn’t figure it out: why was I so attracted but scared of Jane at the same time?
“Then a friend of mine told me about ‘irrelationships’ and I checked out the website. Some things helped me make sense of Jane and me right away, but other things took a while. Anybody could see that our obsession with each put a wall between us and anybody and anything else in our lives. I know now that, while it looked like passion, it was really this driven performance thing that completely sucked up all our energy and attention like a black hole. But that performance kept the lid on everything we were afraid of. Risking true intimacy wasn’t, and didn’t have to be, on our radar at all: our connection was an escape from the train wrecks our parents had created. Strangely, our escaping into each other really didn’t have anything to do with love.
“An interesting twist was that as I learned more about irrelationship, I could see that Jane and I took turns being Performer and Audience. The Performer would make a series of dramatic gestures and “sacrifices” to keep our “love” alive; and whoever was in the Audience role had to give a standing ovation—as if the performance (which was more like a rescue operation) actually worked.
“The bottom line is that we were two kids who were afraid of winding up in the kinds of messed up marriages our parents had. So we created a safe “bubble” where that couldn’t happen. Only we were so invested in the act of keeping fear at arms’ length that we never really got any closer than arms’ length either. And that was the point: we used our relationship to keep anybody and anything else from causing us any more pain. We were so driven by fear that whatever potential we had for true love really didn’t stand a chance.”
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