Sunday, July 30, 2006

Dismaying Story #17: The Ghost of the First Love

Dear Andrew,

When I was fifteen I was in love. I never doubted, never questioned. I could have sworn we were meant for each other. Two years later I went away to school and my feelings suddenly changed; I broke up with him. After that I had a series of failed relationships and a history of cheating. Now I am 21 and in a relationship with a guy who is really great. We have no problems at all - never fight. But still, after six years, I compare my relationships with this first love - and it never seems as intense, as happy, as right. My current boyfriend is everything I ever wanted and yet I am afraid my feelings will change - that I will cheat on him because I am too sure of him and because "bad boys" are all so tempting - and that I will lose the only man that actually has potential. I doubt, I question. And the worst thing is... I absolutely don't know why. Is it me? Or are we just not right for each other? Am I cheating myself?

Going crazy

Dear Not At All Crazy,

Your first big love can be an exhilarating experience. Everything is new, exciting, filled with discovery and fueled by the raging hormones that Mother Nature supplies in abundance when you are young. Teenagers often have relatively few responsibilities, so you can spend much of your time being carefree, having fun and enjoying each other. The whole deal is special and memorable, like your first kiss.

Whenever you start a relationship with a new partner, there is often a similar period of newness and excitement. You have the thrill of the first date with this person, the first kiss, the pleasure of discovering what they are like and what sort of couple the two of you can be together. This may not be as life-altering as your first big love but it can still be a rush, a mighty fine experience.

Eventually, though, most of us hope to settle down into one relationship that takes us through the bulk of our adult life. Such mature relationships are still filled with pleasure, just a different kind. Instead of adrenaline-filled excitement, we have the comfort and stability that comes from having a wonderful and committed life partner. We have the contentment of maturing together and achieving life's great accomplishments, such as raising a family. Happily, it is also possible to continually surprise and delight each other by sharing new and fun activities, keeping your sex life interesting and lively, visiting new places together and so on. The excitement doesn't always come "for free" - you have to work at it - and you can never re-create the pure rush of the first time, but there is definitely no need to settle for dull and boring just because you are with one person for a long time.

I believe part of your issue is that you have created an image in your mind of what a relationship "should" feel like. Unfortunately you have based this image on the first big love that happened when you were fifteen. Now as a young adult you are in a more mature relationship, which is entirely normal and appropriate. When you compare your experience now with the adrenaline rush of the first love, however, you realize they are different and wonder if your current boyfriend is somehow lacking.

Of course your current relationship is different. You will never have that first big love again. You will never be fifteen again. Every relationship you have from now on will be more of the mature variety. That doesn't make them any less wonderful; instead it means you will experience the pleasures that make life great in the long term.

What about that boyfriend you had when you were fifteen. What if the two of you had never broken up. Would you still have the same feeling today that you did back them? Would it still feel "as intense, as happy, as right"? In some ways, maybe. If he was indeed the right guy for you, then you could be happy in that knowledge. The adrenaline rush, though, would have faded by now. The two of you would have matured together and so would your relationship. I suspect it would resemble greatly the type of mature relationship you have with your current boyfriend.

What if you met that old boyfriend now and started seeing him again. Could you re-capture the original glory and excitement? You might do so for a short time, the same as with any new relationship. Before long, though, the two of you would be through with the "honeymoon period" and settle into a more mature relationship.

There is just no way around it. Mother Nature wants all of us to grow up; in fact she's rather insistent about it. (And don't send me letters about your Uncle Herbert who never grew up. There are exceptions to every rule :o)

I have no way of knowing if your current boyfriend is "the one" for you. Based on your letter, though, it seems like you are not questioning things because of any faults of him or your relationship. Instead it seems you are placing him in an unfair position. He can't possibly win. You are comparing your current relationship with some idealized memory of what love is "supposed" to feel like. If you continue to do that then every relationship you have for the rest of your life will feel like it is coming up short. You will be in danger of sabotaging any chance you have for long-term happiness.

You mentioned fear. You are afraid your feelings will change, like they have in your past relationships. Hopefully by understanding the unrealistic expectations that have been at the root of your discontent, you can now move past that. Give yourself permission to be happy. Stop holding out for a mind-blowing, hormone-induced buzz. Instead, realize that plain old "happy" is a wondrous thing in itself. If you can achieve that, I bet plenty of Faithful Readers would gladly change places with you.

Finally, you say "bad boys" are tempting. This seems like more of the same pattern. This image offers risk and excitement. Eventually I hope you will realize the incredible value of a partner who is supportive, reliable, committed . . . and who can still give you that weak feeling in the pit of your stomach whenever he walks into the room, even after many years.

In short, I suggest you stop comparing your current relationship with that idealized image. Only then will you be able to decide if your guy is right for you.

All the best,

Do you worry about your relationship? Take a few minutes today to email your question. You can also enter a comment using the link below. Comments can be anonymous and the identity of email respondents always remains confidential.


  1. Fantastic Blog. Really heartfelt, nice to read true stories.

  2. Thanks Andrew- I will be back to read more!

  3. Thanks for commenting on my blog...boy did you pick the right place! Our family could fill up your blog with our issues! It took my husband and I 25 years to settle into our relationship and were the successfull ones!

  4. thank you, andrew, for responding. i agree a 100% with you.

    it's just... in the back of my mind i have this saying: "when you have to ask yourself if you are in love, you probably aren't".

    and sometimes it seems like it's only "exciting" when you can't get what you want - when you have to chase after the guy that will probably never be with you. the excitement - is he going to talk to me today? this week? never?

    and this current boyfriend and i just clicked. there was never this back and forth - never the pain of not knowing. and i loved that. and still love the security with him. i want him for my future because i am happy with him.

    and yet... it felt less real because there were never these butterflies. but maybe i am confusing love with constant wondering and heartache.
    i fear that these failed relationships really messed with my picture of love.

    is there a way to fix this? fix me?

  5. Nice idea this blog.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog!
    I'll be back... this is interesting.

  6. Thanks for your comment on my blog Andrew. I have linked to you in the 'Take a Break from Infertility' blogroll.

  7. Nice entry you have here Andrew. It's really very inspiring, I've been on this kind of situation before but I'm so happy and contented with my current relationship. I'll keep coming back on your blog for more. I also added your blog on my favorite links. Keep up the good work.