Once, I believed in soulmates.
And I harboured a little dream of first love being the only love.
My first love was often a tumultuous one. It was inevitable really, a couple of insecure, introspective teenagers. At times, it was beautiful. At times, we soared. But I often tried to imagine us together, with a family, in 10 or 20 years. And I never could.
I don’t doubt that there are couples who meet the one and marry their first, true love. But that was never going to happen for us. I – we – had so much to learn. I did not have very good role models, relationship-wise, growing up. I felt…yes, I felt…that was never the problem…but I could not express. Words backed up, trapped somewhere in my brain, unable to make it through to my vocal cords and escape into the atmosphere. Words that needed to be spoken and heard, were never uttered.
I had to reconcile what I’d learned of love through books with the reality of a living, breathing relationship. To add to these internal issues, there were external, familial conflicts.
How does one learn to love? How does one learn the art of romance?
I grew up with parents who did not touch each other or call each other by name.
Of the things I learned at home, I do not feel nurturing a healthy relationship was one of them.
First love for me was a practice run. To get my first taste of arguing (occasionally in a healthy way, but mostly not), of reconciliation, of compromise, of loyalty, of demonstrativeness.
Today, many things come naturally. Saying “I love you” multiple times a day. A goodbye kiss in the morning. I will not judge my parents’ relationship – particularly as I no longer observe them on an everyday basis – but I know I want to continue to be the couple who go on date nights. Who always sleep in the same bed. Who respect each other. Who takes the time to cut his love’s steak into manageable chunks. Who knows her love, like a puppy, likes nothing better than belly-rubs, and obliges. Who wipe food from each other’s faces. Who playfight in the supermarket. Who do the hip bump while walking along the footpath, just because.
Without that first taste, I would be a completely different person today. I would still be struggling to relate to others in the most basic of ways. I would still retreat into silence at the first sign of conflict, my throat and mind closing up, sealing my thoughts away. I would not have the confidence that rests in the knowledge that once, someone else loved me. And that one day, others could, too. Bigger, better, bolder.
Second love does not have the same fairytale ring to it, but life is rarely so kind.