A dear friend of mine recently experienced a strange and tragic type of loss. Her first love died in a car crash. Never mind that they hadn’t seen each other in person since 1995, or that they were both married to other people. She is feeling the loss of him keenly.
First loves often imprint on us in a way that makes them part of the structure that frames our history and our everyday experience of love well into the future. The first time we feel those emotions of love, lust, jealousy, insecurity, feeling precious and vulnerable and righteous in our anger and fierce in our desire is a rite of passage that informs how we operate in future relationships. Even if that first love becomes your life partner, those early days of discovery and heightened emotion are intoxicating and feel more real than just about anything else that has happened up until that point.
Though I am many years happily married, I can still close my eyes and remember the onslaught of emotions and sensations that raced through my being when I first fell in love with a boy. The intensity of attachment, yearning. It was before I learned to reserve a bit of myself when caught in the rush of early love, to temper those emotions and think more clearly in the face of all-consuming thoughts about the target of my affection.
I have often wondered if those first few times I fancied myself in love, was it really Love? It could have been extreme attraction disguised as love. Having never felt it before, what other emotion would I have tagged it with? I felt passionately with all my soul that I was in love. Yet perhaps it was a foundation, a jumping off point from which a more sustained love could have sprung.
Marriage has taught me that love is more than obsessive thoughts about a guy. It’s more than wanting to run my fingers through his hair and give all of my physical self to him. It’s more than having ‘in jokes’ and eating toast naked in the middle of the night. It’s the bigger stuff that sustains love. Personal values. Deeply held beliefs. Honesty. Loyalty when it gets hard and the shine wears off.
And yet I understand why the death of my friend’s first love is devastating to her. Touches her soul in a place that is way down deep. Because the first love holds the memory of all that youthful promise. The ripe and longing need, expectation, and rightful ownership you feel in being present with that all-consuming emotion. That first other person who makes you feel whole.