“I know, the bravest thing I ever did was run.” — Little Big Town
DISCLAIMER: A name and a few life details of my high school boyfriend have been changed in an attempt to protect his privacy. We’re gonna call him Tyler.
The first seven months of my first relationship were bliss.
Tyler was a blonde, state champion athlete with a six-pack and baby blue eyes.
He would put sweet notes in my locker, let me have his most comfortable basketball sweats and would kiss me every day before practice in front of everybody.
I remember smiling to myself thinking, “I hope I never forget this.”
And then I remember how he called me a whore after going through my phone, how he cheated on me with about 10 girls and then manipulated me into thinking I was crazy. I remember waking up on a cold school bathroom floor because I passed out after not eating for five days from the emotional abuse.
At one point, I weighed 109 pounds. I am 5’7.
There were so many nights when I was reduced to throwing up and cowering in the fetal position after one of our volatile conversations.
One night I remember thinking, “I wish I could forget everything.”
For some reason, I had this idea that the purest form of romance can only be found with the first person you love. I thought anything else was some kind of character failure or not trying hard enough.
Think about it–how many songs or plots of movies revolve around a couple who fall madly in love at the age of like 8 freaking years old and then they fight their way back to each other, even if they’ve done horrible things and have an unhealthy relationship. OH WELL! They were each other’s first kiss! What else really matters????
I wanted so badly to be one of those people who married their high school sweethearts. I thought, if I just make myself good enough for him, we’ll have the perfect life and we’ll be home free.
Right before I left for my freshman year of college, everything changed.
He was no longer nice, unless he wanted something. He started having sex with random girls, foreign exchange students, 15-year-olds, some of my acquaintances, his ex-girlfriend–he did not care. Even when he wasn’t cheating, he was lying. He was isolating me from my friends. He was telling me I was nothing without him. He would tweet humiliating things about me. He would not talk to me for days at a time.
I know this is not everyone’s first relationship story, but the unfortunate reality is that it’s a lot of our stories.
When we are 15 to 21 and falling in love for the first time, it’s pretty unlikely that we’ve reached the emotional maturity to select our fairytale prince. If I stuck with everything I did when I was 17, I would work at Dairy Queen, have purple hair and wear skateboard shirts every day, despite my complete inability to skateboard.
I think it is damaging to young girls that we push that narrative. I’m so sick of “you’ll never forget your first love” and “the first cut is always the deepest” and “you’ll always love your first.”
Let’s replace these ideas with “you’ll never forget the first person who shows you unconditional love and respect” and “eventually you won’t be cut anymore, so it’s okay,” and “you don’t have to remember your first love at all if he tried to murder your soul for the majority of your relationship.”
We were so young. We were so naive. We crashed into each other and caused the most devastating, heart-wrenching explosion that completely obliterated my self-worth for a long time.
I imagine that I probably wrecked him in some ways, too.
A lot of times, I don’t think Tyler meant to be so cruel, but that wasn’t enough. For the last year of our relationship, I knew I didn’t love him anymore and that we weren’t getting married, but I stayed. I was a weak, shell of a human being.
Once I finally received some borrowed courage, the veil was lifted and I saw him for who he really was: a self-conscious boy who was just as scarred as the shaking little girl on her dorm room floor.
The spell was broken, and I was able to let in one of the most important people of my life.
The truth is, Tyler could very well go on and be a wonderful husband, father, and man. He was never meant to be that for me. I had to be part of his journey to (hopefully) become that for someone else.
Growth is a beautiful thing. We don’t have to be the people who did all those awful things when we were young, and we don’t have to fit perfectly into the chorus of a country song about high school love.
I want to dedicate this to two people:
Codi, for sharing a bond with me that no one else in this world could ever understand. It’s a sisterhood we didn’t ask for, but I am grateful for our conversations and mutual support. You remind me that people with good hearts can’t be swayed by others.
Taylor, for being there for every fight, unexpected visits to your house, and attempted surprise trips to senior week. Seeing you go through something similar was hard, but you have handled it with grace and poise. Proud of you.