A few weeks ago, I received a phone call telling me that my first boyfriend had passed away. While we had not seen each other in many years, I felt overwhelmed with emotion.
“How could this be?” I thought, as I worked my way through a box of tissues trying to figure out why I was so upset.
Our first love, whether it lasts a few months or years, always holds a special place in our hearts. With first love, we are clean, fresh slates with no history or experience and so every moment and every feeling is magnified and intensified. We are often fairly young (I was 18) and naive, and we imagine no one has ever felt this way before. We cannot believe it will not last forever. So when first love ends, we are devastated. We cannot believe it did not sustain. We cannot believe we will love again. We don’t think we will ever get over it. We are heartbroken.
But of course, we do get over it and go on to love again and sometimes get hurt again…and again. And while that first love, may not be the greatest love, it is undoubtedly very, very special by its unique place in the order of our life; it was our FIRST. I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner for him and together we spent my first (and my only) New Year’s Eve in Times Square. He was my first boyfriend with his own apartment. It was the first time I helped anyone paint and decorate. It was also my first ‘sleep over’. He is the first boy who ever wrote me a poem and told me he loved me.
All those things happened many years ago, and like many first loves, it did not end well. I felt guilty; he was angry. We were both hurt. Yet over the years the bitterness and guilt softened and the sweetness is what remains.
So, now during this time of, do I call it grief? Sadness? Nostalgia? I had an obscure tune stuck in my head that I could not identify. The only lyrics that kept looping were “Come Saturday Morning, I’m going away with my friend.” Finally, I googled those words. They were from the soundtrack to The Sterile Cuckoo, the first movie we saw together in 1968! And then, an exquisitely tender memory came flooding back; it was snowing when we left the theater that night and rather than take the bus back to my dorm, we decided to walk. The streets were dark and hushed. We huddled together, laughingly kicking our way through the unsullied accumulation, creating a path together in the fresh glistening snow. The streetlights created the effect of being in a snow globe. And in some ways we were; first love makes the outside world fade into the background and insulates you from everything but your intense senses and deep connection.
The power of first love is why even the most happily married may google their first love or wonder with giddy excitement if s/he will be at their high school reunion. When we reminiscence about first love we experience the joy and wonder of loving without reservation; no previous hurts or disappointments to inhibit us from being free and open and wildly optimistic. We feel our youthful selves flooding back. In her novel While You were Gone, Sue Miller refers to this infatuation with the other as being an intoxication of our own youth.
On this Valentine’s Day, take a quiet moment to celebrate your first love. Even though years may have passed and those memories may be blurred and faded, overlaid as they are with other experiences-a gentle nudge can create a path right back to those incredibly tender moments and bring gratitude for the youthful time that we, as the last line of the song, “Will remember long after Saturday’s gone.”
© 2017 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986. She has a special interest in working with people dealing with life transitions. She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce which is available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.