If you would have pulled bits and pieces of different boys out of different coming-of-age novels, that’s who Adam* was. A true Judy f*cking Bloom character. He was beautiful, with his dark, curly hair and unsettling hazel eyes with a green speck right next to his left pupil.
When I look back now, it almost feels like I wrote my first love story for some young adult audience, ready to be turned into a Netflix film starring Noah Centineo. The sepia-hued memories of us napping in fields, making out in the back row of the movie theater, writing long, embarrassing Myspace (yes, Myspace) posts for each and every one of our monthiversaries—we were the definition of a teenage cliche.
He was all wrong for me because, of course he was. Maybe that’s what made him right? He would pull his hoodie over his head and sleep in the back row of class, waiting for the hangover from the senior party he went to the night before to wear off. He made out with girls two years older than him because they all thought he was hot enough to slum it with, his easy confidence and built arms from years of rowing crew luring them in.
There was no reason for him to pay attention to me, and I had no reason to accept his advances. So, naturally, we fell grotesquely, painfully, horribly in love.
From the note he passed in science class asking me on a date to our dramatic breakup (not the first one. Orrrr the second one. But the third one. That one) to the years-later, post-breakup, “let’s pretend this didn’t happen unless we’re getting back together” hookup on the beach, my first love was the stuff of adolescent fantasies everywhere. And the best part? During it all, I felt like I was the only person in the world to feel that intensely, that strongly, that much.
Turns out, almost every other failed first love story has the same premise. That falling. That unsteadiness. That “maybe I’ll never get over it even though I’m actually totally over it” feeling. While some people say they feel nothing for their first loves, the rest of us
who aren’t lying can admit that just because it didn’t work out, and just because you might not still be in love, there always seems to be ~something~ about your first love that you just can’t shake.
As I typed that, I had a total Carrie Bradshaw moment and couldn’t help but wonder: Why do we even care? For most of us, our first loves are LONG gone and out of our lives, so why do the ghosts of those relationships linger on and haunt us well beyond our final goodbyes?
In order to get to the bottom of my musings, I reached out to Judge Lauren Lake of Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court, because if anyone is an expert on love and heartbreak, it’s the woman who has made a career of educating those with broken hearts and helping them heal… not to mention punishing the assholes who hurt them.
According to Judge Lauren Lake, “First loves are usually so intense and often between two immature people, so, ultimately, they serve as the foundation for future relationships.” (For better or for worse.)
Which means that no matter how your first meaningful relationship went down, your brain literally uses it as the baseboard for all future relationships because it’s, to pull out a word from the 5th-grade science fair, the control. Which is why you might randomly have dreams about said ex or think of them from time to time, even years after things went to sh*t—which, thankfully, doesn’t mean you’re a psycho.
“It happens because you’re human,” Lake says. “Love doesn’t just end when someone breaks your heart. It’s very possible to have love for someone who isn’t your Mr./Mrs. Right, especially if it was the first person you thought was going to be your lifelong partner.”
Art Aron, a psychology professor at State University of New York at Stony Brook who specializes in close relationships, told The Washington Post, “Your first experience of something is going to be well remembered, more than later experiences, presumably there’d be more arousal and excitement, especially if it’s somewhat scary.”
And honestly? There are very few things scarier than falling in love. It’s a nonstop anxiety trip of will they or won’t they, do they or don’t they. It’s exhausting and panic-inducing, but that rush is so powerful that humans have been chasing it for centuries. “Even in a fully developed adult brain, the neurological response to being in love with someone is very strong,” says Art. “It’s the same as being on cocaine.”
So, for the not fully-formed adolescent brain pumping weird thoughts into a body full of hormones and Mountain Dew, the feelings, responses, and the lasting effects of falling is love are completely magnified.
“Love doesn’t happen overnight,” says Lake. “It doesn’t end overnight, either. When you truly love someone, there will always be a part of you that still loves them, even if they did you wrong. It is still possible to have love for someone but know you have to move on from them.”
Can u imagine getting married and having a family and staying in love until u die, then waiting in the afterlife for your wife to join you and she finally dies and ditches u for a dude she knew for three days on a boat instead?? Anyway I’d give Titanic a 9/10
— Saddington 2 ✈️🥺 (@2Saddington) November 12, 2019
Easier said than done, right? Still, if you have those lingering feelings, it might be important to take a closer look before they cause real damage to your current or future relationships. While things you learned from those firsts are important (like knowing that you don’t have to stick your tongue in someone’s mouth every time you kiss), there’s a limit. While that first person might be part of your future foundation, there’s a fine line between learning from those experiences and leaning on them.
According to Lake, “You have to be careful not to make your first love a figure in your future relationships. No one wants to hear about someone’s ex all the time, even if it is a first love from years ago.”
While most of us will still, subconsciously, refer back to lessons learned from our first loves in future relationships (or even do the occasional Instagram sweep out of curiosity), there’s a big difference between your first love being a foundation and your first love being a figure in your life. How do you tell the difference?
“Having love in your heart for someone and still pining for them are two very different things,” says Lake. “It’s important to evaluate whether or not you have an unhealthy attachment to your ex. Are you consistently and consciously comparing new people you’re dating to them? Do you still fantasize about being in a relationship with them? Do you regularly look at their social media accounts? Do you still have all of their pictures in your phone? Did you save their texts? Do you drive by their house?”
While most of us (I hope) would realize that the ol’ drive-by move is total You style stalking, some of the other unhealthy habits might be a little harder to not only detect, but also break. As stated before, love, and especially first love, is as addictive as cocaine. Which means that while it’s fun and exciting and keeps you up all night and makes you feel insanely sexy, it can also be pretty effing unhealthy. While those little first love-related pastimes might feel harmless, they could be detrimental in the long run.
According to Lake, “If you answered yes to any of those questions, you may need to admit that you’re still hung up on or have attachment issues to your ex. If so, you NEED to spend time doing the work to heal yourself before you get into a relationship with someone new or to better move forward with the person you’re with.”
Naturally, the big question is “how the f*ck do you do that if you’re so obsessed that you considered driving by their house when you were visiting your family for the holidays?”
“Stop romanticizing it! At the end of the day you left, or they left you. Let go of those unrealistic and unhealthy fantasies,” says Lake. “You might have to just accept the fact that you may never truly get over this person completely. But you can definitely learn to live life without them.”
While taking the steps to fully, finally, and healthily get over them means making pro/con lists, burning all of their sh*t that you still have in a box and then saging your apartment, or seeking professional help, know that “losing your first, or any, love isn’t easy for anyone,” says Lake, “but you can overcome it and access the limitless possibilities for love and happiness that are in your future. One of the most important relationship lessons to learn is that it takes more than love to sustain a great relationship.”
You know, like communication, patience, and pretending that hearing him talk about his fantasy football team doesn’t make your vagina totally dry up. See?! Healthy relationships!!!!!!
So, whether you’re totally over him or still in the process, post your sloriest thirst-trap and say goodbye to past relationship hangups in 2020. The best gift of all? Knowing that no matter how good his life is now, there’s a 100% chance he’ll see your post and hate himself for f*cking things up with you. And THAT, my loves, is the ultimate cure for heartbreak. Well, that and seeing that he ends up on Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court someday. Here’s to hoping!
*name has been changed because, despite popular belief, I’m not a TOTAL psycho.
Like most sentient Americans, I’ve spent the past few weeks in a world where Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” is the only soundtrack. It’s passed well beyond the point of “great song!” and into the realm of “if I don’t get my daily fix, I will probably die.” I am certain I’m not alone in this, given that “thank u, next” has shattered multiple records in the streaming world. More importantly to me, the song and its accompanying video have secured Ariana Grande’s transition from pop star to icon, from whom every social media nugget and on-screen appearance are nothing short of gospel.
As I’ve watched (and wholeheartedly approved of) the reaction to “thank u, next,” one question continued to bug me. When Taylor Swift sings about her exes, she causes a similar flurry—but one filled with sneering, eye rolling, and the suggestion that she can’t be taken seriously as an artist for choosing such diary-like content. Then Grande releases a track in which each of her exes are called out by name, and she’s hailed as the ultimate badass for it. As someone who both genuinely loves Taylor Swift’s music and feels that 90-95% of songs should be about one’s exes, I couldn’t help but wonder: why is Grande celebrated for the very thing Swift is mocked for? I’ve outlined my theories below.
Ariana Grande Is Cool & Confident
Let’s be honest—a huge part of the appeal of “thank u, next” is the fact that, given the option, we would all present ourselves like Grande did after a breakup. “Thank u, next” is perhaps the coolest emotion one can evoke when facing an ex—even more so if done with genuine gratitude and while looking insanely flawless. “Thank u, next” is a song we can all caption our pictures with while drunkenly “accidentally” tagging exes, and the worst thing that happens is you’ve been overly polite to someone who wasted a year of your life. You tag an ex in a pic captioned “got a long list of ex-lovers / they’ll tell you I’m insane,” and you’re not coming back from that so quickly. This brings me to my next point.
Taylor Swift Is Earnest & Emotional
Taylor Swift, almost determinedly, does not put up a “cool girl” façade when she sings about her exes. She painfully scrutinizes where it went wrong, often down to the minute of their breakup. She lingers on their ultimate incompatibility, mourns for the good times, and explicitly details the extent to which both she and her ex will suffer for this loss. Swift is, in my opinion, a far more realistic version of what you look like after a breakup. Contrary to what Grande’s rom-com mash-up video would have you believe, most people do not soar from broken engagements feeling validated in all of their choices and loving themselves like never before. They come out feeling lost, broken, and all too likely to dwell on all the most unhelpful and unattractive things.
In other words, they look like this:
So, if Swift is ultimately more relatable, shouldn’t that mean more critical success? F*ck no! Please. Name the last time someone wanted an honest reflection of themselves, particularly if it’s unflattering. From the bathroom scale to the pop soundtrack of your life, you want to be fed beautiful lies. People yell at Swift for being vulnerable about her exes the same way you yell into the mirror the morning after drunk-dialing your own ex 12 times the night before. Swift isn’t critiqued in spite of being relatable; she’s attacked precisely because of it.
Ariana Grande Is Gracious & Direct
First and foremost, we have to acknowledge that Grande takes the high road with “thank u, next.” She betrays not one scrap of vitriol toward her exes, talks no sh*t about them or the relationship. She simply thanks them for their time, and reaffirms her commitment to herself. So, that alone is easier to get behind than one of Swift’s “remember those three minutes in 2004 when you said we would die together” tirades.
On top of that, there’s the fact that Grande seems to have no fear of confrontation (can’t relate). She names each of her exes plainly, and even gave many of them a heads-up before the song’s release. So, if her exes themselves don’t have an issue with the song, it’s a little harder for the general public to decry it.
Taylor Swift Is Petty & Secretive
Swift, on the other hand, does everything short of attaching a treasure map to each album with hints to which lyric refers to which ex-boyfriend. Yes, the national obsession with tracking those connections, and stalking her love life in general, has gotten totally out of hand. But when she describes the relationship down to the month (“Back to December”), memorable holiday (4th of July), eye color (too many to count) and so on—it’s a little hard not to engage. Add to that the fact that she decidedly doesn’t take her exes’ feelings into consideration on this—and given the contentious nature of many of her songs, it’s not hard to see why.
To clarify, I’m not in any way saying that artists should have to poll their exes before releasing a breakup track. The world would be a much sadder place if that were the case. I’m just saying that Swift’s refusal to do so—and Grande’s respective decorum toward exes—makes Swift the much easier target to criticize. Basically, Grande is doing all the things you’re supposed to do after a breakup; Swift is doing all the things you hope people never find out about after a breakup. And one of those girls will get dragged a lot harder than the other—it’s just a fact of life.
Moral of the story here? We should all try to be more like Ariana Grande. JK—you guys knew that coming in. But honestly, that is the hidden message behind the song’s unequivocal success. When Swift sings about her exes, she does it emotionally, vindictively, and evasively. She speaks about her exes with all the bitterness of someone still deeply invested in the relationship, or at least actively wounded by it. When Grande sings about her exes, she’s singing from the point of view of someone who’s moved on—and ultimately, just singing about herself. So yeah, do be more like Ariana Grande. Move on from relationships that didn’t work, stop emotionally investing, and celebrate yourself. Apparently, the world has a much harder time tearing that down.
Images: Giphy (2)