In life, we are taught that our 'happily ever after' will happen when we meet the right person and fall in love. When we fall in love for the first time, we throw ourselves into what we assume will be pure bliss, and, perhaps inevitably, begin to learn the pains of love and relationships. So, how can we learn to find ourselves when our first love is gone? Christina Riley shares her experiences of learning that perhaps perfect love is not the happy ending we need to seek - or perhaps doesn't even exist.
We are taught our first lessons in love primarily from our guardians, our family and caretakers; yet, the love we seek, the love many of us crave is almost exclusively sought in a romantic partner. While friends and family may hold a more permanent status in our lives, naturally, this can fall somewhat short of achieving fulfilment. Our sexual desires and the singleton status are at times left wanting as, so often, society instils in our minds that we need a partner to feel loved. Our minds are trained to think of relationships as a form of security, despite their very nature being completely unpredictable. To love, and feel loved, is one of the most rewarding things we do, and therefore we are prepared to suffer for a moment of bliss.
The infamous ‘first love’ is notorious for hindering our pursuits of love. Our first partners primarily occur in our late teens to early-twenties; and while they may not have the best looks, or the best personality, and the relationship may not be anything you ever thought you wanted, to the naïve mind, they are unparalleled. So often, people refer to their past relationships looking through the thick lenses of nostalgia, idealising the first love and the feelings they had awoken within us. We go into our first relationships ready to succumb completely to feelings of love and passion because we have not been exposed to the pain it can inflict; we are completely open. However, once our hearts have been broken, scepticism creeps in and we start to doubt ourselves and our partners for the very reasons our previous relationships ended.
It is this cynicism that sometimes leads us to believe that our first love will be our greatest, or that they will always play a feature role in our minds, because no-one can meet our expectations and the glorified person we compare them to. I was guilty of this before I realised what I really missed was the idea of a person, and not the person themselves.
My first love shaped who I am as a person. I learned so much about myself: I learned how to love a stranger unconditionally; I learned what I want and don’t want in a partner; I learned how to choose self-respect over a relationship, and for that I’m thankful. Many of us forget the challenges and traumas of our relationships because when we love a person, good takes precedence over bad. I choose to remember the good in a person and I firmly believe that we should remember the happy times in our previous relationships, we can look back with fondness and appreciate that person for the part they played in our lives and the lessons they taught us. However, we should also recognise this as a time of the past, and not measure ourselves, or others against the sugar-coated fantasy our minds can create.
I’ve come to realise my expectations of others is also a reflection of my expectations of self. Getting over relationships is hard, but reconciling with ourselves is much more difficult. Naturally when my relationship ended, my confidence plummeted, and during this time I realised that I also needed to repair my perception of people. When I stopped looking for a falsehood that wouldn’t make me happy, I felt contended within myself and with others; I didn’t need to be perfect, and neither did the people in my life. I don’t feel like I need to be in a relationship to feel loved or secure because I have the confidence to feel those things when I’m alone, and going through a tough breakup forced me to realise this. Looking back, I have no regrets and honestly believe I am a stronger and happier person as a result of being with, and then parting ways with my ex. I have found that I am a more open person now that I’ve put the past firmly behind me and can look back only with an occasional smile, not grief for a fictional ideal.