September 13, 2009

on a history lesson: first love...

He was my first love.

James (let's call him James, for the sake of anonymity) was a quirky, cuddly guy who adored motorcycles and Tom Petty. He was a "good guy" by nature, and had these awkwardly endearing qualities of a guy wanting to make sure he's doing everything right in his first relationship. He was very cautious, romantic, goofy in a ridiculously sweet way.

What better guy to capture the heart of a eighteen year old romantic?

If I remember correctly, James and I first met at the college we were both attending. At that point in life, I hadn't had a relationship that lasted very long. I was consumed by irrational crushes, confused by guy friends who always seemed to want something more, and drinking in any and all attention and flattery I was receiving from being a pocket-sized, heart-on-her-sleeve, eighteen year old. Of course, I did pretty much live in a bubble and didn't really date that often. Most of my thinking was consumed with meeting my future husband, whoever that was. I was pretty much just dipping the very tips of my toes into the whole dating scene. The idea of dating someone didn't appeal to me as much as the idea of falling head over heels in love with someone. Which, to me, was what I'd been waiting for my whole life.

(I'd like to blame romantic comedies of the 90's and a childhood fueled by boy-band love ballads, but I know that's not completely fair. My desire for true love was pretty much innate, and was probably realized the first time I saw Cinderella and decided I wanted to be her when I grew up.)

When I first met James, he had long hair pulled into a ponytail and was a typically laid back "snowboarder" type of guy. He intrigued me. He had the kindest hazel eyes and had a way of jumbling up my heartbeat with the simplest of conversations.

For a long time, he was someone I kept at a distance. I could tell that he was slightly taken with me, and I kept him at just enough of a distance for me to feel like he would be there if my feelings turned into something I could wrap my mind around. (You know, the typical female game. It's a little ridiculous, now that I look back on it.) There were certain things about him that bothered me - he always seemed a little reserved, not completely confident, and sometimes wore a leather jacket made me physically ill. Still, the idea of him had taken up space in my thoughts and refused to leave. I still remember the look he used to give me before we started dating, when he'd catch my eye across the room. It was this look of anticipation, like he had so much to say, so much to express but just didn't know how.

Several months and a few irrational crushes later, we were dating.

I don't remember the exact details of how this even happened, and I really wish I did. I'm sure it was a combination of his witty banter, tentative flirting and the fact that the leather jacket hadn't made an appearance in a while. He'd captured my heart and I didn't look back.

Although he was a few years older than me, I was his first official girlfriend. And I think that really inspired a lot of my appreciation for him and our budding relationship. I liked that he laughed about his sweaty hands when we were walking together, I liked that everything he did was a careful calculation of what he thought a boyfriend should do, I liked that it took us a couple months to even get that first kiss, I liked that after our first kiss he had this adorable grin on his face, and the first thing he said was, "Wow, so, we get to do this all the time now, huh?" And then he rushed in for another kiss, making my head spin and my heart melt into a wee little puddle.

We were like two crazy kids falling head over heels. One of those ooey gooey couples that single people want to punch in the mouth. When I realized I was in love, and we actually said the words to each other, something changed. In a good way. I started thinking of us as being together forever, and not just as dating. I adored his family, I adored the way he made me feel. I thought, So, this is what it is like when you find the one you've always been waiting for. I remember one night we were out to see a movie and it was raining outside - James turned to me and mentioned something about how the rain was so romantic. Immediately after uttering those words he turned to me and said, "OH MY GOSH. I AM THE GUY I HATE." It's amazing how love can turn a guy into someone who is basically writing lines for a Meg Ryan movie.

When we had been together for five or six months, I decided that I wanted to move to California. That whole story is an entire post of it's own, but in short: I had finished two years of college, things fell together perfectly for me to move, it was something I had always wanted to do and I just knew it was the right choice. James was immediately skeptical about the whole thing, and just couldn't understand my desire to move away from him when things were going so well. I didn't really understand it, either. Maybe the fact that I was okay with leaving him should have been my first sign, but I didn't want to end things between us. Neither did he.

He was my first love. I still thought we were going to get married someday and live happily ever after.

James was much, much more outwardly supportive about it than he probably felt inside. And after I moved, I was thrown into this new and exciting world - far, far away from him. For a while, I thought that I would be able to have both things. That I would be able to maintain this relationship while also living this new, exciting life far away from the person I loved.

I remember the moment I realized something had changed. I was getting ready to head back to California after a visit home. I was walking James back to his truck and was getting ready to say goodbye. I remember my heart racing out of my chest - I was in a full-blown panic, and had no idea why. I kept thinking, Is this it? This is going to be the last time we kiss each other like this? This is going to be the last goodbye? I think he knew something was wrong. I didn't say anything, because I was too overwhelmed and didn't even understand my own thoughts. I remembered that morning how my mom had said, "You know, I'll bet that during one of these visits James is going to have a ring for you."

My heart raced. My head was spinning. I was in love with James, could we do this from so far away when I wasn't even sure if I was going to move back to Washington? And he obviously had no desire to move to California. I felt like I was breaking in two, and had nobody to talk to who really understood. I knew that no matter what, if things ended between us I would be seen as the bad guy. Nobody ever has pity for the person who does the breaking up.

James and I didn't talk too often after that. He was angry when I didn't return his phone calls right away, and I was angry at myself for not wanting to return his phone calls right away. I was frustrated with the fact that our relationship had stopped growing because of the distance and the fact that I needed someone there, right next to me. I was frustrated over being the one who did the leaving in the first place, but still knew I couldn't go back. It wasn't that someone else had caught my eye, and it wasn't that I didn't love James, but I knew it was over.

One night, I called my mom. I bawled my eyes out. I knew what I had to do, but I didn't want to do it. I knew what I was putting us through wasn't fair to him, but I knew that he would hate me for ending it. When I finally talked with him that night, he was out with friends. He had recently bought a non-refundable ticket to come visit me in a couple months. He had a lightness in his voice, but that changed when he heard the lump in my throat.

"James, we..."

I could hear it get quieter on the other end of the line as he presumably walked outside to give me his full attention. That made it even harder to say the words that needed to be said.

"I think that...we...can't do this anymore."

The calm resignation in his voice as he responded to me led me to believe he knew this was coming. He knew, but it didn't make it any easier. And when we finally hung up, I knew that he was going to go back to his friends, tell them what happened, they would curse my very existence and call me a heartless wench - without the knowledge that my heart was breaking, too. And I was all alone. Crying until I couldn't move. Knowing I had done the right thing, but knowing that I would always be seen as this selfish, horrible girl who moved away and broke his heart.

I saw James a few times after that; mostly because he was a groomsman in my older sister's wedding (James and I had actually fixed up my sister and his close friend on a blind date - and they ended up getting married!). We didn't talk at all during the rehearsal or wedding shenanigans. He was seriously dating a girl I knew (who is now his wife, and is an absolute gem) and I'm sure he'd heard about my whirlwind engagement to Jay. We pretty much ignored each other, despite the obvious awkwardness. Our eyes locked once during the ceremony, while we were on either side of the bride and groom. I was a sobbing mess (for some reason, my sister's wedding was so emotional for me) and as I was busy sniffling, I met his gaze and he gave me this understanding half-smile. I shrugged and made a face like, "Yeah, I'm a hot mess right now, but this is emotional for me and thank you for not judging me."

I don't feel like I ever had the chance to fully explain myself to James. That's what hurt the most about our break-up. I feel like he never completely understood my side of things, and never took the time to really listen (not that I really blame him). Even though I have moved on from it all, I can't help but think of him every now and then and wonder if he still hates me.

Where did this novel of a post about a past love come from, you ask?

Well, first of all, sometimes writing is like therapy to me. Sometimes I don't want to write and think about who will be reading or what people will think. I just need to write to get it out. It helps clear my head and organize my thoughts.

Second of all, I had the most ridiculously realistic dream about James last night. Like, I woke up and felt like we had literally spoken to each other. I could tell you exactly what his face looked like, even. In the dream, we were talking about everything that happened between us, and I was finally able to tell him exactly what I felt back then, and exactly why I did what I did. He nodded and understood. We both acknowledged how we had each ended up finding the perfect person to be with, so there was no reason to be upset over the past. He just listened to me and looked at me and got it. We hugged. And he went back to his wife, while I went back to Jay.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but I have this odd sense of closure. Maybe I'm the only person who takes dreams like this so seriously, but I don't even care. When I woke up this morning I had this feeling of a weight being lifted - and perhaps a conversation that didn't even happen in real life shouldn't have that affect on me, but it does.

And it feels good. Very good.


  1. I totally get the dream thing. I have uber realistic dream like that ALL the time. and I loved the post. Love stories always catch my attention, and probably every other ladies' out there too! might inspire me to write a little something of my own. :)

  2. That was beautiful. I definitely get it. I hear you.

    I'm glad you found some closure to the situation. It's hard to reflect on things you did years ago, when you're standing here now, in some ways a completely different person. But yeah, don't be too hard on yourself. People are usually much more understanding and forgiving of you than you are of yourself.

  3. This post was breathtaking. I admire you so much for going with your gut -- I know how hard that can be when on the outside, everything is wonderful.
    Also, this line made me giddy:
    "Wow, so, we get to do this all the time now, huh?"

  4. wow! that is great.. all i can say is you need to see 500 Days of Summer.... i saw it last night :) I am also impressed that your husband doesn't care about you blogging about your past relationships..... that's great!! My husband wouldn't care either, but we were each other's first loves so I don't have any to write about :) I totally understand too about how dreams can FEEL so real! Have a great day!

  5. I had a dream about my recent ex last week where he came over and apologized for being an ass. Which was strange seeing as I haven't even seen him in well over a year. Only seen his truck numerous times.
    You're such an amazing writer! You had me feeling giddy in the giddy parts and sad in the sad parts. You're amazing. :)

  6. I love dreams, and I would react the same way. I wish I could write a post like this because, like you, I think it would help me with closure, but I think it would hurt my husband. So, c'est la vie.

    I'm glad James has moved on, and I'm sure he doesn't hate you anymore. If anything I'm sure he's grateful as you leaving led him to his wife. My first love is still single and though we only see each other every 2 years or so, he still looks at me for just a second too long, like he knows every part of me. I can't ask him if those feelings for me are still there, and I don't feel closure feeling like he's still there, waiting.

    I hope I have a dream like yours someday soon. Thanks for sharing. xo

  7. Gah! We are so similar sometimes, Kerri. I had a very similar first love (motorcycles, yessss!) and I totally believe in dreams as closure. I live for dreams like that, the ones that make me feel so much better as a result of having them.


  8. Oh I love this. I LOVE THIS.

    If that's the closure you need, then that's exactly why you had that dream. And I am so glad you did. Makes total sense to me.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story.

  9. That was fantastically written, you have such a beautiful way with words it's a little bit ridiculous.
    I think a first love is always something that people look back on with mixed emotions. There's a longing for the simplicity that youth and love brought us, but there's also something more there. They always say you never forget your first love..
    Good thing you wrote it out, that always helps clear the mind.

  10. Just reading this post, I felt a sense of relief, of release. I think a lot of us can relate to that odd sense of bereavement and guilt that surfaces when we are the ones to break things off. And it's hard to comprehend at that time that one day you will come to accept the past. You expressed all of that so beautifully, thank you.

  11. Absolutely beautiful.

    Your writing, your experience, your SOUL.

  12. holy crap this is crazy. today, my ex-boyfriend crossed my mind. whenever it happens I feel almost guilty for thinking about him. Like, I should never think about him. But, some times you can't help it. He was my first 'love'. (even though that grosses me out to say...HAHA!) Some times I still wonder if he hates my guts. It's good to have the closure and to know that you have truly found the one you love completely and it's so different. Thanks for this post and your honesty. :-) It's good to know this happens to others. HAHA!

  13. This is beautiful- I think that it's so funny how when we feel like we need to make peace with someone, a lot of the time we really need to make peace with our heart over something. It definitely sounds like you're at that place.

    Beautifully put.

  14. I just started following you and just want to say that you are precious! This "novel of a post" was so inspiring and sweet. It made me happy! Dreams like that are the best, I'm glad you got your closure.

  15. Beautifully, written. I think everyone who reads this post can relate. Thank you for sharing it with us. ;)

  16. Awesome post =D Hooray for closure!

  17. Thanks for sharing this. That was beautiful.

  18. You wrote that so well. I can totally relate with how you feel about that first love. Glad you have found what you are looking for.

  19. Wow that was an amazing post. It's worse to break up with someone than to be broken up with in my opinion because you feel so guilty and always look like the bad guy. And people don't understand why you're upset when you were the one who ended it. The 'look' at the wedding was one small 'it's ok' token though.


  20. OMG you so just made me cry!!! in a good way of course!!!! I'm so proud of you for following your dreams of moving and just remember everything happens for a reason and now you are squee so happy!! xoxo

  21. "I was frustrated with the fact that our relationship had stopped growing because of the distance and the fact that I needed someone there, right next to me."

    Somehow, you managed to put in one sentence something I couldn't figure out was wrong with my own first love. I just knew it wasn't working. Reading that line sort of...jolted me.

    This was, as many others have already said, beautiful. And I love the little details you chose to share - like the moment in the rain and his gaze across the room, like one of anticipation.

  22. I definitely understand this.

    It's always nice to have closure... whether it's in a letter, real life, or a dream.

  23. You are a lovely, open person Kerri, I hope that never changes. The fact that you still want to offer him an explanation shows exactly how caring and sweet you are.

    (My ex-boyfriend told me a few days ago that he had a dream in which someone from Uk Big Brother was trying to kill me - this is the kind of dream you don't want to come true!)

  24. here's something funny (and a little coincidental and weird):

    My first boyfriend's name (who was also the first guy I ever seriously pictured myself marrying) was James. We ended our relationship after I moved to CA. And, he ended up marrying a girl I had known for a while (also an absolute gem).

    I know your first love's name wasn't ACTUALLY James, but still, it was so weird reading this post, because honestly, I could have written a lot of it (except for the fact that I don't have your ability for words, hehe). Espcially because when I think of him, I still feel bad for the way our relationship ended. I was young (16), immature, and very clueless as to how to handle myself with a man (he was 21) who loved me.

    I'm so glad that you received closure in some way-- that's a wonderful thing. Thanks for sharing! And yes, isn't it beautiful how things always work out the way they are supposed to?? :)

  25. I totally understand the whole "no one has pity for the bad guy" thing.
    I've always done the breaking up and I swear it hurts worse than being broken up with.

  26. I get that way with dreams as well. I feel like they are very realistic and that they do help me with issues I might have.

    That was a very lovely story, isn't most young loves like that? Crazy infatuations, innocent love, and a bit of regret?


  27. This... is a great post. A really great post. I don't even know what else to say, except that you should submit it to Confessions of a Jersey Girl for her A Love Story (Project):


  28. In a way I totally experienced something like this too. (a long story maybe I'll post someday). And had a dream that finally brought me to closure as well. It's nice to feel like there's closure to something so intense.

    Great post :)

  29. I'm glad you were able to share this with us. Thanks!

    Even though it hurts to lose the one you "love" it feels a million times better to fall in love and be in love with the person you are exactly supposed to be with.

  30. Thanks for sharing that! It makes me feel a little less weird about posting something that makes me so emotional & I feel like it won't mean squat to the people reading it.

    Props to you.

  31. Ohmygosh. This made me tear up. You are amazing and your writing is so beautiful!

  32. This is such a gorgeous post! The way you describe yourself at eighteen is EXACTLY how I was.

    Isn't that closure feeling so wonderful? It took me a long time to get to that point with my one and only ex, but when I did, a huge weight was lifted off me. I'm glad you've experienced it now, too. And I'm glad you shared this with us.

  33. Finally achieving closure feels so good. I understand the dream thing. Vivid dreams tend to affect me for a time.
    Your story about your first love was lovely :)

  34. I stumbled upon your blog today and it's the most lovely, honest thing! I love it so. This post especially, because I really understand how you feel. Closure is very important to me and will do anything to get it, even if it makes me look like a fool (sigh, yes, I was one of those girls once... but just once. haha!).

    Anyway, I enjoy reading your posts, I'm glad you and your first love are happily married to the right ones. :) xx

  35. I just happened upon this post when i was meandering aimlessly through blog-land and am drawn to comment because your words seemed so real. I'm sure all women have a history of exes and break ups and "what could have been"... and your post made me stop and realise, and accept that i am still hurting over a break up that I forced.. and that, although i am blessed with a sensational man in my life.. that the pain from breaking up with your first love doesn't fade that easily. I've discussed this with gilfriends before, and we always feel slightly ridiculous to be still hung up on the "first break up" but i'm happy to accept the hang up... look at it, acknowledge it, note it's presence somewhere inside me and look forward to the time when it fades away. Was it Jeff Buckley that sang "she's a tear that hangs inside my soul forever"? well ok. hello tear. let's hope it's not forever. thanks for the post!!


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