Now, whatever you're thinking, you're wrong. This was not a relationship in the first throes of heady passion coming into unwelcome contact with Planet Reality, nor is the rest of this article going to expound the merits of Friendship and Companionship in relationships that have gone slightly off the sexual boil. No, my concern is the first "proper" relationships that people embark upon; still being in mine - three years and going strong - I am naturally an interested party, and having seen the fallout from my friends' first encounters I am equally intrigued as to how they continue to impact on us long after they are over.
It was only when I seriously considered the emotional histories of other early twentysomethings I know that I realised to still be involved in Serious Relationship Number One at this age is rather unusual. Add to this the fact that my partner has only ever been out with me, and we're looking at a seventh son of a seventh son phenomenon. And from this rather sheltered position I can report that there are pros and cons.
The good thing is that, by and large, we are extremely positive about all things coupley and the relationship can function without hurt, mistrust and other fallout from previous, failed partnerships. And as a friend of ours puts it, "the flowers-and-chocolates phase" has lasted far longer. There is perhaps even a case for a certain amount of justifiable smugness when realising that whereas others only dream of meeting the person of their dreams and living happily after, we actually (so far) are. But alongside all this is a certain undercurrent of fear: this relationship is special and must be kept so at all costs, hence the awful admission of the forgotten phone call, something that can have no place in this rarefied world. Every anniversary of absolutely everything has to be celebrated religiously - Ben dreads any conversation which opens with the words "Do you remember what day it is today?" - and time together has to be meaningful. We're turning into victims of our own incredibly high expectations, but just cannot bring ourselves to admit that this doesn't make us happy. During a recent weekend apart, I was wracked with guilt at how I wasn't missing him as much as I should have been and couldn't help comparing the utter desolation I'd felt at a previous separation early on in our relationship. Then, I distinctly remember standing in the middle of the office and thinking that I may as well just sit down right there and cry, as there was simply no point without him; now I realise that it is good to have a bit of time completely to myself, but feel dreadful for even having this thought. And herein lies the rub: most people would consider this reaction normal for a stable, long-term relationship, but for our first relationship, it just isn't good enough.
Caroline, still with her first boyfriend Dennis after six and a half years, knows only too well this bitter-sweet "specialness". As she points out, "You can only have one first love, and once that position has been filled it can never be refilled". And although the thought of another relationship is very far from her mind, she knows that she will always compare any subsequent men to her first love, that this relationship will always act as a touchstone. She is also not immune to that other perennial problem of serious First Timers: how exactly can you be sure that this is The One, that you shouldn't be out there playing the field? As for any relationship, there is no concrete answer to this, but if, as Caroline says, you can come up with no other motive for dumping first boyfriend than that everyone else is on their umpteenth relationship and you feel you "should" be too, don't. I often think that it would actually take me a lifetime to get over my first relationship if it ended now, so my energies are probably be spent making the most of it.
What more to say? For better or for worse, first love, whether present or past, is a force to be reckoned with. I personally plan to continue mine into the future, so you'll please excuse me while I go and call Ben. I'm not going through that again...Reuse content