I sat in the bleachers timidly, middle school made me nervous. Scanning a sea of thirteen year olds my eyes fell upon him. I don’t think he saw me, and I’m glad he didn’t. Surely if he would have talked to me in that moment I would have forgotten how to use words. For the first time in my life my body was electrified. I had to know him. As if it was my last breath I grabbed my bestfriend and asked “who is that?”. That’s *Thomas, she said.
This is a story of first love. The kind that feels equally confusing and nerve racking while wonderfully silly and home like all at once. The way in which only first love can feel.
I reached out to the first love of my life (for the purpose of this story he’ll remain anonymous and we shall call him *Thomas) and asked if I could interview him on his experience of our love. To my suprise, he happily obliged. I had all my questions ready to send him and to be completely honest, I thought his answers would be that of a fifteen year old guy—casual, chill and not very romantic. For ten years I’ve had a story on how he experienced our love. His responses were filled with honesty, humor and took me right back to football games, and making out aggressively in his basement. My expectations were wildly surpassed and I was met with the vulnerability and kindness of a man who is extremely self aware, and had beautiful insight to offer our experience.
This interview disrupts and unravels that whole story, but before I share the interview, let me tell you a little bit more of our love.
I don’t really remember how we started talking, but I recall this one memory where we stayed up until two in the morning going on about our mutual like for hot chocolate, the color blue and Hollywood Undead. What is young love if not that built upon mutual likeability of music and chocolate?
I felt lucky to be loved by him. Not in a self depreciating way. I mean yes, I didn’t think very highly of myself at the time and I for sure wanted to be liked, but the way I saw Thomas was different than what the rest what the world saw.
Like most fifteen year olds, we were going to be together forever—obviously. I was going to going to attend Brown to study journalism and after that we would be married and do all of the life things.
Life at fifteen rarely goes as planned or how you dream it. Our love story ended in ways that I learned shattered both of our hearts. While it lasted, we got to experience love for the very first time together and for that I’ll always be grateful. Love is beautiful now as a 25 year old woman, but at fifteen, it’s special to leap into an unknown you’ve never felt before with someone else who also hasn’t been there.
The Interview: Originally this piece was going to be about his perspective, but then he asked me if I could answer the questions, which turned into a really cool addition.
What drew you to me in high school? What was your experience of pursuing me like? Feelings/memories you have that stuck out.
Thomas: I had seen you before we started dating and thought you were super attractive. I don't quite remember how we even started talking to be honest, but when we did I was like "oh shoot it’s that girl who's Myspace I creeped on a bunch!" When we did start talking you were very caring. I was a lonely and insecure boy, and I felt really comfortable with you so I fell hard for you. In sum, your looks and your nurturing personality are what drew me in. (Disclaimer on this next part, not saying these feelings were right but this is how it was) Its an extremely selfish point of view, but having you made me feel good. I felt like I belonged, I felt like someone cared about me, and I felt like I had the attractive girlfriend that everyone was jealous of. I cared about you (and I still do in a hard to describe sort of way) but looking back I always put my own feelings first. I am sorry for that. I didn't realize I did it at the time but that doesn't excuse it.
Rachel: I saw you when I was in 7th grade. I was sitting in the stands with my friends and I vividly remember being like "who is THAT". I just had to know you. I don't think I saw you again after that until high school and I felt the same way then, that I just had to know you. I thought you were handsome, and silly and like you, you felt like home and like I belonged. I remember thinking "I can't believe he likes me. Of all people, Thomas likes me." I felt lucky everyday to get to experience being cared for by you.
How has what you were seeking at 15 and 25 changed? What was important to you then//now.
Thomas: Not sure I did much thinking when I was 15. I only cared about feeling good. I wanted someone who made me feel good even if I didn't deserve it. (I.e. takes care of me, attractive, etc). Looking back I'm not sure anything else mattered. Now I look for a jumble of different traits that are important: honest with me, caring, open minded, hard working, active lifestyle. I hate to admit it but I am a vain motherfucker. Looks are still very important to me, but they aren't the top. I want someone who will tell me when I'm being a little bitch if I'm being a little bitch (honesty), has goals of their own that they actively purse (hard working), but is also still a loving person (caring). Not saying people I've dated in the past didn't have these traits, but they went unappreciated by me (and probably a lot of others).
Rachel: At 15, I think all I cared about was feeling seen, and loved for who I was. I just knew that I loved you, and you don't know what you don't know. Now I know that vulnerability is of the utmost importance to me. Someone who can communicate, even when things are difficult. Someone who is playful, and can be serious too. Someone who is caring, and kind. Someone who is active, and pursues what they're passionate about—I think this is the most important to me. Also someone who isn't intimidated by my career, but supportive of it .
Is there anything you wish you wish you could go back and do differently?
Thomas: Oh boy I don't even know where to start on this one. I don't think I would say that I wish I didn't make mistakes, I think those are part of what make me who I am and what I really learn from. I guess I wish I was better able to communicate, and be aware of/temper my emotions. I got carried away with the relationship and how great it felt that I never stopped to think what the potential consequences are, or that it was possible our lives would go different directions and we wouldn't stay together forever. I cared very deeply about you so much so that I got caught up in my emotions instead of thinking about the fact I was 15, had no idea who I was or what I really wanted out of life. I think If I had kept that in mind, things could have been a lot less devastating at the time.
Rachel: I was so heartbroken and I didn't know how to communicate that to you, so I wanted you to see me being happy (with other people). I didn't know how to be vulnerable enough at the time to have the meaningful and honest conversations I wanted, and so I acted not in an attempt to hurt you but I wanted it to appear as if my heart wasn't shattered. I wish I would have had the courage to have that conversation with you, because I certainly thought about it for years.
At 15, what did love feel like?
Thomas: It felt like home. I was comfortable, and closer to peace than I had ever felt before.
Rachel: It felt like home. There was no questioning, which I think was the beauty of our love. Because we had nothing prior, we got to experience so much all at once, together and that made it safe, and home.
What’s a memory of ours that sticks out in your head? Why this one?
Thomas: Three popped into my mind when reading that off the bat so i'll put them all if you don't mind. Im sure theres some freudian reason that these popped into my head and in this order, but I can only guess at it. I think it's because each of these were a first time. Uncharted territory if you will. After reading that I'm sure you predicted #1 as the first time we had sex, hate to be cliche but I guess you always remember your first. #2 was dinner at bravo - us taking pictures, I think I was wearing a flannel or waffle shirt you bought me and then going to eat & going back to your moms after. #3 is Jessi’s lake house - tubing for a bit and talking to you on the side of her house. This was when you were set on going to Brown and I was smoking weed. You were worried about me and trying to walk the minefield that is telling a teenage boy to stop being a dumbass and deliver a much needed message to someone you cared about.
Rachel: #1 The first time we had sex, it makes me laugh but forever will be etched in my brain. I was so nervous, and you were kind, caring and amazing. #2 Your friends weren't super hyped about you dating someone younger, and I remember this one time at a football game you asked me to come stand with you while your friends were joking around. I felt so embarrassed, and you put your arm around me. I'm not sure if you cared or were bothered by what they said, you always had a way of making me feel seen and at home. It was another moment of "wow, this guy like me. Of all the people here, he chose me." #3 It may have been at the same game, but we left the game and went to some dumpster behind the school and you pushed me up against it and we made out for what felt like forever. It started raining and I remember liking that being with you never felt childish or messy.
Did you ever experience heartbreak when we were together? If so, what was that like for you?
Thomas: I did. Although it was more of my own fault. Kinda like a bull in the china shop metaphor but the bull owns the shop and breaks its own china? Not sure if that works but its all I got. It's a bit vague, but I think I remember breaking up and getting back together a few times. I feel like I was the one who pulled the plug the first time but I’m not sure. The time after was weird. You were a big part of my life and then you weren't. I’m not saying you did anything wrong but seeing/hearing about you and other guys hurt really bad. Some of them even came up and bragged to me about it. That’s when I just decided to stop consciously thinking about you. Packed a lot of the baggage from this relationship and brought it forward. Never talking it out like an adult, or admitting that you were probably in the exact same position as me, or the role I had played in it all. For that too, my responsibility in things and my unwillingness to try to see how this all made you feel, I am sorry
Rachel: Yes. The first time your heart breaks it's like the whole world is ending. I remember this one time when we first started dating where I was sitting on your lap and you were like "I know it will be hard when I'm in college and you're a senior but we will make it work". It was the first time I thought about an Us or a future. You were so deeply a part of so much of who I was and what I wanted, and then the first future I created for myself was gone, that was devastating. I acted out in attempt to be seen by you. Never to hurt you, and I’m sorry I hurt you.
What would you tell your 15 year old self about love/relationships?
Thomas: I imagine a lot of this would be lost on a 15 year old as thick as I was, but worth a shot I suppose. #1 A relationship won't make you happy. If you take that approach you will unnecessarily hurt yourself and a lot of others along the way. #2 Take things slow. It will all workout if you let it. #3 You (hopefully) will grow and change a lot over your life. Be with someone who supports that, and support them in that back.
Rachel: I would tell myself that my feelings are valid, and things are allowed to feel messy, and that communication and vulnerability aren't weakness, but a beautiful platform for growth.
We’re both happy in our own lives. We love, have had other loves, and heartbreaks that followed. Thomas pops in my mind every so often, I guess it’s that whole first love thing. We even met up a few years ago after my son was born. Nervously we ate ice cream, or maybe I was the only nervous one? I don’t know, we didn’t talk about that. I’m glad we got to talk though, that I got to rewrite stories I had turned into fact over the years and allow the truth to sit where those untrue things once lived.
There will always be a part of me that deeply cares about Thomas. Like he said, it’ll remain in a way that I can’t describe.
What was your first love like? What did it feel like to have places in your body electrified for the very first time? What did it feel like to lean into such a sacred space, unknown but somehow you knew what to do all at once?