It seems like a good idea. He’s cute, and smart, and, by high school standards, good in bed (by bed, of course, you mean the couch in his parents’ basement.) You like each other. A lot. He gives you a sterling silver Tiffany necklace for your one-year anniversary. If that doesn’t say “serious relationship,” what does? What’s the point in breaking up with a boy like that?
So you go to college with a boyfriend, even though everyone tells you not to. Within a week, you decide you want to make out with a boy with a Southern accent (they definitely didn’t have those in New England.)
You break up, you get back together. You pay an obscene amount of money for a fall break flight to a middle-of-nowhere college town. You drink too much. You break up, get back together. You get mono. He gets mono. During finals. You fight.
You break up, for real this time. Except you’re still hooking up. Constantly. It’s messy, clearly unhealthy. You know this. But you can’t stop.
You can’t stop for two and a half years – through a moderately legitimate relationship with a metrosexual-bordering-on-homosexual sophomore, through a transatlantic trip to visit his study abroad destination, through a summer in New York. Until finally – finally! – you cut him out of your life. Oddly enough, this happens to coincide with him finding a new girlfriend. She’s the opposite of you: Christian, Republican, Southern. You’re a wreck.
You can’t possibly imagine that things will get better. You swear to your friends that he’s the best you’ll ever find, that even though he made you miserable, it’s better than being alone.
As it turns out, you’re wrong. Things do get better. You meet someone. He’s a much better fit, and, though your 18-year-old self couldn’t possibly fathom it, much better in bed. (An actual, full-size bed.)
You’re happy – the kind of happy where you don’t have to fake it at all. You rarely think about him, The First Boyfriend, The High School Wonder. You skip over all the Tori Amos and over-dramatic Guster on your ipod, which is really a shame, because that shit was good. But you have no need for it.
At least, that’s how things go for about 360 days a year. January through October, everything is fine. Until the trip home for Thanksgiving. Headphones blaring on the northbound Amtrak regional, you once again find yourself creating music videos in your head (starring you, naturally), outlining your ultimate revenge against the ex-boyfriend you hadn’t thought about in months. Instead of the fantasies that generally accompany your new, healthy, happy self – what if the live-in boyfriend and I got a puppy? what if he could afford a 2-carat ring?- you’re reverting back to old behaviors. You put “2 Points for Honesty” on repeat, close your eyes, and picture yourself (thinner, prettier, in a better outfit than usual) bumping into the ex, nonchalantly mentioning how great your life is, kicking him in the balls.
What, in god’s name, is going on here?
This is the part no one told you about. Your friends, your therapist – everyone who said that time heals all wounds- they forgot to mention what happens when you return to your hometown for the holidays. It doesn’t matter how over him you are, how much you’ve moved on or how far away you’ve moved. There’s something about driving down the same streets you used to cruise in his Jeep, going to the same restaurants he used to take you to on Friday nights, that just momentarily reverts you to being 18 again. You scan every single place you go – CVS on main street, fish store his mother used to shop at – for him. You refuse to leave the house without lipgloss.
It’s a temporary phenomenon, and by the time the turkey is eaten and the presents opened, you’re back on your way to your new city, new life, new boyfriend with no damage done. It’s been three years and you’ve yet to run into him. But it’s taxing. It stirs up anger, anxiety, embarassment you forgot still lingered inside you. It impedes upon your ability to affectively bargain hunt on Black Friday. And even though you know that your high school relationship taught you a lot about what you want and don’t want in a partner, even though you know it helped you grow up and develop into the person you are, still, you think: maybe it would have been easier if I just gave back the Tiffany necklace and went to college with no strings attached.