When I was a little girl, I was a hopeless romantic. As a young, wide-eyed and an intensely dramatic dreamer, I contained the perfect ingredients for falling in love with the idea of love. For most of my childhood, I would often get lost in thought about how my first kiss would go and with whom it would be with. I was a very calculated romantic, to say the least.
I had a crush on one boy from kindergarten until I moved to a different city in the fifth grade. Even at age 8, I would scribble names of boys in a journal equipped with little asymmetrical hearts crowding the page, instead of listening during class.
I always imagined my first kiss would be on a swing, the teachers would call everyone back from recess, but the boy I was pining after would stay behind to reveal his secret admiration for me. He would say something like, “I’ve always liked you since the moment I first saw you playing ‘the floor is lava’ on the playground.”
He would look at me and know that I was the one in that moment, and I would know it back. This moment would be one I would tell my future children, further strengthening their idealistic worldview of love. Yes, I was an extremely passionate little girl.
My first kiss was in front of my middle school the summer before I graduated sixth grade. It was oddly a lot later than my friends, who had already shared kisses with boys during party games in their basements. As a person who hadn’t been kissed by age 12, I felt like I was falling behind the curve in mankind’s quest for their soulmate.
One night, while my mother was sleeping, my friends and I snuck out to our school, which was located halfway between my house and the house of a boy I had been IMing with and talking to on the phone. We hung out for an hour or two, walking around in the dark past curfew.
We walked down the sidewalk toward the school so I could start heading home, as the fear of my mother waking up and finding out we weren’t home was steadily building. We hugged goodbye, and he turned to me to give me this big, sloppy kiss. I don’t think he said anything beforehand. It lasted approximately three abrupt seconds before he turned away. I wiped my mouth.
I remember walking home the rest of the way feeling nothing. But as someone who believed in meet cutes and perfect firsts, I willed myself to believe it was, indeed, romantic. I told my friend I was in love. I pretended to smile, hoping the words could be true.
In high school, I was a nervous, insecure wreck. Everyone my age was beautiful, and I couldn’t even get my bangs right. I dated boys and got mad when they had girls as friends, which usually pushed them closer to the very girls I would worry about.
I wanted to be loved; I needed it, even. And in my pathetic search for a high school sweetheart, I actively sought after boys with whom I had zero things in common. Their only qualification was they had to like me back.
I dreamed of living an ’80s romantic comedy, but I didn’t want to see myself as the geek girl who suddenly took off her glasses, revealing how gorgeous she was. I wanted the “Pretty In Pink” narrative. Andie wasn’t a loser; she was just perceived as one because of her working-class family archetype.
I’m not saying this to be entirely self-deprecating, but I just wasn’t cool. I wasn’t even an Andie. But, I ignored this then because I wanted so badly to be the girl who got the guy like in the movies. I made it my high school life’s mission. I was in love with the idea that I could fall in love with someone who loved me in equal measure, and everything would be just as perfect as the boom box scene in “Say Anything.”
I don’t remember where I met him; I just remember that I did. He was what you would consider to be incredibly popular. He was a junior who had hoards of friends, and I was a sophomore whose friend count could be quickly calculated on one finger.
He was a football player who attended parties, and I was the design editor for the newspaper who spent her weekend nights working on her Photoshop skills and configuring HTML code on her MySpace page. I don’t know how it was possible, but he met my initial gawkiness with profound interest, maybe even adoration.
He was also exceptionally religious. Here’s a background on my religious endeavors: I always tell people my mother went to Catholic school, and that’s why my family is fiercely non-denominational. Aside from my 6-year-old self struck by the thought of going to hell if I cursed and accidentally attending a youth group in the third grade, I had garnered no relevant information in my life pertaining to the subject of religion.
Early in my youth, I only prayed at night out of fear those closest to me would die if I didn’t. I would fall asleep methodically naming everybody I knew like a morbid lullaby.
For some reason, even after knowing my indifferent attitude toward faith, he continued the courtship. One night in the early stages of our relationship, he left my house to go back home to his, only to knock on the door one minute later to say he forgot something.
When he said this, his head tilted slightly, and he leaned through the doorframe to kiss me. He walked away in the rain. I’m not even exaggerating. It seemed like everything I had imagined my first love to be. So, with our vast religious differences aside, I let it be.
He was upfront with me about being a virgin and wanting to wait for the right person. Full of his own romantic ideals, he wanted to wait until marriage so that sex would be special. It was God’s gift. As much as I respected that, I was 15 and hormonal. I didn’t want to be a 16-year-old virgin while everyone around me relished in the act of growing up.
While I, too, wanted to wait for the right person, it felt to me that he was this person. I suggested we do it anyway. He suggested we give it some time, and then we’d talk about it. So, we agreed to date for six months before we revisited the idea of breaking his vow.
I don’t think we ever really talked about it again. We were kissing one night, and suddenly, all of our clothes were on the floor. I was in a panic. My whole body was shaking. I could feel his body discordantly shaking against mine.
I guess we just knew where we were going in that moment because no words were exchanged. It was pure, sweet awkwardness. But, we stopped.
The next time we were alone together, it happened. It was both slow and sudden, and I barely remember any of it. All I remember is that it hurt, and then it was over.
He was lying next to me, and he put his arms around me. With my head facing away from him, I cried. He didn’t know, but as I cried, I wondered if I had just made a terrible, horrible mistake.
I took something from him that night. It wasn’t his or my virginity that I was upset about. It was what I took from him in my insufferable pursuit for deep, powerful romance.
He thought he loved so much that he was willing to overlook fundamental parts of his beliefs. But, I wasn’t right at all. I remember the moment I knew this for sure.
After a particularly long drive home from a date, I was staring into a building and thinking about all the people inside I couldn’t see. I wondered what they were doing.
I imagined little compartments of offices with the walls stripped. As I looked at the first layer of the building, peeled back with the compartments completely exposed, I sat there and wondered about the fragility of life.
“Isn’t it weird that we just keep ourselves busy — just occupied — until we die?” I asked. He responded almost defensively, “You don’t think God put us on this Earth for a reason?” I didn’t know how to reply without arguing, so I just continued to look out the window, watching an airplane fly overhead and thinking about all the people I couldn’t see.
He slipped away from me, eventually. Each time we had sex after the first time, I could see the guilt in his face. I felt like every time thereafter, I was this sex-crazed maniac forcing him to continually alter his identity. His beliefs were colliding with me every time we were together, as he grew increasingly ashamed. It was a shame that seemed, maybe appropriately, directed toward me.
And the passionate romance I was so crazy about was missing. It was the time before the actual time — the butterflies, the nervous kissing — that was fervent and real. Actually losing my virginity was not at all how I pictured in the movie reel in my head. It was quick, it was uneventful and it was forgettable, just like my first kiss in front of my middle school.
For both, there was no intense feeling of love, of forever. There was no parade in my brain or catapulting feeling in my heart. I don’t think I even told anyone. Anticipation really is a killer.
I’ve always heard that when you have sex, it is like tape. My sex ed teacher used this analogy, and it irritates me that it stuck with me all these years. You start with a piece of tape, and it gets ripped off when you have sex. You put it back on with someone new, and rip it off again. Eventually, the adhesive gets less sticky as you leave piece after piece behind. Eventually, you get less attached to the act.
I almost believe this to be true. While my tape is still in pretty good condition, each person I share this extremely intimate moment with has taken a piece from me. But, I am no less involved in the person. I have been no less intricately entwined in each relationship since. Maybe I’m just a little less idealistic about it, but not detached.
Though my first time wasn’t regrettable, as it has formulaically shaped me and relationships since, I wasn’t really meant to be his first piece of tape, and he wasn’t meant to be mine. Even though it was a choice we made together, I diminished his religious worldview, and in turn, he took from me my romantic perception of firsts.
Today, I don’t expect to see stars or signs from the universe that direct my love life and all its participants. I still daydream, but I now know those are merely my individually crafted ideas that are as alive as they are make-believe. I don’t use them anymore to frame my already unusually high expectations about how a situation is to amorously progress.
I guess it only takes an irrevocable error in judgment to cause you to selfishly take something as special as God’s approval from someone, all so you can live a false romantic fairytale to see that.
By Ariel Sullivan