The Plan is To Grow Up: First Love and Freshman Year

Last week, as I was strolling through the West Village in NYC to buy a dozen bagels to throw in my freezer upon my return to LA (because I am a carbohydrate snob), I spotted the telltale NYU dorm carts being rolled out for Freshman Welcome week. RAs clad in neon T-Shirts (some decorated with festive puff paint and others just keepin’ it real) were greeting mini vans filled with newly minted college students.

I had to pause for a second and watch them load their Twin XL bedsheets and corkboards into the carts. Carbopocalypse 2012 could wait. I was glued to the spot, reliving my first day of Freshman year. And I didn’t doubt that a solid 15-20% of the girls hopping out of these mini vans were about to have an experience alarmingly similar to mine.

I went off to college with a boyfriend. A lot of girls go off to college with a boyfriend. Now, with eight years of hindsight under my belt, I could very effortlessly say, “Oh ladies. Oh you bright-eyed, fresh-to-the-real-world ladies. STEP AWAY FROM THE BOYFRIEND. REPEAT! Don’t do what I did!” But obviously I would never suggest this. Probably ZERO girls would actually follow this suggestion if I offered it! I mean, I sure wouldn’t have. No amount of nagging from parents, older sisters, or that pushy, weird dude you meet at O-Week will convince you to break the relationship off if you’re hellbent on making it work.

And yes, sometimes it does work out! If you got super lucky in that department, props to you. You probably don’t need this impending pep talk. Let’s still hang later. But for the vast majority of you ladies, it simply does not work out. And it’s more than just a breakup. It’s that jarring, awful wake-up call that adulthood is starting with or without you. This is for you guys.

My high school boyfriend was my best friend. We did everything together. It was everything Judy Blume told me my first love was going to be. We thought college would be a breeze if we just “grew in the same direction.” But that’s the thing about life after age 18. You can’t stop someone else and you can’t stop yourself from growing in one direction or another.

So for those girls who probably had the same heart-wrenching, tearful goodbye that I did the morning I left my boyfriend for college… I’m going to do my best to provide a big old internet hug for you. I’ll attempt give you guys a soft place to land, a sort of “Open this Box in the Event the Unthinkable Happens.” Ready? Here it comes.

Okay. So, it’s over. And in a way, you might have known it was coming. You felt it in your gut. Maybe he wasn’t meeting you on Skype at the agreed upon times anymore. Maybe he was being super dodgy about coming to visit your school over Columbus Day weekend. Or maybe there were pictures all over Facebook of him and all his totally awesome new lady friends who are also his roommates because he goes to an über progressive liberal arts college upstate where guys n’ gals room together.

You agonize over why those things happened, how it came to this. Could it be because you told him about that mild, harmless crush you had on your RA because you guys are “best friends” who share everything? Could it be because you pointed out that he’s been drinking like…a lot? Okay, stop right there. This will kill your soul. The important thing now is to decide what you’re going to do next.

This particular breakup will be different than any you’ve had before this, and any you’ll ever have again. That’s the first thing you have to recognize. It’s been said a million times, but guys, it’s completely true: Nothing will ever hurt as badly as the loss of your first love. Seriously, there should be a support group for this. The dissolution of your first love and the realization that you must go off into the world and become who you REALLY ARE… that is something that should not be taken lightly! That’s huge. If I were in charge of college, I would decree a mandatory day off of classes if you break up with your high school sweetheart. Simply put, I feel for you guys.

But take comfort. Once you climb the hurdle of this split, nothing will ever hurt quite this way again. Understand that High School is a closed circle. You are exposed to only the people and places in and around your hometown. You chose this person to love because he understood you best at that point in your life. But you’re changing. And instead of punishing yourself for it, blaming the breakup on that change, pat yourself on the back. Seriously. You are expanding your worldview. You’re going to come out of this a fully functional, awesome adult.

Don’t deviate from the plan. The plan is to be in college. The plan, girls, is to grow up. That has always been the plan. If your relationship is adding extra weight and keeping you from learning new things, meeting new people, and experiencing new places… you will know it. And it will hurt like the dickens. But let yourself feel that pain. And when you’re ready, there’s a major project you’ve been putting off that you really need to attend to. (Hint: It’s awesome adult you).

For those of you who are still feeling those pangs of sadness, however long it’s been now, please oh please do not be angry at yourselves! It’s not your relationship that you’re mourning the loss of at this point. It’s the loss of a younger version of yourself and the world you used to know. Those tears manifested themselves in the loss of your boyfriend, but it’s way more complex than that. So don’t beat yourself up for “not being over it”.

The late, great Nora Ephron said something really perfect and fantastic to Lena Dunham once, which was that “You can’t meet someone until you’ve become what you’re becoming.” I think that’s exactly what happens in cases like this. After I forged through college and morphed into a functional/awesome adult, I met a functional/awesome adult guy who patched up all the residual pain from that first heartbreak (yeah, even 6 years later, it still stung). I don’t have to worry about this guy “growing in the same direction” as me. I did all my growing on my own.

If you were lucky enough to find love when you were younger, it can and will happen again. You don’t wonder if true love exists, because you know it does! Love doesn’t always last forever and a day. There are lots of different kinds of love. But you know it’s out there from experience. You’ve got the golden ticket.

But in the meantime, focus on becoming who you’re going to become, as our patron saint Nora said. That’s all there is to it. Find yourself a solid group of girl friends who maybe you didn’t know very well before because you were off visiting the boyfriend every weekend.  Let them get to know you. They’ll be your friends for life, I mean it. And call your mom and thank her for sending you all those sympathy cookies the other day. She may say, “I told you so,” but the cookies speak volumes. She gets it. We’ve all lost first loves. She’s got your back and I do too! Have a tall glass of milk with that cookie.

You can read more from Liz Kerin and follow her at the UNDERenlightened on Twitter @LizKerin.

Image via ShutterStock.

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