What It's Like to Walk Away From Your First Love
I was 19 when I met my first love. I'd dated boys before—the ones who made me feel bad about myself, the ones who cheated—but this was different. He made me feel special. I felt looked after. He was 10 years older than me. He had 10 years more life experience and 10 times more exciting stories to tell. I became completely infatuated with him. My friends told me to take it slower, that I needed to stay in better contact with them and to stop being so engulfed by him and "us.”
But this level of intensity was what I thought love was all about; spending every bit of your energy on that other person. It was exciting being with someone older. I felt grown up. I didn't know it at the time, but I began living my life vicariously through him. Rather than focusing on myself, I spent my days incessantly thinking about him. He was the first thing I thought about when I woke up and the last thing at night. Anything he liked, I liked. His dreams became my dreams. His friends became my friends, although I didn't have much in common with them because of the age gap.
It didn't matter to me that he didn't have a proper job or money. As a musician, he was adamant that his lucky break was just around the corner, which is why he didn't need to get a job like everyone else. Besides, he was caring and took care of me in other ways. We never went out on dates. Because on my student budget alone, we couldn't afford to. In fact, we couldn't afford to do anything.
But he insisted that we had something special others didn't—love—and that conquered all. And I believed him. As a 20-year-old at university with no real responsibilities, the lack of money didn't bother me so much. But once I graduated, things changed. I started modeling and began seeing life outside of our little bubble. Modeling showed me the world and made me realize that there was so much more to life than London, and it was one I was desperate to explore.
As I grew as a person and began developing my own views of the world, he stayed the same. For someone 10 years older, the changes in his life were nowhere near as large. He'd done all the things in his twenties that I had yet to experience: holidays, romances, mistakes. Over the next couple of years, things remained stagnant.
I began envying my friends who went on holidays with their boyfriends, who got flowers regularly and who were treated to nice things. Birthdays came and went where I didn't get as much as a card—only the promises that one day, I'd get it all back and more. The hope that things would get better was what kept us going.
I felt guilty and spoiled for feeling that way. I'd convinced myself long enough that our love was all we needed. But not being able to do coupley things didn't make me feel looked after. And with grown-up responsibilities like buying food or paying bills, our relationship didn't seem as exciting to me as it once had.
With the help of his family, he threw all of his savings into buying an engagement ring that I thought would somehow heal what was falling apart. It was only natural at his age that marriage was in the cards for him—but suddenly, I felt very young.
An expensive ring didn't solve things. If anything, it made the pressure a lot worse. I was torn between following my dreams or staying in the same place and supporting his. It wasn't until I really discussed my dreams with him that our future came to a halt. He was happy in London and to stay there; I wasn't. I couldn't blame him for feeling this way, just like he couldn't blame me for wanting to spread my wings. The only thing holding us together were old stories.
And I suddenly realized that a future with him just wasn't right. A broken engagement was hard, a broken heart harder, but the whole experience was actually a blessing in disguise. I threw myself into getting to know "me" again—the person I didn't know when I got into that relationship. I moved to New York and threw myself into work. I made new friends and reconnected with the ones I'd neglected. I signed up for gym classes and treated myself to nice things. But most of all, I learned that putting myself first is not always a selfish thing.