Getting Lost in Love and Finding My Way Out
I tend to get lost.
I get lost on long drives, walking in the city I’ve called home for 16 years, and even finding my way to and from the bathroom in a big restaurant. The most lost I ever got, though, was when I was with my first love.
I was quieter then. I had a nervousness around people I wanted to impress and the distinct feeling that I was trapped somewhere I didn’t want to be. My first love—let’s call him Adam—was loud and likable. People loved him.
People did not love me. Which is why it was such a shock when Adam did. He loved me in a big, playing the same song over and over, staying after school for hours to find hidden corners, writing me love notes, buying me promise rings, sort of way.
I got lost in that love. The songs and the letters and the hidden corners were so blissful, I couldn’t locate anything else in my life. I couldn’t find my passion for reading; I couldn’t find the energy to care about grades; I couldn’t find it in myself to invest in friendships. I couldn’t find my own set of feelings, independent from his.
Every morning, arriving at school, I would get nervous, wondering what kind of mood Adam would be in. If he was in a good mood—grabbing my hips and kissing me on the mouth before class—then I was in a good mood. If he was in a bad mood—glaring at me when I walked in, meanly teasing me about my outfit, ignoring me and flirting with other girls, making sure I’d seen—my mood would be inescapably awful.
First love can be an enormous, enveloping thing, but there has to be a compass in the midst of all that wonder. There has to be a way out, a patch of light, a place to locate yourself. I didn’t learn quickly enough how to find my way out. I stayed so lost that I left high school not having eaten dinner in months, worried about what I was wearing, trying to do everything right so that Adam would stay happy and stay loving. I wanted to be happy, and the only way I knew how to do that was to keep him happy. It turned out to be an impossible task. And all the worry about making him happy made me miserable.
One night, over three years into our relationship, I read through my old journals, from when I was ten and twelve and fifteen, from right before I fell in love and then through all that time I’d stayed there.
I sat on my bed, mouth open, heart thumping, eyes tearing, remembering that there was a me before him, reliving everything I’d given up—friends, clothes, opinions, emotions, myself. I saw how falling in love was wonderful, but that getting lost in that love was terrible.
I couldn’t return to the pages—but they became a sort of compass for me, helping me find my way out of what had become dangerous.
First love is like being lost in a dark wood, late at night—romantic and exciting and requiring a compass. After that night on the bed, finding my way, I came out brokenhearted and bruised, blaming myself for my missteps, positive I would never wander into those perilous woods again.
But I did go back in, and the next time terrain was a little more familiar.
And I never left my compass behind again.