A lot of people, as they get older, tend to brush off teenage love as “puppy love.” It’s infantile, not real, not long-lasting. And most of the time, the cynics are right. People change, and who you are at 18 isn’t who you are at 28. People grow, and they don’t always grow together. There’s nothing wrong with that. People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, and the shorter seasons aren’t worth less. They’re just different.
In some ways, even if it’s not “real” or long-lasting, your first love is purer in some ways. As you grow older and experience heartbreak, it’s easier to keep your guard up. You’re more skeptical, you worry about if this person is really right for you, you wonder if it’ll be a waste of time and energy, you don’t trust them at first. I’ll admit, it’s all cliche, but true for a lot of emotional people.
But your first love is different. You don’t know yet that feeling of heartbreak, and so you have nothing to hold you back. You love fully and recklessly. There’s something beautiful in that, which is basically the market that Nicholas Sparks and John Green have tapped into: the unadulterated, unfiltered beauty of young love.
It’s the butterflies and the “I love you” and the feeling that you can just be with them. It’s making those inside jokes, having “your” foods at that one place that is special to you, it’s showing someone your childhood toys and telling them about the first time you got hurt and your dad was there to make it better. It’s sharing with them the dreams too ridiculous to share with anyone else, and maybe even incorporating them into those plans for the rest of your life. It’s the feeling that someone loves you like no one else ever has.
And it’s the feeling that you fit together so perfectly, nothing can ever come between you. But then college happens, life happens, everything happens. You’re tested. A lot of people find that they’re not happy, and decide the relationship isn’t working for them. That’s okay.
Looking back at a first love is like feeling sepia. Don Draper said it best in an early season of Mad Men, in the now-famous Carousel pitch. “In Greek, "nostalgia" literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone... it takes us to a place where we ache to go again...It lets us travel the way a child travels - around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”