5 People on What They Wish They Knew in Their First Relationships
Writers Marie Lodi Andreakos, Tasbeeh Herwees, Muna Mire, Krista Burton, and Sessi Kuwabara Blanchard weigh on in the love lessons they would have appreciated hearing early on in their romantic careers.
Photo by Lucas Ottone via Stocksy.
Welcome to the VICE Guide to Life, our imperfect advice on becoming an adult.
Relationships: What are they? How do they tick? Who even does that? If you’re in your first (or second, or third) meaningful love-scenario, you might have some of these questions (plus probably 4,295 others).
When I was a teenager and in my early 20s, I was extremely wary of accidentally mishandling my first major romantic relationships—and having that then mean I was undesirable, forever, by anyone. If that sounds dramatic, it’s because it was: I was all nerves! What I didn’t realize: I could have relaxed into the sweet, vivifying aspects of being in a relationship with each unique, distinctive person if I’d allowed myself to behave like a fuller person, too—because that’s the point, right? To spend your time with someone who feels set apart from other people, and to have your specificities highlighted by how your partner appreciates them, draws them out, and combines them with their own to make something rad, shared, and new—aka your relationship.
You can, believe it or not, choose to be cool and respectful to your partners and yourself—and expect the same back from the people you date. For some ideas about how to make that work, I asked five writers, selected for the clarity of their insights about the world in general, about what they wish they knew going into their very earliest relationships. I’m pretty sure, as a group, that they’ve solved the mysteries of how to go on your very first dates—or, at least, that you can take their suggestions and see how they match up, or don’t, with what your own heart wants to do.
Marie Lodi Andreakos
In the years leading up to the first time I ever fell in love, I prepared myself with all the rom-coms and slow jams I thought I needed in order to know how love really felt. Every Molly Ringwald movie and R&B song was like my own spiritual guide to the throes of young romance. When it finally happened, it was like that, but better.
I was living in my very own rom-com, but more goth: climbing over cement walls to make out in a cemetery underneath the full moon, staying up all night with our friends to play with Ouija boards and “light as a feather,” coordinating matching spiked collar necklaces for prom. Each sexual exploratory stage and confession of “I love you” was a monumental moment that filled up pages in my Kero Kero Keroppi diary. Was this what finding your soulmate was like?
Not quite—or, at least, not for the rest of eternity. After almost a year, we broke up. I was devastated. There was a lot of tears, nausea, and listening to the same songs over and over. (Garbage’s Version 2.0 was a balm to the soul.) Finally, after a few months, I got to the point where I thought we could be friends, and in typical life-like-a-movie fashion, he told me he was gay.
I went through stages of grief, confusion, betrayal, heartache, acceptance, and gratitude for having him back in my life. Our reunion wasn’t without its complexities. For a while, I secretly wanted him back. The notion that we were completely over was hard to fathom due to my fatalistic tendencies: There is no one out there for me. If he doesn’t want me, I’ll be alone forever!!!
When you’re deep in heartache, it can be hard to see past it. If only I could tell teenage me that this couldn’t be further than the truth. Little did I know I’d fall in love over and over again, get my heart broken again, and break some hearts myself. I would go on to live many different kinds of lives over the years, filled with different jobs, friends, and lovers. And when they’d end, each devastating experience felt like a planet enduring its own little apocalypse. But the dust would eventually settle, and the feelings of powerlessness would subside—and I’d realize there was an entire universe out there, waiting for me to make the next move.
OK, wow, it’s actually hard to think about this, because I’m the kind of person who cringes when I remember embarrassing things that happened years ago, but! What I really wish I would have known in my first relationship is that you should never, ever have to convince someone to date you or stay with you. If your person seems ambivalent about y’all’s relationship, or they let you take care of everything when it comes to planning dates or romantic gestures, or they assume you will (or casually let you) pay for everything, or if you consistently don’t feel as if they like you as much as you like them… run, sweets. Run for the hills. That is the person you do not want to date.
My first “girlfriend” was a total babe; I felt she was much cooler and more worldly than me, and I was proud that she would deign to talk to me, let alone do anything private with me. We would make out secretly a lot at her house when I slept over in high school, but she had a boyfriend, and wasn’t interested in dating me publicly. I was completely in love with her, and in retrospect, she was so, so ambivalent about me. To me, going over to her house meant everything, but to her, I could come over or not; she didn’t much care. Now, when I get this feeling while dating a new crush, I understand what it is: It’s the bad feeling that I’m taking what I can get. Hoovering scraps off the table of luv like a hungry puppy. Let me tell you something, li’l pup: You are worthy of love and affection and sweet gestures, just as you are. If someone is ambivalent about you and your heart, stop dating them. They’re not worthy of your time.
Krista Burton has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and Rookie. She lives in Minneapolis with her partner and three pets, and she's working on a book.
The first relationship I was ever in was also the first real “romantic” encounter I was ever a part of—and I use those air quotes because “romantic” is a bad qualifier for the situation that I was in: I was engaged to a man I met in person once, but talked on the phone with all the time. Our parents set us up. Some people might use the word “arranged,” but that has a number of connotations I’d like to avoid. I was 18. He was…30? And a university professor. (In his defense, I was and continue to be very hot.)
There are things you don’t know when you are 18, and MANY things you don’t know when you are me at 18. Like how to hold a person’s hand. And how neck kisses are sometimes better than lip kisses. (And how to do your taxes, but that’s another issue.)
Mostly, I wish I knew that age does not always grant wisdom, and that, even when you’re young, you’re the main authority on yourself. I let a lot of people older than me tell what was good for me, like my parents and [Professor Fiancé’s name redacted]. Because he was a full-fledged adult, I assumed that he knew better than I about what my future should look like. I dropped a major for him. Briefly, I considered living in a condo in Arkansas: A backyard. Some kids. The convenience of a full dinnerware set.
I’m grateful that I realized very quickly how dangerous that was. I became aware of the different kinds of ways he used his age to control me or assert dominance of me and ended the engagement. I’m broke now, and I have lots of student debt, a problem I would never have with free tuition at the university he taught at. But I’m not stuck in a loveless marriage, and I’m even hotter now.
The people who love you and want the best for you—like my parents—sometimes don’t know what the best for you is. Let them love you. But also let them know you want a different future for yourself than they might have envisioned.
New love is intoxicating—the best of us can lose ourselves in it. We tend to get consumed in things. It’s hard not to! Losing yourself in someone else is, unfortunately, a tendency that the more passionate among us have. At age 19, I was in an a near-obsessive relationship in my first real long-term relationship with my first real love, a boy I met in undergrad. We eventually lived together in the top floor of a bay-and-gable house in the Annex in downtown Toronto and...we were obsessed with each other. We barely socialized, and when we did, we hung out with “our” friends together. Eventually, those friends came to see us as a unit. When we broke up and he wound up at grad school across the country, my girlfriends outside of “us” let me know in no uncertain terms that we’d grown apart, which wasn’t easy to hear.
Looking back, I would give myself one piece of advice: Hold onto yourself. Maintain the center, and all else will hold. Preserve your own relationships outside of your romantic one as much as you can, and avoid being seen as, or having your sense of self tied up in, being part of a dyad. I wish I hadn’t let my romantic relationship eclipse every other in my life. I would have maintained separate friendships and committed to spending time with my friends. It took time to regain the intimacy we lost. You will, more than likely, end up alone again at the end of the day, and trust me, there is nothing worse than being bewildered at the prospect of being with yourself again.
Muna Mire is a writer in Brooklyn whose work has appeared in VICE, Teen Vogue, The FADER, and other publications.
Sessi Kuwabara Blanchard
What I wish I had known when I was 16: A relationship promises change. Like when Harry met Sally, the differences of one partner infuriate, enliven, or otherwise entangle the other into an irresistible 80s rom-com. You meet. You flirt. You smash. You ghost. You long. Repeat, ad infinitum, or until the gravitational pull of a proper heterosexual lifestyle collapses you two—two because, well, heteronormativity—into a nuclear lump. Granted, Harry and Sally made each other better, like cold pizza and a warm Pabst. But when Harry met Sally, each character was just that: a history-less character, scripted, rehearsed, and performed, all too perfectly to be an actual model for the awkward fumblings in our own lives.
A relationship promises change—sometimes more in the way of what happened when Grimes met Elon, a fever dream that upended the physics governing which bodies are “supposed” to attract which—in this instance, merging “Silicon Valley libertarian nerd-core and millennial Tumblr-bred experimentalism.” Once proclaiming “anti-imperialist” credentials in her Twitter bio and, suddenly, defending the tech billionaire’s union-busting, Grimes changed–at least from the public vantage point. Through her relationship with Musk, the electronic musician is not just changing how she will be or can be in the future—namely, in her position as our anarcho-capitalist galactic overlord—but also how she once was—a left-tilting indie starlet. Grimes was not just an “anti-imperialist” one day and then a technocratic muse the next. She changed publicly, but who knows: All the while, she also probably wanted to rule the Earth with a view from Mars to match. When Grimes met Elon, an undisclosed side of herself was made visible by her step towards him. A relationship is a two-way wormhole—not street—between a person’s past and future. Because of her romance with Elon, Grimes is a changed public icon: her past is a self departed from and her future is a drastic reversal towards something, not necessarily new, but definitely different.
A relationship promises change. Like when dairy meets digestion. What went in is surely not what will come out. A person in a first-time relationship is as naive as any milk-gulper: Just give it some time, as lactose meeting a Lactaid-less gut, and unexpected, uncomfortable things happen. Like how to communicate needs for emotional care and desires for flaccid spooning. People are different; maybe they don’t want to share those types of intimacy. Disagreements bubble over; regret can flare up in the thick of a relationship. Why did I eat that entire baked Brie wheel?! What happens in relationships is so variable that all I can faithfully say is that things break down, like cheese in the stomach, but are also made anew, like poop: Something else comes out the other side of relationships. But defecation does not invalidate consumption: If relationships were all about the finale, they would be called relationshits, after all. The burps and bubbles cooked in the bowels of a relationship are uneasy but necessary processes. And sometimes just plain fun, like pressing your ear against a gurgling belly in the heat of digestion. Relationships, especially for the first-timer, cannot promise pleasure or pain, self-fulfillment or self-destruction. Relationships promise one thing: For better or for worse, monumentally or mundanely, Harry like Grimes like ice cream will never be the same.