I had a high-school sweetheart. I don’t know how many of you did, but it’s something I’d heartily recommend if you’re still in the age group to have one. I also had a middle-school sweetheart, though that relationship mostly consisted of holding hands and playing GTA III while his mother brought us Kool-Aid. At the time, of course, it was extremely serious and difficult and riddled with 13-year-old drama. There were a lot of accusations of kissing another girl at the spring dance and not meeting each other at the Royal Farms to walk home from school together. However, despite the tumultuous road we walked, we were certain that we would end up married one day, if only we could make it through those 9th grade honors courses together. As it turned out, we didn’t even make it through the summer before high school — he got a new bicycle and clearly bigger things were happening for him.
And then, after the pathway had been cleared up for someone with the potential to one day get a learner’s permit, I got a high-school sweetheart. As those of you who had one will know, it is the strangest combination of a deep, consuming, almost unhealthy love, and all of the levity and humor of publicly going through puberty. You don’t know where you are, you certainly don’t know who you are, and this “love” that you have found becomes a buoy in an incredibly heavy storm. There is an overwhelming feeling that everyone is falling in love, everyone is in on some secret club you’re not a part of, and if you don’t find love yourself — there are only so many song quotes you can put on your blog to compensate.
So you find someone, and you settle into a cozy little imitation of what you think relationships should be. You have all of the movies, books, and Yellowcard songs you could ever need to tell you what love looks like — what shape and color it is, at least — and now it’s up to you to reconstruct it. You will start fights over a chicken nugget at lunch, freak out about who is going to pick you up from the dance, and profess undying loyalty at all of two weeks into the relationship. It’s cute, of course, because none of it has any real consequence. Unless, of course, you become a Teen Mom™, in which case you can just get your own show on MTV and live off the residuals into your mid-sixties. Either way, for the most part, it’s a pretty light-hearted affair, a high school sweetheart.
Everything is a sort of pantomime of intimacy and sincerity, and like the dog blissfully piloting the plane, we have no idea what’s going on. Strangely, though, these relationships — no matter how absurd when reflected upon with even a few months’ worth of maturity and growth — can echo for a long time. There is a certain soft spot we hold for this time, the other person, and everything we clumsily did together. I still wonder what my high school sweetheart is doing and, though I have no romantic interest in him, get upset at the thought that another girl would be doing anything to hurt him. When I heard, throughout the years since we’ve split, that someone with the capacity to do serious emotional damage (unlike me, who was capable of inflicting a scratch at most in the scheme of things), I got extremely angry. Protective. It was almost like, having seen me at the formative, awkward moments of my life and loving me anyway, he became a member of extended family. Hell, even my mother still asks about him.
And this can’t be said for other people I’ve been with since, even if the relationships ended on the best of notes. For some reason, though the relationships themselves were surely comprised of things more sincere and of greater emotional depth than the arguments and make-ups I carried out in the locker banks, they haven’t rippled through time quite as easily. I suppose it’s a time in your life when your are so impressionable, so fragile, so desperate to be accepted and appreciated for who you are that the idea of someone loving you makes you forever grateful. I think about the girl I was at 15, 16, 17 — how insecure, acne-riddled, and inconsistent — and feel I owe my high school sweetheart a thank you for letting me know that I was good enough in some way. Sure, we have the love of friends and family, but when you’re just discovering what sexuality and romance even are, it’s essential to get your membership in the “dating” and “love” clubs.
Sure, it’s ridiculous looking back on your sweetheart sometimes, it’s funny to think of the immense mountains we were able to construct out of the most insignificant of molehills — but it’s beautiful. We were lucky enough to have found someone to grow with, to change with, and — perhaps most importantly — to be completely ourselves with. At 16, knowing someone sees your flaws and wants to be with you regardless is better than winning the lottery. He will always have given me that, no matter what may happen later in life. And today, if you dare break his heart, I’ll break your kneecaps.