(By Roz Ben-Okagbue)

“That’s what happens with your first love. It carves a hole in the muscle and fibre so that you have no choice but to wear it like a birthmark”. Rebecca Tsaros Dickson

Even after 40 years or more, most people can remember their first love, that person who once made their heart sing or stop or somersault rapidly and repeatedly. It often happens during teenage and when it happens at that age it usually lasts between three to six months but it is an experience that many people never forget. Some say that it can even determine your future ability to love so if you have a good experience, you will love deeply and if you don’t, you may always be extremely cautious and prone to withholding your emotions.

Like the proverbial elephant defined differently by six blind men, love has been defined as so many things, an expression, a choice, a feeling, a sensation. The list is endless and one is inclined to believe it means different things to different people. The consensus appears to be that it is magical and you feel it from the heart though some young men may confuse it with lust which inspires feelings in the loins rather than anywhere above the waist. However, that very first love that most people feel around the age of 13 to 19, always involves the heart and when it ends the said heart breaks leaving an everlasting scar that serves as a reminder of the joy and pain of love. According to the author of “Where You Are”, Tammara Webber, “the heart before first love is blank, unwritten. After, the walls are left inscribed and “graffitied” and no amount of scrubbing will purge the oaths and sketched images”.

Most teenagers live in an intense adolescent world of constant physical, emotional and mental change. Casual relationships with friends at this time are fraught with poignant outbursts, peer pressure and other developmental changes. Parents and teachers are constantly demanding high grades and watching closely for signs to ensure that you are not getting unduly distracted by any of the social challenges of the day. In the midst of this ever moving drama that is your life, someone walks in and makes your heart throb, your palms sweat and your pulses quicken. He could be the captain of the football team, the best dancer in the class or even the class nerd. She could be as beautiful as Beyonce or sings like Amy Winehouse, whatever; she just floats your boat! How and why does this happen? Why do we fall in love?

Oftentimes it is a physical attraction that develops into an emotional one or it could be a connection resulting from much exposure to a specific person. When people spend a lot of time in each other’s company sometimes something just clicks and an ordinary friendship could blossom into love. It could be love at first sight, peer pressure or perhaps he or she was the last remaining person in the gang who is not paired up. It could happen for different reasons. Some say it is not a feeling that can be controlled hence sometimes people end up in inappropriate relationships but regardless of what you feel, you can control what you allow yourself to do with that feeling.

First love is different from any other love and it is said to be the most exciting and intoxicating. It is usually approached with reckless abandon as no lessons have yet been learnt. One has not discovered how to guard one’s heart against hurt or to play complex love games to determine the power base of the relationship. Unquestioning trust dictates every move and utterance; you are transported to a time and place where everything in the world is good. Daydreaming becomes a favourite pastime and the heart just won’t keep still especially when the object of your love is nearby or their name is mentioned. Every conversation automatically flows to one direction and the second favourite person to be with is the one who doesn’t mind listening to you talk about your love, at every given opportunity.

In time though, the initial fever wears off and the “lovers” settle into a stable relationship of exchanging text messages or sharing stories and music on you tube and twitter (teenage dating these days invariably involves one manner of social media or the other and there is an amazingly wide selection to choose from); taking walks and holding hands with every touch invoking exquisite sensations; planning group events for the weekend mostly involving other “couples” living in the same beautiful world of love.

And then one day the inevitable happens! One person falls out of love or there is a huge argument leading to a sudden break up. Few “first loves” end in marriage and even when they do there is usually a break during which each person explores other relationships before returning to settle with the first love. As such almost every teenager will experience the pain of that first break up. There is no formula to guard against getting hurt the first time, even the second and subsequent times. It is one of those things that will surely happen when first love ends and when it does you feel like your whole life is about to end too. Trust me, it won’t. Yes it does hurt but the pain will not kill you!

When you are going through it, it feels like every love song is about you and everything makes you want to cry. You feel like no one understands and no one has ever or should ever experience this level of pain. You feel like going to sleep and never waking up and you simply can’t understand what the birds are singing for. You feel like doing something crazy, perhaps something to hurt your former love but when you do, it does not ease the pain. If your love has moved on to someone else, you feel like that person will be your enemy for life. You don’t ever want to see another “couple” again and you certainly don’t want to see people around you laughing or smiling when you are so sad.

But eventually the pain will subside; you will get over it and even be ready to love again. Perhaps not as intensely as the first time and this time love will not be so blind, but you will be healed enough to know that love does not always have to end in tears. As Tammara concluded, “sooner or later, you find that there’s space for someone else between the words and in the margins” but that first love can never be duplicated.