There are many milestones in life but none more memorable than your first relationship.
It provides a footprint for the way forward and the impression it leaves is significant.
Mine was at the tender age of 15 years old. I was on a French exchange trip from school. His name was Olivier. He was older than me by one year. Typically of course he was tall, dark and handsome and despite my best efforts to ignore it, he won me over.
We fell in love in that “teenage first relationship” kind of way. I had no instruction just my instincts, but huddled over coffee in between those lessons that were supposed to improve my language skills, we plugged our francs into the jukebox and shared a love of music, literature and laughter. Yes, corny I know, but it really was like that.
At the end of my first trip we swapped addresses and thereafter followed years of letters between each exchange trip – love letters of the kind that just don’t exist now. Interspersed with these were tapes, recordings of the music he loved all dedicated to me. He introduced me to sounds I had never explored before, every one carefully chronicled on a piece of card inside the cassette holder. Those were the days!
The joy of receiving those letters and parcels each week is something my own teens will never appreciate. Now it is all digital and way too immediate. Gone are the days of anticipation, waiting for the postman to knock on the door and hand over that precious envelope that saw me take myself to my room for hours at a time, listening to his personalised recordings over and over again and that made me excited and tingle in every fibre of my being.
In return I sent letters of my own. No tape recordings. Just stories of my day to day life back in Blighty and musings of my thoughts about his music. What I liked and most definitely what I didn’t.
By return, each subsequent tape was modified to reflect my opinions and take me on a different journey of discovery to another artist. There were many. He was a DJ in his spare time. He had decks of the old fashioned kind and spent hours just massaging his music tastes to accommodate me and of course ultimately to please and woo me.
It’s funny because now I care little for music just words, but in those early days it shaped my life and still evokes precious memories of a bygone era and courtesy of him I still do a cracking performance to “Oops Upside Your Head”. The effort however was the most extraordinary element of it all and special on so many levels because it made me feel important.
Being valued in a relationship is something we all want and deserve but as I watch my own teens embarking on relationships of their own I despair. “Mum you are so old fashioned. It’s not like that nowadays!”
My daughter had her first date a few weeks ago. There was no introduction to this moment just a ‘fait accompli’. “I am doing this. We are meeting here. Don’t worry about it. Track me if you have to but I will be fine.”
Was it any different to my day? After all my parents didn’t know about my dalliance until the arrival of that all important first package.
We worry as parents constantly nowadays about where our teens are, who they are with and what they are doing. I presume my parents did the same. The difference of course is the lack of information at their disposal. There were no phones and they didn’t have access to “find my friends” but that doesn’t mean to say they weren’t anxious, just helpless or maybe just trusting of the values they had instilled.
Trust is at the root of it all. I have lectured my teens to death about safety and sharing information about their movements but every one wants some little secret, some little bit of themselves that you don’t want anyone else to know, especially your parents. God knows, however, that now more than ever the risks are bigger and greater and if there is no trust and by result no confidence shared, the dangers are magnified.
“Mum it’s different now” doesn’t wash with me. I don’t care for the disregard of other parents, the eye rolling of friends as I demand more information. I want to know it all so that I can be on top of it and if, just if, there is a little bit of a sniff of danger I can alert them to my fears and be in control.
Meanwhile the treadmill of watching my teens navigate their own relationships is furious and at times precarious. I try to act as the guiding light but of course my words are unwelcome and uninvited. “Stop micro-managing” is a favourite riposte. There are, however, always pearls of wisdom to be shared and as they both set off on that voyage of discovery of their own, advice shrouded beneath the vast umbrella of parental care and interest, is all I have at my disposal, albeit against my own historical backdrop of excitement and trepidation at my first relationship. After all we all have to start somewhere don’t we?
Editor’s Note: Do you have memories of your first relationship that you would like to share? Have they shaped how you advise your own teens? I would love to hear your stories.