The New York Times published a Summer Love collection in 2015 documenting the stories of summer romances in the city. I read it for the first time this summer, and it made me think of my own summer love, which, I think, is safe to say was my first.
The sub-header sums up how I feel in one succinct swoop: “Some of the stories will have happy endings. Others will merely end. Love, after all, is complicated, in any season.”
I was freshly seventeen when I met M, a childhood friend of The Officer (see here and here and here), for the first time. When I pulled up to a party in my neighborhood just to say hi to The Officer, with no intentions of going inside, M leaned in my car, thinking I was someone else. He realized his mistake and introduced himself, and I coolly did the same, because the girl he thought I was was someone I didn’t at all find pretty. I thought nothing of it, besides initial anger that he thought I was her. How dare he.
I ran into The Officer and M at a concert that summer and saved M from being nearly assaulted by a friend of mine (whom I wrote about here when I analyzed her relationship with her ex). M had actually texted me off his own phone, claiming our friends should meet up so we could all hang out and I could see The Officer, who was, according to M, “too scared to text me.” Again, I thought little of the interaction. Then, the next winter, when I came home for Christmas and went to a football game that’s basically a hometown reunion held in an NFL stadium and its tailgate lots, I ran into The Officer and M. While The Officer was annoying me, pining for attention, I talked to M and realized I was kind of attracted to him. I even schemed a ride back from him and his group, claiming that it was easier for me to be dropped off in my neighborhood than with my friends a mere fifteen minutes away. But I really just wanted to be around M a little longer, even if it meant I had to ditch my friends, fake flirt with The Officer, and talk to M while he wasn’t looking.
The spring began and we started to talk while we were both away at school, him in the Northeast and me in the South. We started with conversations about The Officer and why he and I didn’t work out, and then we slowly but naturally moved into discussing our own lives. I listened as he talked about his major, his family, and his fraternity, and I told him about me. We laughed about our failed attempts to find relationships at school, an ironic foreshadowing of what was to come.
Sober FaceTimes that were several hours long and drunk calls ensued. A few jokes that we should have been the “couple”, not The Officer and I, were made, and, eventually, we started to flirt more and more. The drunk calls went from innocent and funny to definitive, “Let’s see each other when we’re both home this summer.” These affirmations came from both of us, and, a few times, I found myself rejecting guys at school to go home and talk to M. I was sad to leave school in May, but I was excited for this possible summer fling.
In late May, M came over when I was home alone, and we watched something on TV while trying to avoid the elephant of sexual tension in the room. Nothing had happened yet because M felt wrong hooking up with me, someone a good friend, The Officer, used to love. (M knew that The Officer once professed his love to me on my birthday and said he used to be obsessed.) I felt paralyzed. I knew that M and I liked each other and had genuine chemistry, but I didn’t want to break up their twelve-year friendship over casual sex, even if it was with someone I liked. Finally, I told M that I’d understand if he didn’t want anything that summer, but he shouldn’t hold back because, due to us being thirteen hours away from each other for the majority of the year, we’d never date, and The Officer and I had truly never been dating, just stuck in an awkward stage of talking. “The Officer and I have never even done more than kissed, and we never dated. He never met my friends or even my parents,” I told M.
That, coupled with the fact that The Officer was moving out West in June for the summer, and the prospect of a low-key, no strings attached arrangement, was enough for both of us to proceed. “What is this?” M asked me, both of us caught between guilt and attraction. “I don’t know,” I said, internally panicking. “Let’s just hang out and hook up and see where it goes.” We kept things pretty quiet, so as not to advertise it to The Officer. That night we were making out on my living room couch at my mother’s when my father unexpectedly showed up and, in a panic, I made M sprint out of my dark house. My father definitely knew what was up, but neither of us acknowledged it. M and I laughed about it for months.
In the next months, we hooked up a lot. I was home alone all the time when my mother was at work and he came over. On the weekends, we did our own thing, but still texted and snapped all the time when we were off partying with our separate friends or at our jobs. It was easy and fun, the first time either of us had consistently been sleeping with the same person.
At a concert at the beginning of June, we snuck off to the lawn area and sat down, drunk off live music and cheap liquor. “Let’s lay some ground rules,” M said matter of factly. “What are we doing here?” Uninhibited, I told him I wanted exclusivity. It’s wrong to sleep with more than one person at the same time, something I still hold to be true. He agreed, and we continued, joking about our hookups and kissing even though I’m sure more than one person pointed and laughed. At the end of summer, he would tell me that hearing Love, a hit from the performer, live and kissing me was one of the best moments of his life.
Exclusivity made us more than just friends with benefits. We had a connection beyond sex, and it manifested itself in a way that I was equally surprised and scared by. Sneaking around when I was home alone turned to dinner out on my birthday, and lunch and ice cream dates. He always paid, except for once when I insisted after fighting him over the entire entree. It wasn’t about money, though. I would later explain to him that while I loved our dates and fancy dinners I would’ve still been with him if he brought me a pack of gum for my birthday.
Summer came to an end, and we both moved back to school. We said our goodbyes, mine tearfully. I will never forget him walking out of my front door, holding my hand, and turning around to say, “Thanks for being the best first girlfriend ever.”
It was the most endearing, heartbreaking thing I’d ever heard. Just like that, my first love had slipped through my fingertips.
But as the New York Times so wisely says, “Love, after all, is complicated, in any season.”