You have your first relationship, and then you have your first relationship. The one where you finally figure out, beyond all reasonable doubt or concern, what it’s like to be in love. The one where the word “forever”—however impractical it may be—doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore; the one where the phrase “I love you” finally sounds right rolling off your tongue; the one that sad Lana Del Rey songs will always be able to describe exactly. It could have happened in high school or college or even after, but it’s a time of innocence and beauty and discovery that can never be captured again. It’s like a dream, but like all dreams, you eventually wake up.
You go to different colleges, your paths go different ways, one of you has to break it off. But how can things ever be the same again? How can you ever not feel attracted to that person? Will you ever find somebody as good as them? Is it all downhill from here?
Then you take a walk in the real world and find out that there are still people who can give you things you’ve never had and make you feel ways you’ve never felt. After some false alarms and missteps, you finally do meet somebody else, often in the most unexpected of ways, and you find yourself swept up in this spontaneous and amazing process of falling in love all over again.
It’s so different from your first but the patterns are the same: there’s the first time you stay up all night talking, the first (unbelievably cute) time you spend the night together, the first time you realize the other person’s just as much of a weirdo as you. You feel like this second person, this second love, is so many things that the old person was not. They are another step forward, a progression in life.
But then you grow closer, and for many of us, a little hard seed of insecurity starts to form. It forms and it grows heavier each time you see a blissful-looking picture of them and their ex on Facebook; it grows each time they get a text or message from their ex, however innocuous it may be. The closer you get to them, the more you see the echo of their first love still bouncing around in their life, barely audible but very present.
And this feeling doesn’t go away. You realize that somebody has already landed and left a flag on this person’s heart. You start to feel that this person and their ex shared a bond that you two will never have. And against your will, against your happiness, you start to put their ex on a pedestal, thinking they’re more beautiful or smart or talented than you are.
If you’re crazy and insecure like me, you start to wonder why in hell this person is dating you. That if they had the chance, and the circumstances were right, they would just go back to their ex. And you keep thinking, and you keep thinking, and you start to feel sorry for who you are.
This is where it all falls to shit—but what you don’t realize is that you are in a relationship precisely because of who you are. You’ don’t have whatever made their ex so special, and you never will; you have what makes you special. If you feed this insecurity, your relationship will develop a cancer, one of the most terminal kinds: a lack of full-on acceptance.
Because if you want to truly love someone, you need to accept them unconditionally. That’s not just their present self; that’s their past as well. You need to accept that they fell in love with somebody else once, and no matter what they tell you about them to make you feel better, there had to have been something special and awesome about their ex to make them feel that way.
But their standards are not your standards. No matter how much worse you think you are, this person is dating you for a reason. You’re not worse, you’re not even better—you’re what they need right now.
Putting their ex down in your mind is to lie to yourself; putting their ex on a pedestal is to do a disservice to yourself. You’re you, and the only thing you can do is to work on being the best “you” you can possibly be. And if you feel you’re not up to par, then do something about it. But trust me: 99% of the time, by just being that original person they fell in love with, you are.
You’ve been given an opportunity, a beautiful opportunity to love somebody. To take care of them and make them feel good and give them that special brand of happiness that only you can provide. Yeah, they can still love their ex as a friend—you might be lying if you didn’t think that about your first true love too. But if you think that they’re shorting you, and all objective signs point to it not being that way, then you’re being as unfair to them as you are to yourself.
That’s the mistake I made. I could never accept that my second girlfriend would like me as much as her seemingly spectacular ex-boyfriend. By the time I realized how stupid and insecure I was being, my constant need to be reassured had driven her away. She meant more to me than anything, and by the time I finally accepted that she—at one point—had felt the same way, I had lost her forever.
Don’t make the same mistake as me. This applies not just to second loves; it’s for anyone who’s falling in love with someone who’s been in love before. Never do yourself the disservice of comparing yourself to their exes. You are being loved for a reason—for being you.
Newton said that matter was never created or destroyed in this universe; it stays at a constant. But for some reason, when you add two people that are in love together, you get…something more. A force bigger than the both of them, something that makes life feel more real, more special, more…worth it.
You’ll never be able to truly love someone and experience that type of beauty unless you fully accept them, and that’s everything about them: their past, present and future. I say the future because after you, there will be someone else. Somebody else they’ll stay up all night talking to, somebody else they’ll sleep with for the first time, somebody else that they’ll one day figure out is just as much of a weirdo as them. Somebody else who might one day feel the same insecurities you’re feeling now about you. And when that time comes, the best thing you can do as a human being is to be respectful and never try to make their future lover feel like that.
Relationships aren’t a property game. It’s not a question of owning each other. It’s a thing of passing through someone’s life, loving them, cuddling with them, laughing with them, sharing everything with them from your favorite movies to the same bed at night. And, when it’s all over, it’s about being their friend and accepting whoever will have the privilege of coming after you.If you can let your ego die and accept all of that, then you will have achieved an enlightenment of love that many people will never get to experience. I know it’s hard, but it’s worth it. You are not going to be and you never were their only love. But what you are, is their lover right now, and right now, that’s all that matters.