They say you never forget your first love. For the most part, it’s true. But I am one of those people who would give anything to forget mine. It was butterflies… until it wasn’t. You’ve read the stories. You’ve seen the movies. You watch your parents and your friends and don’t get me started on Valentine’s Day.
It’s all around us, and we all have this idea of what love should be, and what it should look like. No one ever talks about how your own perspective of love shifts from when you first experience it to the time you find your version of true love.
But when you’re 13 and you’re with someone for a year and a half, you start to think you found the person you’re meant to be with. Maybe it was just me, but I fell in love for the first time at 13 years old. His name was Shane. We met through mutual friends at church in youth group. He was handsome, sweet, and obviously loved God, which was important to me. He brought me flowers to church on Wednesday nights, and he gave me his letterman jacket during one of the coldest winters we’ve had. A month after we connected, and on Christmas Day no less, he said the best gift he could ever have would be if I said yes to being his girlfriend. Naturally, I did.
Love is patient. Love is kind. –1 Corinthians 13:4
He was a freshman in high school and played on the football team. I was in 8th grade and had cheerleading tryouts coming up in a few months. We were going to be that couple. I was sure of it. I traveled to Washington D.C. on my school’s second annual 8th Grade Field Trip and when I got back, something changed. Shane changed, like a like switch being flipped off.
He became more “protective.” On the bus before school each morning, he would call and make sure I was okay. He would say he wanted girls to sit in the seat next to me, and in the seats in front of me and behind me as well. He didn’t want me to talk to any guys without him there. He just didn’t want them to be mean to his girlfriend. That was all.
Love protects. –1 Corinthians 13:7
This shifted from protectiveness to spells of jealousy. Every time we fought though, it was met with sincere apologies and tears. He would never behave that way again. He promised, and I forgave him each time.
Over time, his jealousy transpired into a desire to control, and aggressiveness toward other guys. I wasn’t allowed to speak to any guy friends at all. He would go through my phone and delete every single contact I had that happened to be a guy… even my father and stepfather. I was relentlessly ridiculed about how I gave my brother and any male family member a hug. He would make friends with my friends and ask them if I would talk to other guys, and if I had, it would’ve caused a fight.
When cheerleading tryouts came around, I was so excited! I was finally going to be someone in high school! Family members, friends, past and present cheerleaders, and even students were welcome to watch tryouts. It was good practice for what was to be expected of us as cheerleaders. He threw a huge fit and demanded that I cheered for just him, not the entire team. I thought it was silly, but it wasn’t worth the fight. Instead of saying Go Bears, I said “Go Bear.” After all, he was the only one I cared about.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. He got angry and stormed out of the gym, slamming the door behind him and silence fell across the crowd. My parents were present, cheering us on and the looks on their faces were in total shock and disbelief.
Love bears all things. –1 Corinthians 13:7
Soon enough, he had become the spitting image of Mark Wahlberg in the movie Fear. He didn’t kill anyone, though he may have wanted to. He had me in the palm of his hand — a good girl, who one day hoped to be his wife. He was constantly pressuring me to have sex with him, something I had never done before. I told him I wasn’t ready, and instead of being reasonable and understanding, he would blow me off to go hang out with my friends. He even left me alone on our anniversary, as I prepared a nice meal at home before his parents took us to the movies.
Shane’s anger and aggression only festered and grew. He wanted to feel like he belonged in more ways than what the church could provide and began the initiation phase of joining a gang. At first, I thought he was joking. I mean, we lived in a good town, a small town where we all knew each other. I was willing to bet he hadn’t a clue what a gang was or how he could even be part of one. I wasn’t aware of what that entailed until one night he took coins in a sock and hit me with them, repeatedly — and not just by him, but by his friends as well. I was 14 years old, and I had to lie about something happening during cheer practice — a stunt gone wrong — to explain the bruises.
Most of the relationship was filled with anger that I wouldn’t sleep with him. In fact, he used that as his excuse later on when he tried to rape my best friend (at her birthday party, after a few drinks). I hadn’t found out about that until the very end of the relationship.
No one told me what to expect in a relationship. You see instances and opportunities to show love and demonstrate forgiveness. That is what we are all taught, isn’t it? Love one another. We learn what love is by what we see around us and what we are taught. However, telling 13-year-old me anything was like talking to a brick wall.
In my personal memoir of teen dating violence, I left out some things: the eating disorder, the many instances of cheating, the more in-depth manipulation, and the hold he had on me for years thereafter. Maybe that is a story for another time.
But right now, please remember to talk to your teen about dating violence. The signs and the indicators. Share with them YOUR own stories — no matter how frightening it may be for you to be vulnerable — your child NEVER wants to hear about their parent’s hurt… but it is easier for them to relate to you and your story than to me and mine. I am anonymous after all.
Love should never hurt. Ever.