An MFRW Post – And check out the other blogs on the hop!
I had a lot of first loves. When I was a little kid, I fell in love with Simba from the Lion King and then Aladdin. I had crushes on the boys in my kindergarten class that changed from week to week, crushes on the boys in first grade, second grade, and third grade.
Is it any wonder I became a romance novelist?
The common theme with each of my crushes, and whoa, baby, I had crushes, was that they were innocent, sweet and derived from a place of love and a happy home filled with affection and joy. I was innocent, unable to untangle friendship from love, too young to know love as romantic, as sexual, goodness forbid, as much more than pecks on the cheek or hand holding or dramatic expressions of affection in airports, like I’d seen in so many movies.
My crush on M was innocent too.
It was less innocent, by virtue of the fact that I was sixteen, and at sixteen I looked essentially the way I do now, full grown, busty (and unsure of how to deal with it at the time,) curvy and enjoying my newfound power over boys my age. But it was still very much innocent. M was 21, which at the time felt so much older, worldly and experienced. Looking back on 21 now, he probably didn’t know a tenth of the things I thought he did, but when it’s five years forward, it felt like the world.
He was British too, and I was still in my Anglophile phase, where I didn’t care if your accent was cockney or as regal as the Queen herself, I was immediately, instantly, and unequivocally in love.
I was a week too late.
At sixteen, I was in my last year at the sleepaway summer camp where I would eventually work. On just this side of adulthood, the oldest campers often connected more with the counselors, who could work as young as eighteen, than they did with their fellow campers. When I became a counselor myself, I realized the width of the gap between us, but at the time, it felt negligible, like we were all the grownups in on some joke that the younger campers just didn’t get.
I don’t remember how many weeks I went for that summer, but I do know that I met M the week after he started dating his girlfriend.
I loved his girlfriend. She was funny and smart and sweet. I had worked with her and lived with her in those years at camp, and the only thing worse than someone you like dating a person you hate is when someone you like dates a person you can’t possibly hate.
Of course, I was never subtle in my crushes. In fact, I’m pretty sure the camp changed some of their policies about interacting with campers because of my obvious crush on M, that continued for several more years. My friends, fellow counselors that I will stay in touch with for the rest of my life, harmlessly teased me about following him around like a lost puppy for all those years. Looking back now, of course, it is funny, an adorable tale of unrequited love, (I was sixteen) at that stage in our lives when we all think we’re so much older than we are.
But looking back now, I’m also a little proud of myself. Because M was exactly the kind of man you should fall in love with. Trappings aside – how cute, British and lifeguard-y he was, M was kind, funny and patient. He would always crack a smile, and when I sprained the shit out of my ankle at eighteen, he carried me back to the cabin and made sure I was well cared for. That’s just the kind of person he was. These are the qualities in any good romance hero and any good life partner.
Obviously, there are things I could have done differently. (Not stalking him would probably have been a good start). Looking back now, I am no longer embarrassed by those childish antics, so much as vaguely amused, but for a time I would flush bright red whenever someone brought them up. Yes, I have learned some subtly over the years, and gotten much of the wildness out of my system.
But one thing I would never change is the standard I set for myself with a guy like M. There were many men to follow. Those crushes, if they could be called such, grew less innocent by the year, and I played around with my fair share of bad ideas and don’t-stick-arounds. For many years, I was the one who never wanted to stick around. But when I look back at M, I know that my younger self actually made some good choices in men, kind, responsive, funny men, who would treat people with respect, no matter the circumstances.
I have since found a love that is grown up and real and lasting. He is my romance hero–complete with red hair, and I know that what we have is more than passing fancy. It isn’t a crush that will be gone in a week. We’ve been together five and a half years, moved to a brand new city together, parents the world’s most wonderful cat and dream of our future. But I’ll always remember M fondly. I made a lot of mistakes growing up, and I have no doubt that I’ll make plenty more in the future, after all, that’s how we learn. But at the end of the day, when it really counts, I’ll never regret calling it love for him. As it turns out, I did get a few things right back then. ♦