Falling in Love in Your 20s
Do: Enjoy the little moments. Don’t: Stay in the relationship if it becomes toxic.
By Olivia Wickstrom, Portland State University
I fell in love in Scotland—I was 20-years-old and studying abroad for the year.
I found a part-time job at a bed and breakfast for some spending money and happened to have a (very handsome) Eastern European student as a co-worker.
I didn’t want a relationship abroad; I had planned on spending my weekends exploring European countries and my evenings drinking Scottish beers. But our mutual love for Pink Floyd and the endless laughter that came out of our first conversation made me think twice. He studied literature, I studied literature, he had a dream of traveling to Iceland, I had a dream of traveling to Iceland. A night of beers at the pub lead to coffee dates and homework sessions, and before I knew it we were spending every day together.
Maybe it was me experiencing “love” for the first time, or perhaps it was the fact that I was dating a European, but it was all very romantic. I mean straight-out-of-a-movie-scene romantic. We spent evenings sneaking into the 900-year-old cathedral and looking at stars, we left notes for each other under a plant in the university’s gardens, we took a snowy trip to Ireland for the Christmas break. I was absolutely head-over-heels in love, and I thought it was certain: We’ll obviously spend the rest of our lives together.
I took steps toward this life together. I met with headmasters, I requested transcripts, I worked to apply for permanent admission. But when I wasn’t accepted, when I had three months left, our life together started to fade.
There were constant arguments: What will we do when I leave? When will we visit each other? Who will move to who? Instead of enjoying our final moments together we disagreed about our seemingly impossible future, and after weeks of anger we hesitantly ended it. Though we loved one another, I had three months left abroad and the “life” I had envisioned for us was no longer possible—we agreed to end things so that I could finish the trip on my own doing what I’d moved to Scotland to do: Enjoy myself.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really “enjoy” myself that much. The breakup was bad—I mean two months of binge-watching “Grey’s Anatomy” and drinking beer bad. I mean the first time I tried to sleep with someone else I started to cry bad. I was heartbroken: I avoided my friends, I cried while listening to all his favorite songs, I jumped when my phone rang hoping that it was him every time.
We decided to meet my last week to say goodbye which (long story short) lead to me missing a plane and staying an extra month. It was fantastic—school was finished, we were together and it was a beautiful Scottish summer. But there was always a looming reality: I had to return to the States soon. I couldn’t afford to miss another plane.
After moving back, I tried to make it work for a year. I truly believed that I’d never feel like that again, that nobody would ever love me that much again. What I failed to see was how toxic the relationship had become. I didn’t really love him anymore, I loved the memories I had of us together. I was hanging on to something of the past, and soon began to realize it was something meant to stay in the past.
But here’s the thing about falling in love for the first time: Nobody knows what the hell they’re doing. It’s all about making these mistakes and learning. But there are a few things you should know, if it ends and when it ends.
When it’s time to end it, end it.
Don’t drag it out. You’ll know when it’s time to end it, so trust your gut and do it. Don’t continue it because you’re comfortable with one another, the timing isn’t right or you’re nervous of the heartbreak. Have the respect for yourself and your partner to finish it, and move on.
There’s someone else out there.
Don’t stay in a relationship because you’re afraid there’s nobody else out there for you. You’re young—you have no way of knowing where you’ll be a year from now or the people you’ll meet in that year. I hate to sound like your mom right now, but there’s plenty of other fish in the sea.
Give yourself time, but remain friends in the end.
It’s possible that if you attempt to be friends too soon, you’ll end up just hooking up (DON’T DO THIS)—but in the end, stay on good terms. Whether it takes a month or a year, stay cordial. It was your first love, you learned a lot from it, the least you can do is say thank you by remaining kind.
The heartbreak is worth it.
After I fell in love for the first time I vowed I’d never do it again—I concluded that the heartbreak was too much, that I couldn’t handle it a second time. But in the end, the pain was worth it. Each relationships brings lessons and growth to the individuals involved that is far more important than the heartache in the end. Plus, you’ll come out of the relationship stronger than before.
You will love more than one person.
Yes, the love will feel different for every person, but it will be love nonetheless. The trick is to not prefer one love over the other, to not get too attached to one love. They’re all important and strong in their own ways. What one has the other lacks, what one doesn’t have the other fulfills.