Age: 16, Grade: 11
School Name: Hunter College High School, New York, NY
Educator: Nicole Cusick
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir
Do’s and Don’ts for Your First Relationship
- DO kiss him for the first time on that sunny afternoon. The sunlight will feel like butter and wash over your skin, and it will make his eyes look like grass and trees and emeralds and the sea. When your relationship gets harder and eventually ends, that first sweet, short, innocent peck on a Brooklyn corner will turn itself into a shiny memory. You will need those memories, the ones that won’t tarnish, when everything else turns black and rotten.
- DON’T apologize for something you know you shouldn’t. Getting eggshell in the batter of the Chocolate Banana Cookie Crumble Birthday Cake that he wanted you two to bake together for your birthday is not a damning offense. When he ignores you for the next half hour, he is doing something wrong. Not you. After that, though, when he says it’s okay and draws you in for a kiss, a small knot will settle in the bottom of your stomach. Try to stop it from growing larger.
- DO try to learn everything about him that you can, though he may not do the same. Listen to the songs that travel with him on the subway every morning and read the books that have kept him up at night. Even if graphic novels aren’t for you and Philip Glass music just sounds like noise, getting to really know him will end up being one of your favorite things. You will recognize parts of him that he won’t show you himself, for fear of vulnerability or judgement. There are bits and pieces of him to find, and every one that you do will feel like fitting a puzzle piece into place. Your effort also shows your own capacity to love— you did everything you could to bridge the gaps between you two, even if he never bothered to watch The Truman Show.
- DON’T believe that when he touched you in your sleep, it was because you are just so beautiful. The joke you make out of it and your ability to laugh will make you feel strong and flexible in the moment, but will make you feel nauseous ten months later. Instead, break up with him right then and there. He can’t value your beauty and violate you too. You are beautiful, but that shouldn’t be his favorite thing about you.
- DO buy a lock for your locker. When an article in the school newspaper comes out with an embarrassing picture of you and your friends in it, you will not want him to put dozens of clippings in your locker because he thinks it’s funny. This joke will sting.
- NOTE: Buying a lock also means he won’t leave flowers in your locker, which you did love. Maybe you should leave the lock off.
- NOTE 2: When he leaves your raincoat in your locker two days after you break up, it will smell like him. Time will pass and two months later the coat will still sit in your locker to greet you every morning. You will hate that he knew you well enough to know that you wouldn’t have a lock, to know that he didn’t even need to ask. Buy the lock. Don’t share the code with anybody.
- DON’T look back through your old “Boyfriend Box” right after you break up. Every letter he wrote to you and every “I love you” will seem malicious, infused with nastiness and anger and the withering glare that he gave you when he told you in the middle of the hallway that you should never speak to him again. This will be two weeks after he tells you that he realizes he was “emotionally abusive,” and it will be extremely confusing. Just put the letters and gifts and photographs away. You will want them in ten years, I’m sure, but not until then.
- DO focus on your breathing. In, out, repeat. When fall comes around and the weather gets cold again, remember that it was your favorite season before you ever met him. Make a playlist, bake a cake, write about it in an English essay. Extend to yourself everything you gave him: forgiveness, patience, honesty, love.