Last Sunday my pastor gave an interesting illustration in his sermon. In his bid to make us sincere Christians, he compared the love for God with teenage love. Some call it the first love. He had a point. That first romance is usually selfless, deep, intense and naïve. The whole world ceases to exist, except you and the subject of your romantic affections.
I do remember my own experience vividly. She was beautiful. Everything about her was perfect. And I literally lost my head. Before I gathered the courage to ask her out, I wrote the poem that I shared with you last week, which pretty much captures my emotions at the time. And yes, I dreamt marriage, at barely 18 and with the prospect of six years of law school ahead of me. But those were mere details then. All that mattered was that we loved each other.
But the fairy tale did not even last a year, and it went down the drain rather horribly. That’s the thing about the first love. Once you are in, the first order of business is to open the gear box and pluck out the reverse gear. Next you work on the pedals and pluck out the brake pedal, and you are good to go. At the beginning, the road is usually flat and smooth so you step on the accelerator and close your eyes. You enjoy your ride so much (with your eyes closed) that you don’t notice the bumps and the ‘slow down’ road signs. So when your vehicle crashes, it is usually devastating. And that is exactly what happened to me. At first I was angry, then embarrassed.
But I was still young, so I recovered pretty quickly. I was still seeing the world through pink sun-glasses. So yea, I did fall in love again at 19. This one started on the left foot, and I got a no. But I was not perturbed. Looking back, I am surprised at my levels of self-confidence then. Especially because my photos of that period make me cringe. Skirt-like trousers, free-flowing shirts…you get the drift. Anyway that same evening she called and substituted her no with a yes.
This one lasted for four years. It was largely a good experience, and we remain in good terms to date. But we probably were too young, and made a series of mistakes and so in the fourth year everything started crumbling until the house of cards finally came tumbling down. One year later I was back on the scene, this time as a bubbly 25 year old with a law degree and working as an intern in a law firm and going to the Kenya School of Law. Now, interns are usually at the lowest end of the food chain and I am amazed at how I used to pay for the dates, simple as they were. I mean, even today, after switching firms and getting a better package, I have to engage accountants, economists, budget experts, tax advisors and auditors to advise me on how I can squeeze in money to take a girl out. Yet at the time I seemingly did it effortlessly, and with less. I must have been a relative of that widow whose pot was never running out after Elijah’s prophecy.
But this one ended before it began. I cannot even evaluate whether it was a good experience or not. It was like a dream. You know that feeling you get when you are driving a Ferrari, park at some hotel and as you get out your phone rings? Your real phone that is, which makes you wake up in your dark house and you realize you don’t even know how a Ferrari looks like. Yet it seemed so real when you were driving it. You can’t even tell how you knew it was a Ferrari. People in dreams just know. This is how this one went. It ended before it really began.
But it forced me to finally sit down and reflect on the lessons I had gathered from the three break ups. I analyzed each relationship carefully and tried to figure out what I could have done differently. I also carefully considered the kind of marriage I wanted, hence the woman I wanted to marry. I shared most of these reflections in the article The Single Guy.
All that sounds neat and nice, yet there is an ugly side. The side where the scars are. The truth is, even after the wounds of a break up heal, scars remain. You no longer have the naivety of the first love. Some call it baggage. Our pastor called it common sense. But the thing is, you now know at the back of your mind that it is possible to get hurt.
This common sense manifests itself in me primarily in caution. I am way more cautious about committing myself today than I was years back. When I was younger, it did not matter if the girl liked me or not. I believed I had sufficient love for the both of us. I believed that if I persuaded her to say yes, then I could carry the relationship with sheer willpower. But today all that has changed. I listen to what a girl is saying. And I don’t stop there. I watch to see if what she is saying is consistent with her body language. So if a girl says no, I walk away. Because I now know how it feels like to get dumped.
But the girls who out rightly say they don’t like you are few. Many are cagey, dancing around the issue. Some actually like you, but are playing hard to get. Others have been hurt before and are therefore suspicious, just like you are. Others don’t like you, but are afraid to hurt you. Others don’t like you, but they consider you a safe bet for a husband. So they don’t want to commit, yet they don’t want to let you go. I used to be flattered by this last one. I remember at one time my first love telling me that I fitted her description of a husband, and I was greatly flattered. Not anymore. I have since learnt that being a safe bet for a husband is recipe for disaster. Because sooner or later a man will show up with whom she will fall in love, and you will swiftly descend to being the boring, sometimes irritating, alternative. And the thing is, I do not want to be anybody’s romantic retirement plan. I want to be somebody’s only option, where we have a firm commitment to each other. A relationship held together by love, friendship, sincerity and loyalty. So if a girl starts playing games, I walk away.
Of particular importance is communication. Before some of my relationships broke down, communication had first been eaten by the dogs. You know, phone calls not picked or returned, messages not replied to. So these days I find that if I am getting to know a girl I like, and then suddenly my messages are not being replied to, or are being replied to three days later, or my calls are not being picked or returned, I simply stop sending the messages and making the calls, and that chapter is closed.
There are two sides about all this. The positive side is that the experience helps to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. We take our heads to chaperone our hearts in decision making, and therefore make informed decisions. And this is especially important in this era of romantic fraudsters. But the flip side is that we cannot afford to be too careful. No one is perfect. We all have flaws and trying to get the perfect person is asking too much, and we might find ourselves blogging about singlehood twenty years from now.
But I guess the primary message in today’s post is that break ups do have a great effect on people. And not just those people, but the people they date subsequently. If only we appreciated this fact, we would take relationships a bit more seriously. I sincerely hope to marry the next person I date. But even if that is not the case, my prayer is that after we part, she will have confidence to let herself fall in love again. Because I will have treated her properly, with love and respect.