Adele, the Walker Brothers and Jennifer Lopez have all sung about it. Austen, Shakespeare, Blume have immortalised it in literature. It’s Jack and Diane, Bella and Edward, Miranda and Ferdinand; a small-town girl and a city boy, a single man in possession of a good fortune in want of a wife, the sun and the stars. Bernard Shaw described it as “only a little foolishness and a lot of curiosity.” Daphne du Maurier’s Mrs de Winter admitted she was “glad it cannot happen twice. For it is a fever, and a burden too, whatever the poets may say.” And even Einstein has weighed in on the issue, asking how one could “ever explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon?”
The subject? First love. An apt theme for the coming week, which sees Valentine’s Day celebrated around the world and billions of dollars spent on securing – if not first love – then at least a date for the night. (Durex purportedly see condom sales soar in February, while more at-home pregnancy tests are sold in March than in any other month of the year!) According to a recent study, the average women will kiss 15 men, suffer four disaster dates and enjoy four one-night stands, enjoy two long-term relationships and get stood up once before she meets ‘The One’; men will be stood up twice and have six one-night stands before meeting the girl of their dreams.
But if there’s one thing we all remember, it’s our first love: fondly remembered, distantly recalled, or deeply regretted, this week we’re taking a journey into the past – four wildly varying stories from four very different people on the subject of their very first passion…
“We were 19, in Aberdeen,” says Angus, a Paphos retiree now in his late sixties. “It was all writing poetry, buying flowers, walking barefoot across ashes just to stare at her door; holding hands, gazing into her eyes for hours…
“Her name was Jane. Slim, curly brown hair, dark flashing eyes, outgoing. I’d just started at university and we’d met through family friends. This was the 1960s and, no matter what you’ve heard, things were pretty chaste: you’d go to a dance or two and pen a few odes. I mean, of course you wanted your girlfriend to have passionate sex with you. But you didn’t want to think about whether she might have done the same thing with another bloke!
“I look back and think what a young twit I was,” he laughs. “That first love, so passionate, so romantic and so over the top. I mean I’ve always fallen hard – back in the 1960s, a friend of mine did say ‘Save some love for the world, Angus!’, but I’ve never quite managed; complete commitment and nobody else in the whole world seems to be the story of my life, from first love till now!”
Eventually, desire dimmed for Jane and Angus. “It lasted for about three years, and we lost touch. I think it ended because that amount of passion just wasn’t sustainable, we grew apart – that’s just what happens. First love,” Angus sighs, “is always doomed from the start, though I would have argued you silly about that when I was in my twenties. That youthful ideal of love lasting for ever – well, that’s just bunk. Love changes as you age. You can still fall head over heels, but you tend to be more realistic about it. Although, as a hopeless romantic, I’m far from the authority on love!”
“She was called Angela,” says Marc, a 27-year-old Cypriot marketing manager who lives in Nicosia. “I grew up in the States, and met her at school when we were both about 14; we played flute in the same section of the orchestra. She was petite, with green eyes and brown hair, and we had a lot of interests in common. We just kind of clicked, and we chatted and flirted quite a bit. It was my first experience of love: very bittersweet, quite innocent, and hopelessly romantic – well, from my side at least! One Valentine’s Day I girded my loins and asked my French teacher to pass on a poem I’d written and a bracelet I’d bought. So she did. And then nothing happened. Nothing happened!” he exclaims.
“We never even kissed,” Marc sighs. “I didn’t know what I’d done, it was the epitome of a completely unrequited first love! Okay, subsequently there were a few awkward glances over the sheet music, but that was it…” Sparing the blushes all round, the two ended up in different schools. Though a couple of years later the star-crossed lovers met once more…
“We were both taking an extra-curricular German class, and there she was, sitting at the next desk! By this time, I’d mourned and moved on, so I was able to approach her. And the truth came out – she’d been seeing someone else at the time and thought I knew. No wonder she never responded!
“I think,” Marc concludes, “that people often don’t realise how painful unrequited love can be, especially that very first passion. It’s all waiting and hoping, waiting and hoping – just one word or a quick smile can light up your life! Finally, you give up on the object of your affection, and go through what is almost a break up – but you’re completely alone. You’ve invested all this time and emotion; you beat yourself up for a few months about how much time you’ve wasted. And then? Well, you move on…”
Danish native and business-woman Birgitte was 18 and travelling Europe with a high-school friend when she first met George. “He was part of a group we knew and, one day, he offered me a lift back to Larnaca from a barbecue… It was love at first sight! But I was due to return to Denmark the following day, and as both my friend and I were ‘good girls’, we dragged ourselves to the airport…
“And then the miracle happened: The plane was delayed! We left the airport in a rush, found a phone booth downtown and called our parents to tell them we’d be back in a few days!” Living on borrowed time, and travelling the island together, Birgitte soon fell for George’s “energy, masculinity, humour, intelligence and the fact that we communicated on the same vibe.” When George moved to Athens, and Birgitte went to university in Copenhagen, the two continued their flying visits. But age and plans got in the way.
“We were very young and not ready for binding ourselves seriously to another person, even though we were very attracted to each other. The last time I saw him was right before I headed for Japan. I tried to call him two times from Tokyo… My God! It was so hard to find an international telephone booth! Anyway, he didn’t answer – he says he never received the calls,” Birgitte laughs – “and I gave up the contact. I kept his love letters though. I knew, even back then, that I was special to him.”
Despite a subsequent marriage, Birgitte never forgot her first love. “We had no contact for 30 years. But I thought of him sometimes, and always felt I’d never again visit Cyprus because of its associations with something so passionate and emotional.” However, in 2012, single once more, Birgitte came across a photo of herself on George’s Facebook page. And she sent him a message…
The connection was still there, neither had ever forgotten the other, and visits from Cyprus to Denmark and back resumed after a gap of 30-odd years. “It was second love at second sight!” Birgitte reveals. “Nothing had changed, only the way we looked. We took it slowly, we didn’t rush, but after two years we decided to move in together here in Cyprus.” Four years on, George makes Birgitte feel “very happy every single day and very safe. I’ve learnt a lot from this relationship about myself, and I’m never bored with him. As well as being lovers, we’re best friends.” The ultimate goal for this world-travelling couple, Birgitte concludes, “is to buy a boat and live aboard and sail the world. And to be together for the rest of our lives…”
“I was 13, he was 12 the first time I saw him,” says Rosemary, an organic farmer in her early fifties. “William went to school with my brother, but at that age I wasn’t really into boys so I didn’t really notice him. Then, when he was 16, we met again, and I remember thinking how gorgeous he was: he’d shot up and broadened out and was just so striking! He’d phone up to chat to my brother, and if I answered he’d always take the time to ask me how I was, how school was going – such a gentleman and so mature for his age!”
Over the years, a strong friendship developed: “I got to know him slowly, and the more I knew of him, the more I liked. We had a similar sense of humour and laughed about the same things… There was just something about him, he was unlike anyone I’d ever met before.”
On a family holiday to France, the connection strengthened… “And when we came back, he’d visit me at college and we’d spend whole nights talking about anything and everything. There was no canoodling!” Rosemary laughs. “Just a mutual respect and a deep connection. We both ended up in Cambridge and, one day, out of the blue, he walked into my office. I went bright red!”
A date followed – “Beverly Hills Cop, I’ll never forget it!” – and the feeling of “always wanting to be with him. It was so strong, I think we both knew this was something different from the norm,” Rosemary adds. Friends and family knew they were witnessing a one-in-a-million relationship: two people who were, quite simply, made for each other. And the odd enforced separation only strengthened the bond: “After we’d been together for a few weeks, he had to go to Devon. He left me a bottle of Anais Anais – it’s been my favourite perfume ever since. And then, when I went to Australia for a year, I remember him sobbing, really sobbing, at the airport.”
Rosemary and William married at the age of 27, neither ever having had a serious relationship with anyone else. “I’m so lucky to have found him. I know he was my first love, but it has lasted to this day, to this very day,” Rosemary laughs. “Even when we argue, we laugh about it afterwards. We’re never bored of each other – I still feel light in the heart every time I see him.”
Today, with three grown-up daughters and a shared business, Rosemary and William “truly are each other’s happily ever after. It has lasted, I think, because of him. William is a truly amazing, unique man. And I just can’t help but love him more and more each day.”