We all have those school pictures and adolescent stages we’d rather forget.
The butterfly clips holding back frizzy hair. Crooked bangs cut in your parents’ kitchen. Braces and platform shoes paired with an intrinsic lack of confidence. Gangling limbs and uncertainty about what was “cool,” but a strong desire to be labeled the word at any cost.
Most of all, there was this undying need to know who you were and an inability to uncover it.
Middle school years are difficult years to survive, and even more cringeworthy to look back on as an adult. Most of us move on from those days, bury the photo albums in the dark recesses of an attic or forgotten cupboard, and celebrate the adults we evolve into. Our relationships are unscathed by those self-conscious days because our significant other only sees the butterfly we’ve blossomed into and not the awkward cocoon stages.
For me, though, the story is a little bit different, because I can’t let go of the days of middle school, and my partner has seen more than the butterfly stage.
Marrying My First Love
I married the boy I met at 12 years old, the boy who sat across from my butterfly clip-sporting, horrible posture self. We’ve been married for five years now, and at 29, I’m a hostage of my past self, of the middle school days I’d much rather forget about.
Those teenage days of uncertainty are days many of us use as a springboard to become the people we want to be. By the time we get to our “forever” relationship, we’ve changed—changed ourselves, changed our views of love, and changed the direction of our lives.
For me, though, I can never quite leave the past behind because my husband is a permanent link to the girl I once was. He was there to see me struggle with who I wanted to be, and he was a witness to those frightening hair days.
It goes deeper than just bad haircuts and awkward jokes, however. Together, we navigated early love and confusions. We cannot leave our sloppy first kiss or our hesitant hand-holding session behind. We can’t let go of the ridiculous notes or the naïve, childish views of love we once had.
The days many leave in the past are our foundation. The early portion of our relationship began at a time most would choose to eradicate from memory.
This isn’t completely a bad thing, in all fairness. There is a depth to our relationship because it began with innocent friendship. We’ve had the opportunity few have—we grew together as a couple as we grew up together. We’ve been there for many milestones, and we’ve learned to maneuver life and love as a unit. There is a sweetness to our relationship that spurs from our preteen love.
However, it is still a hostage situation in many ways. I cannot forever sever the link to the girl I would like to forget. I cannot truly walk with confidence as the woman I’ve become because there is always that tie to the clumsy girl I once was.
Love Is Always A Risk
It hasn’t been easy, thus, to establish an adult relationship in which we are both vastly different from our twelve-year-old predecessors. In life, we work so hard to change and to grow into the shoes we will use to walk through life. We navigate the difficult times of our teenage years so we can reap the benefits of becoming the adults we want to be. The reward for those trying years is the ability to hold one’s head up high and be labeled as a competent, fulfilled, and confident adult.
My husband and I sometimes lack that reward. There’s no fooling either of us. We know the struggles we’ve endured.
I’ve worked hard to change who I am. I am no longer the girl who thinks love is about a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day and a sweet kiss at the movies.
I’m a woman who has learned love is exceptionally difficult. It’s about sacrifice and commitment we don’t always feel is possible. I’ve learned love goes deeper than physical attraction, fun dates, and romantic gestures.
Moreover, I’ve learned I’m not defined by the girl I used to be. I’ve grown into a goal-setting, confident woman. I’ve mostly mastered the art of straightening my hair and have settled into my body. I’ve learned how to walk through life with a purpose and an appreciation for who I am at a deep level.
I’ve changed, in short, and so has my husband. Sure, remnants of our teenage selves persist. Remnants of who we were as a couple in those early days have survived.
But to pretend we are the same as we were then is not only unwise but potentially detrimental.
Love is never easy. It’s always a risk—a risk of losing one’s self, a risk of failure, and a risk of outgrowing the other person. In many ways, we are the same as so many other relationships out there. We are just two people trying to navigate this tricky thing called monogamy and find fulfillment in it.
We may be held hostage by our past, but we are also held hostage by something so many people are: love itself. Our love for each other has made the trip down the hellish path of memory lane worth it.
As we march forward, hand in hand, the question becomes: Should we cut all ties to the past? Should we completely forget who we once were in those horrifyingly cringe-worthy stages?
Five years into marriage, I’m learning that maybe it’s a good thing we’re still hanging onto the past a little bit. Maybe it’s okay to remember the girl I once was when we first fell in love.
Perhaps it’s because we’re holding each other hostage to the past that we’ve had the courage to find our new selves. Perhaps it’s because we remember who we once were that we can appreciate the journey to become the people we are now and the couple we are together.
At our wedding five years ago, we danced to Faith Hill’s “Just Breathe,” the song we danced to for the first time at thirteen years old. In my lacy white dress surrounded by champagne and cake, I described it as a full-circle moment.
Now that my wedding dress probably doesn’t fit anymore and the champagne buzz has long-since receded, I’ve realized we haven’t even begun to make it around the circle just yet. We’re still learning and growing. We’re still changing as a couple—and I think that’s a good thing.
In a few decades, perhaps we’ll look back on who we are as twenty-nine-year-olds and feel like we’ve changed so much again. Perhaps we’ll once again feel like we’re being held hostage by the years and by the past.
That’s a risk we’ll just have to take.
Sometimes being a hostage to the past can help us appreciate who we are and keep a connection with the dreams of our past, which I think is a beautiful thing — butterfly clips, crooked bangs, and all.
Lindsay Detwiler is a published contemporary romance author with Hot Tree Publishing and a high school English teacher. To learn more about her work, visit http://www.lindsaydetwiler.com