Some people think it’s romantic to have all your “firsts” with your spouse, but Kate Abbott wishes she’d had more experience before getting married.
I have a secret about my relationship with my husband. I’ve never talked about it with anybody, except for my mom one desperate time (and I must have been very desperate). My closest friends have never asked me about it, but maybe they already know and don’t ask because they sense the topic is sensitive. Or maybe they just don’t really care, which would be even better.
My secret is this: I married my first-ever kiss, boyfriend, lover. My secret is I accidentally had some kind of ’50s idyllic, virginal adolescence, only it was in the ’90s and I didn’t want any of that. I wanted to be part of a normal couple, like in the movies or like the ones pressing against each other in the hallways at school—stolen make-out sessions, secret boyfriends, sneaking out of the house. The problem was that no boy I ever had a crush on did that sort of thing, and I didn’t either.
My husband Brad and I knew each other in high school. I had a crush on him, I thought he like-liked me too, but he dated my friends instead. My crush lessened. Then in college, we finally dated each other. My crush returned when I realized he did like me.
But it turned into more than that: I loved him. He loved me. We were 18. We married at 23. We had a child at 28. So many years of experience, but only with him.
It might be romantic. I never thought it was, even as a teenager. I always thought it was incredibly embarrassing to have one person hold the titles of official first kiss (there were some near-misses beforehand), official first boyfriend (there were guys I was close with and hung around with an awful lot), and official first sex (there wasn’t anything close to hits or misses before him).
In high school, as my friends dated and were getting all the “firsts” over with, they didn’t realize that in addition to fulfilling the required teenage ill-advised choices, they were gaining experiences they could laugh about with their girlfriends later on down the line. Whenever those “firsts” conversations come up among my friends, I never volunteer my own stories. I do a lot of nodding and laughing along. But I never talk. The stories are, after all, not about some distant part of my past, but about my husband. And it’s not that we’d be embarrassed about the stories; it’s that I’m embarrassed they’re all with my husband. That by revealing who I was with for all of these firsts, I’m revealing I didn’t have any other options when I was younger. Yes, it would be like saying, you are hanging out with a high school loser. And nobody wants to be a high school loser, even when you’re way out of high school.
I had crushes on boys in high school often enough, but I was shy and the boys I liked were shy and nothing ever happened but lots of awkwardly long looks and long letters and long summer vacations just “hanging out.” Now those guys are my Facebook friends. I still like them. I can see why I liked them in high school. They were, and are, good guys. Who never made a move on me. I wish they had. Or, more often, I wish I’d been more bold. My husband only even asked me on my first official date because, finally a mature college woman, I had to spell it out for him that I wanted him to. I should have asked him myself. I guess I wasn’t that mature yet.
Even now, I don’t know how mature I am. It’s ridiculous to feel embarrassed by a lack of experience, when I’m old enough now that people in stores call me “ma’am” and I’m flattered if someone asks to see my ID for a drink. People old enough that they are grateful to be mistaken for being young shouldn’t still have these high school insecurities about their first kiss hanging around.
Maybe I still do because I regret the reserved person I was; it doesn’t matter how outspoken or bold I might be now. I can’t change my own history, and I wish I could. I wish I could always have been as brave as I was by the time I got to college. I wish I could have always been as desirable as my husband still makes me feel.
We were so young when we started dating, our song was the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” because it rang true for us. Wouldn’t it be nice to grow up, be together every day, and live happily ever after? After almost 15 years in a relationship with him and nine years married, it is still nice. Even if it’s not always happily ever after, it’s real. Even if it’s embarrassing, and as old-fashioned as that song, my relationship is real. Maybe someday I can be proud of that.
Kate Abbott is the author of Disneylanders, a young adult novel (forthcoming from Theme Park Press, Feb. 2013) and a memoir in progress about her experience with postpartum depression. She recently received an MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside, Palm Desert.