Like the First Time

The first time I colored my hair I think I was fourteen. And that started a long string of low-commitment flings with blond, bronze, auburn, blue, fuchsia, and purple highlights or full-color. Even so-called “permanent” color officiated at the salon grows out and fades. But, you know, it’s been a while. I am proud to say I have reclaimed virgin hair. It’s a thing; I asked my stylist. My hair feels, like, all shiny and brand new.

Whether we’re talking about first love, first kiss, first house, first sexual experience, first kid,  first job, or first broken heart, life is a series of first-time stories. They’re best shared among friends, or strangers, with good food and wine nearby. Nowadays, as a member of the mid-twenty-somethings club, I find myself amongst company who has already crossed a lot of firsts off our lists. At our age, we certainly can’t expect someone to have held out on a first-time when we haven’t, or even when we have. We can’t expect to be a first love or even a first spouse. That said, raise your hand if you have ever felt first-time-anxiety. I’m talking specifically from the context of an evangelical upbringing and college experience, but we recovering evangelikids are not alone in feeling disappointed or anxious when we don’t get to share a first with someone, either because we’ve checked that box or because someone else has. And while One Direction thinks they can request to be someone’s last first kiss, there are no guarantees–only commitment and hard work.

My friend Tiffany recently (and graciously) responded to a blog post by Diamond Diploma that basically spouted a bunch of unsupported reasons not to have sex before marriage. This is my favorite: “It is a man’s secret desire to marry a virgin. Sadly, most girls today are no longer virgins by the age of 16, but that doesn’t unhitch a man’s emotional longing. Men have been conditioned to suppress it, and deny it, but they feel it just the same.” First of all, why no mention of being someone’s first love? Oh yeah, because what you do with your pussy is infinitely more important than your heart, your affections, and your commitments. Second, what kind of Neanderthal is going to make that a deal-breaker unless maybe he’s a virgin too (in which case, I can understand the sentiment, maybe)? I think many men (and women) have been conditioned to think that they want or need to marry someone who has never had sex before. For many, this stems from religious reasons, and for many from emotional protectionism. Allow me to be the voice of practicality when I say, Good luck with that. On so many levels, good luck. Diamond’s Grammy (this particular entry’s writer) goes on to say that once a man has sex with a woman, he loses interest in her and moves on to find greener pastures or some such nonsense. If that’s true, do married men also want to hit it and quit it? What? I really want to ask, Diamond’s Grammy, WHO HURT YOU? Who shamed you? Who treated you poorly and blamed it on you? I’ll give ’em a talking to. But you know what? This isn’t another post about Purity Culture. I promise it isn’t even about sex.

This is about expectations. And shame. And anticipation. And terror. And bliss.

Because, truthiest of truths, first times can be terrifying times, whether you’re sharing an experience with someone who has been there, done that or you’ve been there, done that. Surprisingly, being “the one in the know” to another’s “green in the teeth” can be ridiculously scary. I say surprisingly for two reasons: 1) because in my case there aren’t a lot of things I’ve done that others have not, and 2) because it’s easy to assume that with experience comes perfect poise. Not so. Actually, you could be handed a heap of responsibility you might not be prepared for or shouldn’t have to carry. Story time. (Don’t worry, Mum. You’ve heard these stories before.) I found myself in a casual make out situation. Okay, it’s not like it was an accident. I strongly advise avoiding accidental make outs; they’re confusing. And when it was over I fielded some slightly anxious post-make-out correspondence that I didn’t expect because, frankly, I’d never encountered it before. We communicated about what that was beforehand and I didn’t really know what to do or say, so I kind of insensitively brushed the experience off as “I didn’t think it was a big deal, so you shouldn’t either,” and that wasn’t fair of me. I shrugged under the pressure. That wasn’t even this person’s first casual snog. Yikes. Now, imagine being someone’s first love, or someone being your first love who pulled a “Koh” and said something like, “Well this is great and all, I really do like you, maybe even love you, but I’ve been in love before and I don’t think it’s a big deal, so you shouldn’t either.” I would break up with myself on the spot and have a good, silent cry in the shower. Then blog about it. That’s a lot to take on, you know.

I remember my first kiss. We were in the entryway of my campus apartment and it was just a short peck on the lips, closed mouth, because, well, it was new, I was new, and I was inwardly freaking out. It was also awkward, but it was perfect in that. Then he walked home with a little swagger in his step and I turned around to face my housemate who didn’t think couples should lip kiss till they’d been dating at least six months. Oops.

To be honest, I don’t remember any kisses with that person after that point. Because they were special and we’ve moved on, so those get to exist somewhere else I think, like a few other experiences–kisses, dances, embraces, conversations, even casual make outs–I’ve had. I’ve had some negative first-time experiences, like first-time accidentally ingesting bleach, first-time missing a flight in a strange city, or my first time learning someone was using me to cheat on their partner. Those were pretty below-seascum-level-awful, but they’ve happened. I’ve also experienced unrequited love once (like for reals) and I’m hoping not to do that again. But on the flip-side, it’s nice to love someone. It’s good, human grit. Also, he’ll never read this, so we’re good. Knowing all these things have happened doesn’t make me want to relive them, but I would never-ever-ever take them back–heart hurts and all–and I couldn’t expect that of anyone else. In fact, I wish everyone a life of rich and varied first-times with opportunities to hit “repeat.” Even with the possibility of comparisons, remember, each time–each first time–gets to be all brand new. Besides, certain things are made better with practice.

(The only reason it matters whether my hair has reclaimed virginity is that, after achieving my usual long-hair-Koh phase, I can chop it off and give it to Locks of Love without some hair collector pitching a fit about hair shaft damage.)