The first love is so deep that the majority of those who have experienced it would have sworn that it would last forever. But more often than not, first love and forever do not mix. Yet, the impact of a first love lingers for years and largely influences the way future relationships are approached. But what goes largely unexplored is how the first love affects men and their future approach to relationships.
As the Saturday Magazine found out this week, first love is one of the most momentous occurrences in a man’s life. Take Ian Orwenjo, a financial market analyst based in Nairobi. He says first love is a stage he would wish every man goes through. “It not only opens a young man’s eyes, but also prepares them for the hardships and realities that will inevitably come with future relationships,” he says.
Ian fell in love for the first time at the age of 23 years. He fell in love after meeting a girl that he swore was the most ideal woman on the face of the earth. “She was beautiful and brilliant. All of my heart’s desires and wishes ended with this woman. And I thought that she fell for me too,” he says. Although Ian was completely in love, his girlfriend’s affection did not run as deep as he imagined. “She fell for me, but this only lasted for some time. I was a poor, hustling young man. I had no stable income and my financial support in the relationship was very minimal. Our dates were always simple,” he says.
Ian says the early days of this relationship were the brightest phase of his life. “Whenever I was with her, my heart was always full of beautiful background romantic soundtracks. She was constantly on my mind, and in those days, it seemed that my life would literally lack meaning if she ever departed,” he says. But his bubble burst after she quickly realised that he was far much broke and poor than he portrayed. She decided to dump him and almost immediately started to see someone else. Ian says that getting dumped by his first love is among the hardest things he has ever dealt with in his life. “I was devastated. I was sure that I would never find another woman like her. Life became meaningless. I couldn’t sleep. I hated myself. The pain was just too much. I begged and arm-twisted her to reconsider her decision to break up with me, but she said she was fed up with my poor state,” he says.
After a three-year struggle, Ian finally healed. “I was 26 when I finally healed and put it all behind me. I made peace with her after I realised that she had opened in me chambers of feelings that I never knew existed in my heart,” he says. Ian realised that love is not as blind as he had believed and that the concept of ‘true love’ and acceptance as he had known it maybe does not exist.
Ian, though, is not the only man who has sustained scars from a first love. But among men who have had very intense and unsuccessful first love experiences, only very few are able to ever completely heal. For example, Elias Nderitu, a systems administrator at a Nairobi-based communications firm says that a man who has been previously heartbroken will today love without reservations at his own peril. “It is a man code: never love with your heart again. There is nothing like a guarantee of eternity in a relationship or the total and constant reciprocation of your affection,” says Elias, 37.
He recalls that in his early dating years, he would flood the women he met with affection. He says he was under the illusion that each one he went out with was his soul mate and would reciprocate his desires for love in equal measure. “I couldn’t see it, but this made me look vulnerable, desperate and emotionally induced with a romantic hang over,” he says.
Consequently, most of the women he dated played around with him without any of them expressing an actionable willingness to commit for the long term. “I was severally told that sitoshi mboga with undertones such as ‘You’re not a not man enough … You’re cute but weak … I don’t want to henpeck you!’” he says.
The bottom line was clear. While he thought that he was showing affection, his dates thought that he was at their beck and call. The disappointment he sustained from these rejections turned into bouts of depression, desperation and low self-esteem. The case of Elias aptly resonates with the experience of Benson Kigen, an advocate of the High Court based in Nakuru County.
Although he did not do multiple dates like Elias, Benson says that he learnt the hard way through an emotional and financial breakdown. “Have you ever loved someone so much that you’d lay your life down for them? That was me when I dated Lizzy 10 years ago. I was 28 at the time. I had neither had sex before nor being told that I was an amazing and lovable guy,” he says. His encounter with love turned him into a romantic zealot. He became overly eager and needy to keep Lizzy. And once Lizzy discovered this, she flipped the goalposts and turned the relationship into her advantage. “I literally became an ATM.
Whenever Lizzy wanted, I was there to give. It did not matter how valueless the needs were. It could be a lunch out with her friends, and I would cough up money just to avoid annoying her,” he says. And since his law career had just taken off, Benson would sometimes find himself borrowing money from family and friends to quench his girlfriend’s financial thirst. To make matters worse, Lizzy started cheating on him. “She did not care to hide it. I could see that she was going out with other men, but I always took her back as long as she said sorry and told me I was a good guy who she wanted to spend her life with,” he says.
But why is the first love so impactful and hard for men to get over? Laura Carpenter, a psychologist and the author of Virginity Lost: An intimate Portrait of First sexual Experiences, says that this is largely because the first romantic engagement is the only time that a person is in love without their heart having been previously broken.
This is echoed by Patrick Musau, a psychologist based in Nairobi. “One of the main reasons why the first love has such an immense impact on men is because they never really perish it. Instead, they print it into their psychs with thorough vividness. Ask any man and he will vividly give you a photographic memory of their first love experience,” he says.
Musau is also quick to point out that the experience of a first love does not always negatively influence a man’s future relations. “It can imprint a disclaimer on the man’s attitude towards future romantic endeavours, but it can also provide key lessons on how love and relationships evolve,” he says.
This resonates with Ian. He says that after the bruises of his first love, he learnt to accept people as they are. “I also learnt that love is not only an emotional feeling. Reason should also be applied. I learnt not to get too much attached to the people I love, or to attempt to own them,” he says. He also says that he understood that nothing lasts forever, and even the most committed relationships can go down simply because people and circumstances change. “Over the period that this had not sunk in, I hatred and despised my ex, and held her in very low regard. But eventually, as I matured, I realised that hate should not be employed. Instead, understanding should be,” he says.
Nevertheless, there are men who will not hold back from getting totally smitten again and going on to show their women that they are head over boots in love. Ignatius Wambua, 40, is one of these men. He says the decision to love completely and openly should boil down to the character of the woman in question. “I once gave out my heart and lost bitterly. And like most men, I was afraid of losing again when I loved next. But this did not stop me from falling completely in love with the woman I married from the moment I saw her,” he says.
Interestingly, Ignatius says that while the experience of the first love can never quite match any other romantic experience, future romantic endeavours ought to be approached from the point of emotional maturity. “In all likelihood, our first love occurred in our younger, experimental ages. Most of us were probably immature and far from ready to fully handle the dynamics of a proper relationship. There will be no sense, subsequently, in having these experiences completely overshadowing future relationships,” he says.
Musau concurs. He says after a first love, there will likely be a germination of self-control in the way future relationships are handled. “Falling in love for the first time is hard and unexpected. The break-up hits you with a thud, like a punch to your gut. You don’t know how to react, and so you absorb all the pain and disappointment. But falling in love again can be better informed and guarded with refined self-control, realistic expectations, and emotional stability,” he says.
“In essence, for some men, the first love reshapes their concept and perception of love.” Nonetheless, Alphonse Wafula, a 33-year-old real estate adviser, sees it differently. He says that men are not romantically expressive. “We don’t crave for love as much as we yearn for respect. We love with our eyes, and in most cases, love is just a means to the end. The first love will always fail men because it attempts to flip this order,” he says.