When I was 19, I met a boy on the steps of Flinders Street Station; a blind date of sorts, set up by a mutual friend. It was in February of 2015.
We went to a bar and had a couple of drinks that night. I told him I was an outgoing introvert, and he told me he lived out of home and was excited to finish his studies. He was 23 and secure. He had just landed a postgraduate placement at a business firm, and I congratulated him. I remember us politely hugging each other as we said our goodbyes.
We kissed for the first time on our second date. I had been out with friends and left them because I wanted to see him. I waited in a gutter off Swanston Street, drunk, by the dumpster. I asked him to kiss me there, and he did. We talked about the boys we’d slept with. I’d only kissed one boy before him. He was the perfect big spoon that night.
He met my dad on our third date. He'd set the alarm half an hour before he had to get up for work so we could lay there, side-by-side, for a moment. I liked that he shared a house with his friends. I liked how self-assured he was. I wanted that.
I remember taking him to my holiday house down in Red Hill that May. We’d been dating for a few months by this point. This was the first time we slept together. The next day, I dropped him off at his grandmother’s before she passed away.
We eventually drifted though, a seemingly mutual decision, and as time passed we’d become good friends instead; we’d get burgers and nachos and the conversation gradually turned to the guys we were seeing. He told me he had a new boyfriend. I told him that writing was giving me therapy. Friends.
I’d always thought my own kind of queer first love was unattainable. After all, my first ideas of romantic love as a child were discovered by imagining myself as the princess in fairy tales, or as the girl in the rom-com, getting the boy.
I recently reached out on Instagram, asking what people thought of first love – if they’d experienced it, agreed with it, thought it was bullshit.
I found, unsurprisingly, that love often sprouted from the formative relationships people made through online communities. Claire’s first love, for example, was a girl they met online when they were 14. “We stayed friends for about eight years,” they say. “I knew she loved me back, but [I’m] unsure if it was the same type of love.”
Emma became infatuated with her manager at work when she was 16. He was four years older and had a girlfriend at the time. He eventually moved stores and, when him and his girlfriend broke up, messaged Emma. “We started seeing each other,” she says. “[I] knew the risk I was taking and ended up getting my heart broken. He wanted different things and the intense love I felt for him was completely unrequired despite how intimate we’d been with each other for six months.”
Zachary has a similar story of unrequited love. He fell in love with a guy who was in the year above him at high school. After two and half years of friendship, the guy told Zachary that he’d met someone. The bubble burst. “There was a playlist on my phone called ‘for you’ which contained every romantic song I played when he’d drive,” he remembers, “but I renamed it ‘the great depression’ and it somehow seemed like a step in the right direction.”
Zachary admits he spent too much time reading into things. “Reading into texts without secret meanings and traditions that weren’t poetic or romantic - just really annoying probably.”
“Nevertheless he still holds the standard for everyone I will ever date or even so much as talk to, and there’s no one who’s made me feel forever since – and I don’t know if to hate him or thank him for that.”
Like Zachary, Dalton met his first love in high school. “I was still uncomfortable with the idea of possibly being gay, so I used to counter out experimentation with ‘straight guys do this too’. After four months of fooling around, we almost kissed on a church ski strip… but didn’t. A week after we returned, I was babysitting – he shared his feelings for me and I realized the feelings were mutual.”
They began to date, before both going to college in Chicago and moving in together. “After almost five years, our relationship hit a wall. He left, I crumbled and haven’t been in love with anyone since. It’s been almost four years. I’ve dated other guys, but most likely I will never stop loving him.”
Although not representative of every first love experience, Claire, Emma, Zachary, and Dalton show how love can unknowingly sprout from apps, secret scenarios, online chatrooms or our own imaginations.
In our formative years, particularly for us queer folk, many of us first experience a love that is unrequited, forbidden or imagined. This love can stay with us, long after it’s ended. The fact that it may not be reciprocated does not mean it is any less pertinent.
Two years after my meeting with that boy on the steps, I heard that he’d broken up with his boyfriend. I went to a house party that I knew he was going to. I told him that I still cared and that I hadn’t stopped caring. I told him that no matter whom I’d been dating, he’d always been in the back of my mind. I told him that I was sorry for the way things had fizzled the years before.
“I need to get over you,” I said.
He told me he loved me too, but I knew it wasn’t the same kind of love. At that moment, I realized that he didn’t hold, nor had he ever held, our fling to the same esteem that I had done.
Maybe it was just the idea of love that I’d be pining over. Or just a want for security. For real intimacy. For that grandiose, romantic declaration of love. I’m not sure.
But he was the first man I shared my insecurities with, that’s for sure, and the first man to take me on dates. He was the first man I took a shower with, and the first man that I lay in bed with, dreading the inevitable 7AM wake up before he’d leave me to go to work. The first man I told my mom about.
I feel like we never really knew what we were. After all, were we strangers meeting on the steps of Flinders Street Station for the first time or friends talking about our new partners over burgers? We’d always been in ebbs and flows, an ambiguous area between friends and lovers.
After all, he was my first love, and I wasn’t his.
Photography: Clay Waddell