The first girl who broke my heart was a girl I met in high school. It wasn’t a life-shattering, gut-wrenching breakup — the first heartbreak rarely is. We didn’t U-Haul. We didn’t have that passionate, wild sex that makes you believe that maybe God does exist. We didn’t even go on a date.
The first girl who broke my heart was simply a girl who wouldn’t give me the time of day.
It was the early 2000s and I was an unruly teen with no concrete curfew and a dangerously believable fake ID who always hung around this little dive bar called The Fly. The Fly was dripping with candles and served authentic Ethiopian cuisine and was perpetually packed with these exotic twenty-something creatures who went to the prestigious art school that shook up my conservative little town (Sarasota, FL). A lot of the college boys who frequented The Fly wanted to sleep with me (duh, college boys will sleep with anything with eyelashes) and while I was starved for and basked in any attention tossed my direction, I craved the attention of the girls. The queer girls, specifically.
But since queer college girls, as a general rule of thumb, are far less creepy entities than straight college boys, they weren’t remotely interested in me. I was in high school. Ew.
The girl who smashed my teenage heart, let’s call her Lola.* Lola had more swag than James f*cking Dean. Her perfectly round head held court to a super cute Justin Bieber haircut (before that was even, like, a thing) and she played the bass in a band made up of skinny boys who dressed in Goodwill couture even though they were inevitable trust-funders (most art-school kids are — as an art school drop out, I can confirm this).
Like me, Lola was always at The Fly. After I slugged back a few beers (this was before I could afford my notorious white wine habit — and before my stomach bloated into a second-trimester pregnancy belly after drinking anything remotely carbonated) I would lamely attempt to strike up conversation with her. I was wildly unsuccessful in my meek attempts. I was so awkward and acne-ridden and intimidated by her fierce lesbian prowess that every time I opened my mouth I released a slew of stupid words, words that I desperately wanted to reel back into my throat and swallow until they burned from the cigarette and beer acid lingering in my stomach. (I didn’t know then that pride is something that can’t be swallowed. It’s not a milkshake. It’s not wine. It’s not…)
I was so enamored with Lola that I neglected my studies and invested the hours most teens reserved for homework or practicing the SAT into stalking her livejournal (an online journal loved by all kids of the emo ilk in the early 2000s). I memorized her diary entries in their entirety. I was sick with obsession.
But, see, dear Lola’s diary opened me up to this intoxicating, smoke-smeared world I didn’t even know existed. It was a world where badass girls kissed, f*cked, and fell in love with other badass girls. It was a world of unapologetic power bitches who could outdrink the leering, oily-skinned boys — and out-swag them, too. It was the world of queer. It was a world in which every quality I possessed as a teen, the qualities that made feel so on-the-outside of my peers, were actually celebrated. What once made me a freak instead made me cool in Lola’s world. Being loud. Being different. Having big opinions and walking into rooms like you owned the place, even when you hadn’t even been there before and had only $3 sitting in the pocket of your ripped-up jeans.
I knew I belonged in Lola’s world and I wanted to live there more than anything. Lola represented the queer world to me. But I wasn’t self-aware enough to get that yet, babe. I wasn’t cognizant of the blazing fact that I was merely projecting my desire to be a grown-up lez onto this poor, underfed, bass-strumming girl who was an actual stranger to me. I was too young to understand that you can’t love someone you don’t know. I was too inexperienced to know that unrequited love was nothing more than the toxic combination of obsession and projection.
So I let her kill me. Crush my spirit. For her rejection of me felt like a rejection from the entire community that I wanted to be a part of so feverishly. I think all first gay heartbreaks are like that. The girl’s dismissal of you feels like a dismissal of an entire Sapphic world. Your first queer love is the key to this secretive life, a life that finally feels free and worth living, after so many years of spiritually rotting in the closet. When she goes away, it has suddenly slipped out of your fingers.
But regardless of whether the bitch who first broke your heart cheated on you or merely ignored you, you must be grateful to her. I’ve only recently learned that you need to have gratitude — immense gratitude — for all those who have made an impact on your life. For every person who shaped you into the ferocious individual you are. Even if she rear-ended you and left your exterior shattered for a while. Even if you needed to be rebuilt again or sold off and traded in for something newer and stronger.
You must grateful to this girl. Here’s why:
1. She opened you up to a world of positive feelings you never thought you would ever experience.
I believe that our sexuality lies at the very core of who we are. So before you fall in love with a girl (even if that girl is nothing more than a schoolyard crush) you’ve neglected to even tap into your own foundation. There is an emptiness, a sad vacancy about people who are closeted and out of touch with their sexual identity. When you break through the barrier that divides you from your most human, animalistic truth, it feels like bliss. It’s pill-less ecstasy. You suddenly feel whole. It probably feels similar to the way people feel when they finally enter that town or city that feels like home to them. It’s a feeling of, “Oh, this is where I belong.”
You wouldn’t have ever experienced this coming home to self, so to speak, if this girl had never entered your life and shattered it entirely.
But here’s what you need to remember: Her leaving your life isn’t taking your newfound connection with your sexuality away from you. She opened the door, but you’re inside now! And you don’t have to ever leave again, darling. Be grateful that she slipped you the key to the colorful world of sexual liberation, but don’t crawl back into the darkness of the closet. For the key is now yours to keep.
And no one can take it away from you. Ever. I lesbian-big-sister promise.
2. She opened you up to a world of negative feelings you never thought you would ever experience.
You don’t know the magnitude in which you’re able to even feel until you’ve had your heart smashed open. I remember the first time my heart broke, I couldn’t believe what a broad spectrum of emotions swished through my blood — a whole range of feelings that I’d never accessed before! I felt rage. I felt longing. I felt sexually unsatisfied. I felt broken. I felt nostalgic. I felt blue. Even though so many of the post-heart-shattering feelings are incredibly painful, they’re beautiful in their own way, too.
Remember, we don’t live for happiness. We live for beauty. And there is so much beauty in the breakdown. When you’ve let someone cut through to the raw center of your heart, you’ll bleed for sure. But you’ll let some stunning f*cking light in there, too. Like the late Leonard Cohen used to say, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
3. She reminded you of what really goddamn matters in this world.
Before I had my young heart hammer-smashed into a zillion little pieces, I was wholly convinced that achievements were the only thing that mattered in this cruel, cold world. I was reared in Connecticut, a place where people flaunt BMWs on their front lawns to show off how much they’ve achieved. A place where asshole parents put stickers on their lily-white Land Rovers that say bullshit quotes like, “I’m the proud parent of an HONOR student.”
I was a product of my sterile environment, so I too deeply longed for medals, for sky-high paychecks, for recognition from mainstream culture that I was a good f*cking actress and a good f*cking writer and a good f*cking person. I wanted to be skinny and rich and I wanted all the bitches who doubted me in high school to be keeled over with a primal jealousy over all that I’ve attained in my shiny adult life.
And while holy-shit money and an impressive career are indeed lovely (I like a Chanel tote as much as the next juice-press-slugging Manhattan bitch, trust me), they’re not the most important thing in the world. Heartbreak reminds you of what really matters, and that’s goddamn love! A pay raise doesn’t mean shit if you don’t have love in your life. And I don’t mean you need a “lover” in the traditional sense of the word, but you need meaningful relationships, you need people you can be vulnerable with, and you need to feel love for and from other living things.
And when you receive love, for the first time, you really understand how utterly valuable it is. Especially when that love goes away and dissipates into thin air. Losing love makes you realize that love will fill a pivotal void that nothing material ever will.
And that is worth the pain of heartbreak every single time. The first girl who breaks your heart was the first moment of your bleak life that you realized that true happiness and fulfillment can bloom through your veins when love is in your life. And that’s a beautiful lesson to learn. So you better thank the woman who first taught you that pivotal life truth. Even if she’s a raging asshole. Our greatest teachers are rarely saints, you know.