Soho Sex Column: Was your first love the real deal?

Soho Sex Column: Was your first love the real deal? | Soho House

This week, resident sexpert Olivia Petter questions whether rekindling with your childhood sweetheart is ever a good idea

Tuesday 13 September 2022   By Olivia Petter   Illustration by Maria Contreras

I’m going to start this column with a confession: I do not have a childhood sweetheart. I know. For someone who fetishises romantic love to an obsessive degree, this might seem off-brand. It is. But I just don’t have one. It was not for lack of trying, believe me. As a teenager, there were intense, all-consuming crushes on boys in the year above. Infatuations with male friends. And several painfully long will-they-won’t-they dynamics.
But there were no relationships. No love stories that existed outside of my brain. And, despite my best efforts, no transcendental One Tree Hill-worthy romance that I could cling onto for the rest of my adult life. Frankly, I’m still annoyed about it.
But your question suggests that this was not your experience; you were one of the lucky ones. Perhaps you fell for the cute dork who sat next to you in physics, or the girl who always wore her hair in French braids and got the same bus home as you. Maybe you even had a fling with one of your first family friends. Like Bridget Jones and her beloved Mr Darcy, perhaps you used to play together, naked in a paddling pool. There’s a purity to these sorts of relationships – and they can influence the course of your entire romantic life.
My point is that there is something inarguably magical about childhood sweethearts. And that’s the case regardless of whether you end up with them or not. Hence why I envy those who had them. It’s your first exposure to romantic love and when you combine this with raging hormones and a naive, melodramatic and sexually-charged teenage mind, it’s a powerful thing.
It’s also something popular culture has conditioned us to crave. 13 Going on 30. Twilight. Love, Rosie. Even the bestselling book-turned-film Where The Crawdads Sing is, at its heart, a story about enduring love.
When it comes to whether or not someone’s first love is the ‘real deal’, however, that’s a more complicated subject than the aforementioned films may suggest. As much as I’d love to tell you that we’re all destined to wind up with our childhood sweethearts, it’s simply not the case. One of the most joyous things about life is that we are constantly changing. No more so than when we’re settling into adulthood.
There are cases when couples who’ve been together since they were young change together. But this is, in my experience, a rare thing. Not only that, but it requires a significant amount of compromise and adaptability, and that might not always be as sexy as the screen makes it out to be. That said, it can happen. Whether or not it’s right for you will depend on your compatibility with this person in the present moment. You may have a long history that binds you together – but nostalgia is not enough to sustain a relationship. 
The idea of ending up with your childhood sweetheart might sound magical. But, as with all fantasies, it’s not realistic. Nor is it a guaranteed path to ‘happily ever after’. For that, I’m afraid, you need a few simple – if less exciting – things: trust, respect, kindness and genuine friendship. If you find all of those things in a partner, well, I think that’s what’s really magic.
Quick-fire questions:

Men. London. Misery. 

I love the simplicity of this submission. What’s more, I completely understand it. Yes, dating men in London can be miserable. I can’t sugar-coat that, I’m afraid. All I can tell you is that one day, the bad dates might be good stories – and the good dates might be the last ones you go on. Don’t let a few bad apples spoil your fun.

What to do when you feel nothing will beat your last relationship 

Be patient. I know – it’s the last thing you want to hear when you’re lying awake at 2am for the tenth night in a row, re-reading old texts between you and your ex and wondering why you ever let them go. But trust me, those feelings will fade and you will meet someone else. In the meantime, be kind to yourself. And stop re-reading those texts 

Got a question for Olivia? Please email All submissions will remain anonymous. 
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate


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