I Never Left My High School Sweetheart, but What if I Had?

Finding one perfect partner after a bunch of false starts has been sold to us as the ultimate romantic narrative. But what if you fall in love at 16 and never break up? I talked to one woman who, at 29, hasn’t been with anyone but her high school sweetheart. I asked her to tell me what that’s been like — the good and the not-so-good. This is what she told me.

We’ve known each other since we were 13. He went to a local boy’s school, I went to a girl’s school and we had a few mutual friends. We started dating when we were 16 and did all the high school things together, like prom. He was my first kiss and, barring a few same-sex explorations during college, he’s also my first and only sexual partner.

We’ve never had a breakup that’s gone on for longer than, say, the span of an argument. There were times where we probably should have, especially when I think back on college. That’s when we started drifting apart; there were some rough patches. We went to different universities (though we were still in the same city), and were looking for different experiences. He was being really social and going out a lot, whereas I’ve always been a bit of a homebody. We fought about it a lot. I went through a bit of a mental health scare — I was anxious and depressed — and I felt like he didn’t know how to support me. Looking back at it now, I think it would have been really healthy if we’d gone our separate ways then. I guess neither of us were strong-willed enough, or wanted to break up enough. To be honest, because I was going through a depression, I wasn’t fully ready to let go at that time. I’m not sure how he felt — I’ve never spoken to him about it — but we made it through somehow.

It got heaps better when we finished university and really started to align on the direction of our lives. Although I’ve been 100 percent on board with the relationship in the years since, I don’t know if we would have gotten back together if we’d broken up. That’s a weird thought. I do have that little bit of doubt, I guess it’s FOMO, that comes up every now and then. Like, fear or concern that I missed out on the whole dating experience, which I always imagined I’d go through. It’s a feeling I usually get after hanging out with my single girlfriends. I’ll be sitting at dinner hearing all their crazy stories and have absolutely nothing to bring to the conversation. I think that’s part of the reason close female friendships have been missing from my life. I never got the chance to bond with my single girlfriends over those shared experiences of past relationships, exes, shitty dates. I’m turning 30 this year and have started to get a bit reflective about that.

It was probably in my mid-20s when that feeling of missing out peaked, but it still returns every once in a while. I’ve brought it up with him actually, and even with his friends, numerous times — just checking to see if he feels the same way. But it’s never really been a thing for him, or so he tells me. Maybe that’s why, even during my most intense periods of doubt, I didn’t explore leaving the relationship. We never took a break; I never properly broke up with him.

The idea of, “Let’s break up for a year, do some exploring and then touch base,” has always scared me. Who knows what might happen? What if, during that time, one of us found another person? An open relationship wouldn’t work for me either. I like the idea of loyalty, and I don’t want to share love. I don’t know if that’s selfish or old-fashioned or jealous, but relationships are so personal. It might work for some people, but it wouldn’t work for me.

The risk of all that hasn’t seemed worth it to me. I think because a lot of my wondering, that “feeling,” comes from a place of curiosity, not negativity. It doesn’t make me panic or want to leave — it just sort of sits quietly in the back of my mind. I bring it up with him because I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing for both of us. I don’t want us to have a midlife crisis because of an issue we didn’t address when we were younger.

It would be nice to be able to call him my husband, I guess. Because we’ve been together for so long, our relationship is actually a lot stronger than some of the married people that I know. But I also work for a wedding magazine, and the job has made me not want to get married. In a lot of the stories we publish, whether in the magazine or on the blog, I see the same pattern: The wedding is more important than the marriage. And it costs so much money. For so many couples, it’s the “logical next step,” but I don’t really buy that. I do sometimes wonder, though, if he doesn’t want to marry me because secretly he wants to keep it open, just in case. I have those thoughts, too. I don’t want to read into it too much, because there are a bunch of different reasons why we don’t want to get married right now.

Sometimes I think to myself, “Surely there’s another girl that would put up with this better than I am,” or, “There’s definitely someone else that would make him happier.” Lately, I feel like we’re not propping each other up as much as we used to. We’re not really bringing the best person out of each other. I wonder, “What if I was with a guy that was taller? Or more romantic?” It crosses my mind. But then we’ll have a half-hour laugh session and I’ll forget about it.

Our relationship is awesome. I really love it. Fun is the best word for it. We make each other laugh a lot and we’re really well-suited. For the most part, we have similar interests, and even more importantly, we both want to be in the same place in the next few years, which can be iffy at this age. It’s comfy. Which I guess is why there’s time for me to wonder from a place of curiosity rather than dissatisfaction. But yeah, it’s nice. Really, really nice.

What got us out of the last bout of this was honesty. I think bottling up feelings can cause resentment to snowball, or drive people to do something horrendous, like cheat. I want to be honest about how I feel and I want to know how he feels. In any relationship, problems are going to crop up. And this is our problem. We’re lucky, it’s nothing major — in fact, it feels pretty small — but it’s something we intend to check in on. I think open communication will lead us to where we’re meant to go. Whether that’s together or apart, I know that we respect and love each other enough to do what’s best for each other.

Photography: Louisiana Mei Gelpi
Creation Direction: Emily Zirimis

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

More from Archive