The first time I fell in love was especially dramatic, your classic Romeo and Juliet story. At the age of 5, I announced to my mother that my kindergarten classmate Toby and I were moving in together. I wasn’t asking her permission, just making her aware of my plans. Toby lived two blocks away, so I packed my Barbie school bag and headed out to the sidewalk, but having not long ago moved into town from a farm, I was too scared to cross the street on my own. Returning to the house, I flung myself on my bed in a manner which would have put Liz Taylor to shame, and said to my mother, "This isn’t over you know." The pattern begins to take shape.
My next great love was (and still is) gorgeous, smart, funny and talented. He also had his own hit TV show, which seemed important at the time – I was 11. My mother was a smart and caring woman, who had learned how to deal with her temperamental daughter. She gently explained to me that given I was already 5’9'' – and wasn’t done growing - and the charismatic star of Family Ties, Michael J Fox, was 5’4'', we might look a little odd at the school dance. I was convinced my mother was wrong. Little things like height, geography or the fact that the current love of my life was 26 and could be arrested for even glancing in my direction wasn't going to stand in my way, so I would wait.
After wearing out the tape on my copy of the classic 80's movie Some Kind of Wonderful, I made a classic teenage mistake – I fell in love with my best friend. ‘Love’ might be overstating it, as I’m not sure you can be in love all on your own, but dammit I gave it a good old try. It wasn’t like in the movies - our version was going to second base in my hammock. He taught me a lot in our time together. If a guy says, "Gee, the weather is nice today," what he means is I’m going to make out with all of your friends and everyone is going to know about it but you. So that was handy.
This seems a convenient time to mention that I had now officially become a cliché. I was an only child, with no father to speak of, and a failed relationship under my belt.
The pattern was formed - therapists of the world were rubbing their hands together. The rest of my teens and my 20’s for that matter were a blur of incredibly bad choices. A series of long-term relationships with either decent guys who just 'weren’t for me', amazing guys who were just as damaged as I was (in their own way) or guys with the moral compass of a pirate on crack.
All lasted longer than they had any right to because as soon as there was any sign of trouble, I would morph into my favourite cartoon character, co-dependant cheerleader, a people pleaser with abandonment issues. Unlike the John Hughes films I watched with my friends as a teenager, it didn’t sort itself out neatly in 90 minutes - the pattern I had worked so hard putting together without realising it, came undone stitch by stitch over a particularly bad year.
And many years on, with a gorgeous child, a thriving business and a healthy relationship, I often wonder what I would say to my 14-year-old self. Mostly, I wonder if the stubborn little drama queen would listen. But if my former love Michael J Fox showed up at my house with Christopher Lloyd and the DeLorean, heading back to 1987 would be tempting.
As for what I’d say, it would go something like this: “Don’t spend the next 15 years thinking that your happiness is less important than everyone else’s, that having a boyfriend is nowhere near as important as having a life and leaving a guy who is a jerk or even a nice guy who just isn’t right for you isn’t giving up or failing, it’s moving forward. Oh, and I know bubble skirts are in fashion at the moment, but they look ridiculous on you. You’ll regret it when you look back at photos 20 years from now - trust me, I’m from the future.”
Photo: Michael J Fox in Back to the Future.