Meet The Boyfriend Whisperers
The Debrief: What if you were every man's first girlfriend – the one who trained him up and sent him off into the world to be an amazing boyfriend to someone else?
Whether they’re yours or not, exes are as annoying and inevitable as broken umbrellas blowing inside out in the wind, or going over your 4G allowance five days into the month, or your grouting going a bit green no matter how many times you scrub at it with a toothbrush that has been dunked in Toilet Duck. I know my partner has a past, but I don’t want to dwell on the women he loved before, especially when I have seen pictures of them on Facebook in bikinis.
So wouldn’t it be lovely to date someone with no exes?! No unwelcome misty memories, no sense of failure when you go to Paris together and it rains and he drops his Ray-Bans down the Eiffel Tower lift shaft when you know full well that the first time your boyfriend went was with his ex, and it was blissful, and they never even made it up the Eiffel Tower because they were locked in a non-stop hotel shag fest? No. ‘You bloody women are all the same, my ex used the bathroom when I wanted to use the bathroom too!’ No. ‘But Sarah used to love it when I licked the inside of the elbow!’ You’re in virgin territory. You can create the mould into which to pour your perfect boyfriend plaster cast. And when you get to be someone’s first girlfriend, you can be the perfect one. As unsisterly as it sounds, there’s something very appealing about being the benchmark. The first love. The one all your successors will try, and fail, to be. You can break your dates in, and become a boyfriend whisperer.
Danica, 26, is a serial first girlfriend. ‘Last year I started seeing a 21-year-old guy. We met in a club and I was off my face – I was a little bit horrified to discover he was five years younger than me. But he was really, really hot, so we started hanging out, and I was hooked. He loved that I was more experienced than him, and I loved his enthusiasm. Being in a relationship was really novel to him, and I wanted to show him it was fun. I’d just been dating a man who was a real arsehole and actually told me he thought women were boring, so with Ben* I felt like I had a duty to organise theme park visits and drinking games.
‘The trouble was that it did get a bit intense. Ben told me he loved me super early, and if ever he felt that I wasn’t giving him enough attention, he got really anxious. He never quite got his head around the fact that I had a life established, with housemates and a job. He was a student who lived with his parents and had a lot more time to kill. Ultimately, he needed to be with someone who was in a similar situation. When we broke up, it was horrendous – he cried – but he’s now seeing someone else, and apparently it’s going really well. He even messaged me the other day to thank me for what he ‘learned’!
Danica admits that she thinks she’s a bit addicted to being the first lady. ‘I’m having a bit of a cougar stage, to be honest. Ben was so sweet and open that it made me really appreciate what it’s like to go out with someone before dating makes them suspicious and cynical. And it’s great when there’s no ex to be paranoid about, either.’
Relationships expert Petra Hill says, ‘The idea of first love is very sweet, partly because of the way we present it in pop culture – but in reality, seeking out partners for their lack of experience is predatory, no matter what your intentions are. You have to be mature to handle a serious relationship, and going after inexperienced people would suggest that you aren’t mature enough to date either, no matter what your age is.’
Cleo, 28, is also a serial first girlfriend, but she’s not doing it on purpose. ‘I’m in the middle of this weird streak where I keep meeting really young guys. One was the intern at work, and then another was the little brother of someone who came along to a party – I’m just attracting them, and I don’t know why. No-one my own age wants to date me.
‘Younger guys seem to have this big thing about cougars at the moment, which is pretty offensive, as I thought cougars are usually 40-something divorcees, not girls like me who haven’t started paying off their student loan yet.’
Cleo explains that she’s forced into the role of educator. ‘I have caught myself turning into a sort of date lecturer – telling guys they don’t necessarily have to pay for dinner, but they do have to listen to their partner, be interested in them and asked questions. I even told one guy off for texting in the cinema! Invariably they break up with me, having ended their “cougar” adventure, and impress a stream of young women with their newfound ‘experience’ and gentleman skills.’
Cleo has hit on one of the toughest parts of being a boyfriend whisperer – you might love them, but ultimately you will have to let them go. If they’re young and curious about the world, they’ll almost certainly want to go out and see what else, and who else, it has to offer. And if you’ve fallen hard for them, that can be horrible.
I’ve served a few terms as a first girlfriend, but it never worked out. Not just because I never managed to teach anyone anything useful (although one guy taught me that Nando’s is a great date venue. Also, because he was a Fanta drinker and the world of wine was mysterious to him, he also taught me that if someone buys you a bottle of rose all to yourself you shouldn’t laugh, and you definitely can manage it all by yourself). But I realised that I like my partners to have a past. I’ve made plenty of romantic mistakes, but I’ve always taken something positive from them, and I want to be with someone who is starting from a similar position as me. My boyfriend is all the more interesting for the life he had before we met, and those experiences enrich the one we’re embarking upon together. The young and girlfriendless might have stories and memories, but they’re almost always about the time they vomited in their mate’s sleeping bag at Benecassim.
If I’m honest, I hope my ‘firsts’ found their time with me useful and worthwhile, and even if they did not leave me knowing the mysteries of love, a few of them went onto gainful employment having been taught how to format a CV. But if I’ve learned anything from my brief boyfriend whispering career, it’s that being the first is nice, but it’s nowhere near as lovely as being someone’s last.
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