Rose Keating’s weekly column as published in the Waterford News & Star’s Well! magazine
I’M going to let you in on a little secret, reader. When I’ve had a bit of a boring week, when I don’t have a single interesting thought in my head, I have a little book of prompts that I open to read to hopefully spark the flame of inspiration.
This isn’t usually very successful, firstly because it’s a book of prompts intended for short stories, and secondly, because a large number of the prompts are bizarre and unusable; ‘The Greatness of Sandwiches’ is my personal favourite.
I’ll be the first to admit that at times these columns have gone to some pretty weird places, but I promise you reader, I’ll never make you read a column discussing sandwiches.
I’ve reached some pretty low lows in my writing, but I solemnly swear to you that deli produce won’t be one of them. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see.
‘It seems unfair that we romanticise firsts – love, in particular.’
There is one theme that keeps reoccurring over and over again in these prompts though; firsts. Write about your first kiss. Your first love. Your first break-up. Tell us about your first this and this and that, etc.
For a moment, I thought about writing about my first kiss, my first break-up, my first this and this and that. And then I gave a full body shudder, remembering how awful almost every first in my life has been, and quickly came to my senses.
I’m awful at first times, so maybe I’m a little biased. First times, for me, are always a perilous and excruciating event, no matter what kind of first time I’m undergoing.
First dates, first kisses, first boyfriends; do they ever really go right for anyone? Are they ever as picture perfect as we imagine they should be in our heads?
I’m even awful at first impressions- I’m not always great with new people, and teeter wildly between shyness, defensiveness and desperation in first meetings. I don’t think I’m always likeable the first-time round; I have a personality with the same qualities of mould. You’ve got to wait for me to grow on you, creeping up slowly and quietly. Attractive, I know.
Can you remember the first time you tried to ride a bike? I remember mine. The first time I rode a bike, I fell off. There was a lot of flailing, falling, and failing. It wasn’t picturesque or ideal; instead of riding off into a glorious, golden sunset, I lay tangled in between bike tyres and tar, knees skinned, hair askew, my dignity discarded. As first times goes, it wasn’t something I feel very nostalgic about.
I do remember a time I rode my bike again, the 30 something time round. I was at the top of a hill, road empty, midsummer. Air blistering, sky clear. I began cycling down and about halfway through, lifted both my hands off the handlebars, feeling the air whistle past them. I flew, fast, unstoppable, invincible. Now, that time, I do feel sentimental about.
Similarly, the first time I had sex; not ideal. I was with someone I trusted, so I was a very lucky. But, like most firsts, it was messy, awkward and a little terrifying. I didn’t have an ideal time when I tried to first ride a bike, when I had no idea what I was doing, so I shouldn’t have expected sex to be all that different.
Of course, like riding a bike, all it takes is a little practice to fix that. And I remember my 30 something time later a lot more fondly.
It seems unfair that we romanticise firsts – kissing, sex, and love, in particular. A whole realm of things that are far more complicated than riding a bike, and yet are expected to take place flawlessly.
In the movies, first kisses go off without a hitch while an 80s power ballad plays in the background. No one bumps teeth or uses too much tongue.
The loss of virginity is a tender, soft affair in movies, sweet and careful and slow- no one gets insecure about their bodies or confused about how to put on a condom.
And first loves – in the movies, first loves always last. They’re perfect and everyone knows what they’re doing, happy forever ever.
But in real life? In real life, our first anythings are always a little more convoluted and confusing. In real life, they’re a lot harder to get right the first-time round.
It doesn’t seem fair, that we’re expected to make firsts perfect without any real chance to practice. Firsts should be a prototype, not the flawless finished product.
If we expect a child to fall off a bike the first time, why do we expect our romantic firsts to go off without a single hitch? Why put so much pressure on ourselves, when the reality is that the majority of our romantic firsts are going to be flawed, or simply unmemorable?
Firsts might seem like an exciting idea, thrilling and romantic. But maybe I’m just not as much as a romantic as I thought I was, because I would take feeling confident and comfortable over confused and nervous any day.
Because I would much rather treasure the days I could make that bike fly than the first day I fell.