I was first told this advice in the teenage climax of my first serious relationship and brushed it aside with an air of adolescent overconfidence, convinced that this could not possibly apply to me. I was in love and knew it, it was only natural that my girlfriend and I would eventually get married and be together forever. Much to my surprise, our rock-solid romantic foundation of indie music mixtapes and ironic greeting cards couldn’t support the weight of a difficult long-distance relationship. It would take multiple years and multiple girlfriends, though, before I finally understood first-hand the reasoning behind this curious advice.
Love cannot be defined abstractly or verbally, but instead can only be conveyed through experience, and it is from this fact that we receive the infuriating explanation of ‘true’ love as something you’ll just know when you have. Our understanding of love, then, is defined only by our strongest romantic relationship. In Elementary school, you understand love as deciding who to chase or run away from on the playground; in Junior High, it’s who you hold hands with; and contrary to intuition there is not an age at which this suddenly evolves into a mature concept. A 29 year-old whose last serious relationship was in college will still understand love as a word whose primary use is in mitigating the guilt of a casual hookup by forcing a connection built on an unusually good beer pong streak and a dreadful duet of Semisonic’s Closing Time.
In this way our understanding of love is like our understanding of color. If I had a set of Lowe’s paint samples and showed you one square and told you it was green, you would say you understand green and could recognize it again. If I then showed you another sample and told you it was forest green, you would then say you have a better understanding of green and could recognize it even easier. It also follows, then, that showing you red as an example of non-green would prove equally informative; just as bad relationships can illuminate the makings of good ones. If we then spent a horrendously boring and suburban afternoon viewing every shade of green and red from Spring Leaf to Cherry Tomato, you would conclude that your understanding of the color green is complete and that you would now know with absolute certainty if a novel color was green or not.
Now replace the paint samples with relationships and green with love, and you will begin to see why marrying your first love may not be the best move. You lack the exposure and experience, and thus the certainty, of knowing that your relationship represents love proper. So the title suggestion is not a blanket instruction to arbitrarily abandon a great relationship, but rather advises caution in lieu of robust experience.
So before you go and tie the knot with the first person who drops the L-word in sincerity, just be sure you know the difference between Artichoke Heart and Denver Grass.