The first time I ever fancied someone I was four years old.

Let’s be honest, that’s premature. And a bit weird. So you can imagine my surprise – and disappointment – when, first secondary school disco in full swing, I found myself in the girl’s toilets, totally consumed with fear at the thought of the night ending in my being someone’s girlfriend.

It wasn’t like Scar from The Lion King was even there (plot twist: I no longer fancy cartoon lions, but still love a black hair/ green eye combo). Or that anyone was showing the slightest whiff of interest in the glitter hair mascara fringe I was debuting that evening.

But, despite the sassy four-year-old inside me who was so desperate to be wifeyed back in 1994, the mere thought of anyone trying to snog, dance or really do anything beyond offering me their seat so I could rest my inexperienced platform-heeled feet was enough to make me fake illness and call my Dad to come take me home. Ah, home. I could eat Indian takeaway and watch Friends there, I could have a bubble bath, I could listen to The Killers and imagine what it would be like to be in a relationship without the scary reality of actually having to go through with it.

Needless to say, after that first school disco, it was obvious: casual intimacy intimidated me. And I ended up spending my entire teenage years single.

It wasn’t because I’d suddenly stopped fancying anyone – quite the contrary. I fancied everyone. At least it felt that way; but as I quickly learnt, my feelings were fickle. The second anyone paid any interested in me I was onto the next one, before they had a chance to fish out the alleged eyelash from my heavily kohl-lined socket.

On several occasions I was accused of being a tease or a flirt, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was interested in being in the relationships I formed in my mind – it’s just the reality brought so much pressure, and I was yet to meet anyone with the maturity and patience to match my timid curiosity. I wanted fun from a relationship and, from the looks of things, the real-life kind involved heartbreak, school gossip and the risk of everyone knowing the private things I only wanted special people to know.

It took me longer than I wish it had to realise that I wasn’t a tease, and I wasn’t frigid. I just didn’t want to be in a relationship with anyone who didn’t love me. It was as simple as that.

Of course I felt embarrassed about being what from the outside probably looked like a ‘late bloomer’. When you aren’t in love it always feels like everyone else is – but, honestly, this is just imagination talking. I have friends who lost their virginity aged 14 and friends who had their first kiss aged 22, there is no finish line when it comes to intimacy. There just isn’t. Adult life doesn’t begin with your first kiss. If you’re interested in that stuff then life will be littered with it, and you’ll have times when it’s happening a lot and times when it isn’t happening at all.

I’m a bit older now, and I’ve had a serious relationship. We made it work for three years, which doesn’t sound like long but considering the fact that we were broke, lazy students who wore the same Dominoes-stained joggers every day (him) and believed that jarred pesto counted as one of your 5 a day (me), it was a triumph against bad odds. That relationship had everything I’d thought up in my Killers bubble baths. He was loving and hilarious with a gorgeous face, and the first time we kissed I remember being surprised because I wasn’t thinking about when it would be over like all the regretful snogs before him.

It’s important to say here that I think prolific ‘relationship people’ – the types that seem to have loved a hundred times before they’re even legally allowed to drink – are sensational. In my experience they tend to be super open, to both rejection and love, because they come as a pair. Emotional gamblers, pursuing subtle flirtation with the conviction of some sort of intimacy gladiator. But, unless that comes naturally to you, you can’t force it.  As with everything in life, but especially your emotions, you’ve got to consider what you’re comfortable with.

A few days ago a friend asked when I was going to get round to dating someone seriously again and I felt that familiar pang of embarrassment – like FOMO with a sprinkling of shame. The truth is, I just really like being single. Not because I’m frigid, or want a different person every night, or have low self-esteem, or think I’m too good for that bloke who asked me out. I simply love being single because there is so much to love about it.

I don’t have to share anything; my money, my time, my bed, my pizza. I’ve got to know myself in incredible depth, because I’ve had to. I plan my weekends depending on what I want to do, I go to places I want to visit on holiday, I cook what I love for dinner every night. I know exactly what I’m lacking, and what a potential partner could give to make me a better person, but I also know that I’m enough. It’s a strong and sentimental statement, but it’s true. And I like to think this relationship with myself started during those relationship-less teenage years. I’m not scared of being single.

Ultimately relationships can be crazy, fun, sad, beautiful life experiences. But they’ve got to happen on your own terms. My advice would be: take the time to understand exactly what you feel comfortable with.

Because in the end, the only person you have to live with forever is yourself.

 Image: Getty

I am a sucker for romance. I have watched pretty much every two-and-a-half star romantic comedy there is. I’ve pined along with Elizabeth for Mr Darcy, even though I still think he’s a grumpy arsehole. I’m the first person my friends call when they have a new crush because I know all the right moments to ‘ohhh’ and ‘ahhh’ at their story. 

So it wasn’t exactly surprising that in the early years of being a teenager I fancied my friends’ older brothers. Not just one of my friends’ – I fancied ALL of their older brothers.

I didn’t discriminate on anything so trivial as age or appearance or sexual orientation. If you were my friend between the ages of 10 and 15 and you had an older brother, I fancied him. There is literally no exception to this rule.

I went to an all girls’ school from 12 to 15, or what I refer to as ‘The Oestrogen Years’. While other girls in my school would go to dances on Friday nights and meet boys, I went to debating and ate chips in the park with my teammates. On the bus home from school, other girls would flirt with the boys at the back of the bus, while I would sing loudly along to 90s songs with one of my friends.

I was scared of boys I didn’t know. My tongue would go thick in my mouth and I would end up shouting at them by mistake.

But my friends’ brothers? They were boys I knew. I saw them on a semi-regular basis, but never had to spend time with them one-on-one, which as far as I was concerned was the ideal amount of interaction.

My friends would drop crumbs of information about them – they liked maths, they went to see the new Star Wars movie, they were allergic to yoghurt – that I would feverishly collect with the same enthusiasm most people reserve for actual hobbies. I would use these pieces of information to adapt my daydreams of our eventual relationship to ones that included Yoda or excluded Yeo Valley.

Naturally, I had elaborate fantasies about how our relationship would go.

I imagined watching a movie, something funny and probably featuring Owen Wilson, when his arm subtly started edging closer to mine. The completely wonderful and secret kissing, where our teeth would never, ever, knock together. The conversation with my friend who would give me her complete blessing because she knew I was excellent and her brother was excellent and she wanted us both to be excellent together. Obviously.

I imagined the declaration of love that would make me weak in the knees. The eventual Loss Of Virginity. The wedding, where of course my friend would be my maid of honour and make a hilarious, yet deeply moving speech about how we were meant for each other.

I’m almost certain these boys had no idea I existed. A fact that one of them confirmed when I did eventually kiss him, a few years after I emerged from my obsessive bubble.

“When did you start fancying me?” I asked, hoping he would reveal that he had been pining for me for years. That my obsession with him wasn’t one-sided, but rather completely requited.

“I dunno,” he replied. “When you got hot?”

Yep, he was a regular Casanova. This answer was also unhelpful in a myriad of ways.

Firstly, it implies I wasn’t always hot. Which is obviously false. Secondly, even if I wasn’t hot (which I was), my personality is rockin’. How dare he overlook my passion for US politics, my weakness for videos of unlikely animal friends and my admirable loyalty to both of these topics throughout all the years he’s known me? Thirdly, it gives me no clear time line. Lastly, it was wildly unromantic and not at all like the script I had prepared in my head.

Being in love with your friends’ brothers can be difficult. Especially when you’re in love with eight of them simultaneously. And in real life, it might not work out anything like in your head. But hey, a girl can still dream.

No two first kisses are totally alike. Some of us are young, some are a bit older. Some are sweetly romantic, some are entirely gross. Some are remembered for ever, and some are blocked out in the time it takes for the drool to dry on your chin.

But even future celebs aren’t immune from an awkward first snog – and lucky for us, lots of them have shared the juicy (ew) details.

“My first kiss was just awkward as hell. I had no idea what I was doing and he knew exactly what he was doing, so it was awkward for me. You have to nurture your inner child and forgive yourself when you think back on things like that, because it’s ok!”

Shailene Woodley now has an MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss, so anything is possible, kids.

“My first kiss was at a sleep-away camp, and it was very awkward and over quickly. And that was that. It was just the weirdest thing, and I thought, ‘That was it? Get out of here!’ I didn’t even know his last name.”

Even Lion Babe’s Jillian Hervey was just an awkward cub once, like the rest of us.

“My first kiss was actually in a graveyard.”

Did she ghost you afterwards, George Ezra?

“I was about to turn 16 and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be like the 40 Year Old Virgin,’ I need to hurry this up! But in retrospect, I was fine. It was with this boy I had been talking to for a while. I was in choir and he was a few years older than me and in choir as well. Very nerdy love story.”

Chloe Bridges may be a Pretty Little Liar, but we believe her on this one. Aw.

“Eleven. Across the street from my elementary school. We went up in the park and I had kissed this boy with braces. If you liked a boy, that was the time to kiss, and I was like, ‘Oh, God, everybody’s kissing, and I don’t want to but I might as well go for it.”

Nicki Minaj

“My first kiss was in high school and it was the worst thing, ever. He pretty much dumped his entire saliva glands into my mouth. It traumatised me. I didn’t kiss for, like, ever.”

Thanks for that visual, Rihanna. There goes our lunch.

“First kiss at 10! Yes, 10 years old, tongues and everything. She was a huge crush, we were in the same class, a lot of note swapping, and eventually it all went down in a cricket pavilion on an autumn night. It was very thrilling.”

Cricket pavilion? Could you BE more Tom Hiddlestone, Tom Hiddlestone?

My first kiss was when I was 14, and I literally thought I was going to die because he suffocated me with his tongue. It was a horrible experience.”

Did you need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Ashley Rickards? Oh no, wait.

“I was in fifth grade and thought I was in love with a boy named Graham. So we kissed. Then he broke my heart and told everybody that I was flat-chested and that’s why he didn’t like me anymore.”

Does Graham have an Oscar though, Reese Witherspoon? No he doesn’t.

“The first person I kissed was Miley Cyrus and I kissed her outside of California Pizza Kitchen in Hollywood. Very romantic. I’d just had a pizza that had onions all over it, I’m sure that my breath smelled terrible.”

As long as you there were doughballs and garlic dip, Nick Jonas, she probably didn’t care.

“I waited for my first kiss. I waited until I was 17 and he was a jazz singer named Brenden Call.”

HANG ON, Carly Rae Jepsen – does Call Me Maybe have a whole other secret meaning?

“The first kiss I had was the most disgusting thing in my life. The girl injected about a pound of saliva into my mouth, and when I walked away I had to spit it all out.”

Hollywood is just grateful it didn’t put you off for life, Leonardo DiCaprio.

Activating: relationship. Level: beginner. You got this, girlfriend…

1. I am in a relationship now.

2. I AM IN A RELATIONSHIP.

3. I AM SOMEONE’S GIRLFRIEND.

4. I must assume the role of girlfriend!

5.…what does that even mean? I don’t feel any different.

6. Is there a book on this? Do I put it on Facebook?

7. I haven’t even told my mum.

8. Is she gonna give me the sex talk again? Ugh.

9. Wait, sex. Do we have to have sex now?!

10. No, we don’t. We don’t have to have sex. We will talk about being ready for sex.

11.

12. Will it weird them out if I create a wedding Pinterest board?

13. I need to learn how to hold hands with someone in public.

14. I get sweaty palms, maybe I should carry talc around with me.

15. No, I’d smell like Nan.

16. Oh boy, introducing Nan. How do I explain Nan?

17. INTRODUCING PARENTS.

18. BEING INTRODUCED TO PARENTS.

19. RED ALERT, RED ALERT. EVERYONE TO THE BUNKER.

20. How long do I have before I meet the parents?

21. I will google a script.

22. THEY’VE TEXTED ME.

23. Hold on, I don’t need to freak out at that anymore, I’m their girlfriend.

24. I’M THEIR GIRLFRIEND.

25. Have we stepped up a level with kisses? How many do I put?

26. Or do I put none at all because it’s just implied now that I lov-

27. WHEN DO I SAY I LOVE YOU?

28. What is love?

29. I will google that as well, to be sure.

30. Shall I prepare an ‘I love you’ speech or just slip it in?

31. Oh jeez, sex.

32. This being in a relationship thing is more stressful than I thought.

33. How long has it been?

34. *checks * 10 minutes. I have been in a relationship for 10 minutes.

35. I think I have an upset stomach.

36. CAN I FART IN FRONT OF THEM? Who makes the first farting move?

37. What about pooing, can I poo? I poo a lot.

38. Thinking of them pooing is weird. Maybe it isn’t love yet.

39. Is that love?

40. 

41. Ew.

@louisejonesetc

Ah, love. It’s a tricky bastard. Love means a million different things to a million different people, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if what you’re feeling is true love, intense like, a raging crush or just the first twinges of indigestion.

But sometimes, you just know. Shakespeare had his summer’s day, Jane Austen had her country dances… and we have the moment you decide to share your Netflix password. Here are some 2017 signs that you’re probably, definitely, in love.

1. You let them take the stamp for your coffee on their loyalty card.

2. You actually put your phone down when they talk to you.

3. You offer them the last slice of pizza.

4. …then they say, ‘No, you have it.’

5. You agree to see La La Land for a second time, even though musicals make you want to punch things.

6. Even Snapchat knows you’re together and puts two pink hearts next to their name.

7. You can share a tent at a festival in August for a whole four days and still be speaking to them at the end.

8. They let you practice everything you learned from Dr Pimple Popper on their chin.

9. You’ve felt a strange and overwhelming urge to give them your wifi code.

10. There are more strips of adorable photobooth pictures in your purse than actual cards or money.

11. Every meme they tag you in actually makes you laugh, not just like to be polite.

12. You have Instagram notifications turned on for them, even if they’re a six-nearly-identical-blurry-selfies-at-once person. Even then.

13. They are the very first person you WhatsApp “SNOW!!!!! ❄️☃️❄️☃️” to when it snows.

14. And sad faces to when it turns to rain three minutes later.

15. You know their exact Starbucks order, and recite it faithfully even when it’s embarrassingly long.

16. You look at them the way everyone looks at Beyoncé.

Image: Getty

To tongue or not to tongue? That is the question… 

1. It’s totally going to happen isn’t it? I mean, why else would we both have left the main party (especially when the pizzas are about to arrive) to go for a ‘nice refreshing walk’ around this garden?

2. I mean what are we, 70? What teenager turns down Domino’s in favour of a ‘bit of fresh air’? 

3. And why did we both pick this ridiculously romantic cherry blossom tree to sit under? Eh? Even though this long grass could easily be hiding piles of dog poo. 

4. Actually that IS a worry….

5. WHEVS, I am about to have my first ever kiss! Under a CHERRY BLOSSOM TREE! Am pretty much a Jane Austen character.

6. Not that they ever kiss, actually. So rubbish for them. Bet sometimes all they wanted was to snog each other’s faces off.

7. Well don’t worry, Lizzie Bennett. This one’s for you! And it’s going to be the most romantic-novel-worthy kiss anyone’s ever seen.

8. Oh god, I hope no one sees.

9. Unless I’ve completely got the wrong end of the snog stick and they don’t want to kiss me at all? I mean, maybe we really have come out here to enjoy the air.

10. But then why would we have stopped talking and just been smiling awkwardly at each other for the last three minutes? And why would they be staring at me like that?

11. OH CRAP HAVE I GOT A BOGEY.  

12. Quick check: nope. All clear. And that was mega subtle bogey checking, too. Go me. Nailed it. Figuratively and literally.

13. So if it’s not bogey-related then this silent staring thing is clearly the beginnings of my first. Ever. Kiss. Eeeeeeee!

14. Um…. how does it start exactly? Do I just lean in and close my eyes and pout?

15. But then if they’re not into it I’ll just be left hanging there like some weird unconscious duck. And anyway, why can’t I make the fist move?

16. Nonononononononono I do NOT want to make the first move. What would I even do? Lunge at them? I may not know much about kissing but I know that THAT’S not cool.

17. Mmmm, maybe I could be like, “I’d really like to kiss you right now”…

18. Ugh no.

19. “I really like your lips”?

20. NOPE. You are not a stalker-slash-serial-killer.

21. Uhmmmmm…

22. WAIT! They’re doing the unconscious duck! They’re doing the unconscious duck! How long have they been doing that for?

23. Doesn’t matter! Don’t leave them hanging just KISS THEM you moron!

24. Oh god but what if I get it totally wrong?! What if I miss and kiss their chin or their nose or something? Is that… a thing? A sexy thing?

25. Ok. I’m going in.

26. Eyes open? Eyes closed? Eyes open? Eyes closed?!

27. And do I need to hold my breath, do we think? Can you kiss and breathe at the same time?

28. Better take an extra deep one, just in case.

29. Ok, Ok, they’ve been there for ages now, just go for it. Eyes closed, deep breath and…

30. NOSE CLASH! Noooooo! Kill me now.

31. Oh it’s ok, they’re laughing.

32. Laugh too, you idiot.

33. But now I’ve lost all my air! I am going to suffocate and die kissing! Although, not a bad way to go. In the grand scheme of things.

34. Oooh, they’ve got really soft lips. And they taste of Haribo. WHY did I go for the garlic bread over the Haribo at snack table? WHY?

35. Tbh if they don’t like garlic bread then they’re probably not worth kissing anyway.

36. Do I open my mouth? What if I accidentally drool on them? Or our teeth smash together?

37. Ok, they’re opening theirs. Better give this a go.

38. WOAH there with the tongue! Too much too much too much too- thank you! That’s better. 

40. Much better.

41. What do I do with my hands? Maybe stroke their face? No, that is their eye. You’ve poked them right in the eye. Nice one. 

42. I wonder what this looks like from the outside? I bet we look totally grown up and experienced. I bet they look gorgeous. Maybe I’ll just have a little peek. I mean, I really ought to take a mental picture of the person I had my first kiss with. Just open my eyes a crack. Just to –

43. GAHH! They’re looking right at me. Like a frog.

44. And good, now we’re just staring at each other.

45. This is SO. AWKWARD.

46. And you’re still looking.

47. You’ve been looking at them for basically about 45 minutes by now.

48. SHUT YOUR EYES. SHUT THEM. FOR THE LOVE OF BEYONCE, SHUT. THEM. NOW. 

49. There you go. Just keep kissing. Just keep kissing. It’s all good. 

50. Wow we’ve been kissing for aaaaaagggges now. How long do we need to carry on for it to count as a proper snog? Like, officially? I reckon at least 2 minutes. And I mean we must have done, what, one and a half minutes AT LEAST. Maybe I should do a countdown. 30. 29. 28

51. OK well now you’re just opening and closing your mouth in time with your inner counting.

52. Just enjoooy it.

53. But now I’m all red and spitty and… to be quite honest… my jaw’s getting tired. You know what? I think that’s enough to qualify as a proper first kiss. I’m out. Final peck, pulling away… eyes open.

54. And there we go! My first kiss! Completed! Tick! 

55. I mean it wasn’t great and it was a bit weird and awks. But hey! It wasn’t that bad!

56. And appazza it only gets better with practice. 

57. Practice, they say… Practice…

58. I’m going in again, aren’t I?

59. Yes, yes I am. Pizza can wait.

@LucindaEverett

We’re taught it at school more than we are trigonometry and the Tudors. If someone is constantly picking on you, taking the mick or harassing you, it means they fancy the pants off you. They really, REALLY like you. Like, LIKE-like you. Right?

No. Absolutely not.

This myth has been drilled into us since the dawn of time itself, and though it may seem harmless, believing that abusive behaviour is actually a sign that someone loves you can really damage your future relationships.

But what counts as being horrible?

When someone fancies you, they treat you well. They do not:

1. Physically hurt you. Ever.

Do they flick you when they sit next to you in class? Push you over on the school field? Pull your hair? Trip you up? All for a laugh? It does not mean they fancy you.

2. Call you names.

Did you embarrass yourself one time and earn a less-than-lovely nickname? Do they not let you forget it, and insist on banging on for a laugh for their mates? It does not mean they fancy you.

3. Repeatedly annoy you when you asked them to stop.

A light bit of banter is fine – you don’t take yourself seriously and can take a joke. But after a while it gets tiresome, so you ask them to stop. They don’t. In fact, they do it more. It does not mean they fancy you.

4. Touch you, or have you touch them, without your consent.

Wolf whistling is not a compliment and nor is touching your bum without asking. The latter is, in fact, sexual assault. They might try and dare you to kiss them or might put their arm around you affectionately when really they want to try and touch your boob. Any form of sexual contact without your consent is sexual assault. It does not mean they fancy you*.

5. Steal your stuff. 

Ever walked away from your bag or phone and come back to find it missing? Yep, great joke guys. You can give it back now. If they don’t – even if they run off with your stuff and throw it in a bin for you to find – it does not mean they fancy you.

Of course, it’s still possible they DO fancy you despite all this douchebaggery – but that’s kind of irrelevant because either way, you deserve someone who actually treats you well.

Ok. Got it. So how do I know if someone does fancy me?!

Easy. They’re nice to you! For example…

1. They compliment you without being unnecessarily sexual or gross.

2. They make an effort to spend time with you.

3. They’re super interested in what you do and what you say.

4. They want to talk to you for ages and never seem to need to be anywhere else.

5. They ask you out. Politely.

6. They laugh at your (even rubbish) jokes.

7. They blush when they see you – adorable.

8. They support you when you need it.

*any other nice stuff that makes you feel warm and gushy and comfortable and confident*

That seems fair…

Yup! There’s a big difference between some jokey, flirty banter and straight up horribleness. Don’t feel like you have to play along. If the behaviour carries on when you tell them to stop, please tell someone. You’re worth more than that, you beautiful, strong, lovely angelic human.

ps. What’s that * there for?

Ah, yes. Crushes are fun but sexual assault and abuse of your consent is super serious. If you think you’ve been assaulted or are worried about someone’s behaviour towards you then there are loads of people out there you can talk to. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. Talk to a teacher, your parents/guardians, your doctor, or any adult you trust. If you don’t want to talk to someone you know then you can always speak to Childline or The Mix.

@louisejonesetc

We’ve all read a YA novel and thought to ourselves, ‘this is really nice and all but it would never really happen in real life’.

Well it turns out, we were wrong. All of us. Because it DOES happen in real life. In fact, it happened to Claudia and Ben.

Um, who are Claudia and Ben?

Right, Claudia is a fan who commented on author Rainbow Rowell’s Facebook page after reading her novel Eleanor & Park. Published in 2013 and named by The New York Times as one of the best young adult fiction books that year, Eleanor & Park is a book about music and falling in love and second chances and… oh, you should probably just read it.

Claudia posted on Rainbow’s wall, explaining:

…Reading your words was like tearing away an old scab. I still remember the desperate need, the feeling of drowning and the overwhelming experience of my first love. I broke poor, sweet Ben’s heart when I broke up with him before leaving for college, and then never answered any of the letters or emails he sent me afterwards.

Claudia grew up in Indianapolis as the only Korean kid in her school. But it wasn’t just that she looked different from her classmates, she felt different too. While they were all dressed in clothes from the mall, she dressed in army surplus jackets. While they were listening to John Mellencamp, she was listening to The Cure.

And then she met Ben.

We spent long nights on the phone and snuck out to see each other whenever we could.

But they’re young and they have lives to live. She goes off to college, he stays in their Midwestern town. They get married to other people. Then they get divorced. They Google each other every so often, just to check on what the other one is doing. In 2007, they become Facebook friends.

And then, in 2010…

They meet at a coffee shop. They hold hands, and it was as if they had never spent the last 19 years apart.

(That weeping sound you hear right now? That would be me).

Everyday, I look into Ben’s eyes and marvel at my good fortune. We laugh and talk about how lucky we are to have found each other again. But sometimes I don’t think it’s luck. It feels more like destiny. When we were 15, I told him that it was a one in a million chance that we, as high school sweethearts, would get married. And he looked at me with his sweet face and said “it’s one in a million, but we could be the one!”

Turns out, Ben was right. They were the one in a million.

Meanwhile, Facebook tells me that my first boyfriend just got back from a caravanning trip around central Australia with his girlfriend and they just bought a puppy together. So there’s that.