The first boy I ever fell in love with was Paolo from the Lizzie McGuire Movie. Yes, I know he’s the villain of the film and that he really can’t sing, but damn could that boy ride a motorbike.
That film had a huge impact on how I viewed romance as a child. Every time I went on holiday with my parents I assumed a boy would pick me out of the crowd, meet me in secret and whisk me off on his moped. And potentially ask me to sing in front of millions and achieve international fame.
(Side note: I was so obsessed with Lizzie McGuire that I serenaded my crush, Chris, on the playground with ‘This Is What Dreams Are Made Of’. He continued to play It.)
Then came The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, and Lena’s forbidden love story filled Teenage Me with hope. I would dress in long dresses and skirts, in an effort to look demure and Lena-esque and make a boy from Italy (or Cornwall) notice me.
The boys in the films are tall, dark and handsome, but they’re also cheeky and make the heroine feel special. All of this was intoxicating for an insecure 13-year-old who went to an all-girls’ school and thought boys were as perfect as Prince Harry.
The reality, of course, was a little different.
Age 15: The Boy I Made Cry
I was in Italy. It was a beautiful hotel, surrounded by flowers, and I was wearing a new black dress. My sister and I were dancing, while our parents and all the adults sat and sipped their drinks. When we returned to our seats, a lady lent across and said to me “My son likes you.”
I looked up at her son and he was my age, good looking and shy. I was also very shy and mortified that my Mum was cooing “oh, go dance with him!”
It was too much pressure for 15-year-old me, so I hesitated. In that time, the boy sprinted away from the table and his Dad went after him.
Everyone looked at me like I had just changed my mind about marriage on our wedding day. I got up and went looking for him, thinking I’d run through the bushes and find him looking at the sea, deep in thought. I’d tap him on the shoulder and say “I’d love to dance” and then we’d sway on our own on the secluded terrace, away from our mothers’ prying gazes.
Instead, I walked around aimlessly and then returned to the table. His mum said he’d “got a bit upset” and gone to his room.
My hopes that it could be a slow-burner holiday romance were dashed by the fact they went home the next day.
Age 16: My Very First Fuckboy
We were on a cruise and I was 16 years old. I’d never been kissed and the only alcoholic drinks I’d tasted was Smirnoff Ice.
That summer, I made friends with three Canadian girls. They introduced me to straight Vodka, dancing on deckchairs and male company.
I remember the first night I met Dan. He was wearing a suit and he was hanging around with some of the older boys. Dan was 18 so he was too old to go to our ‘youth club’ where the Canadians and I drank Vodka in the toilet cubicles and hid from the Youth Club Manager.
I talked to Dan a few times, as we were two of the only Brits on board. He stood close when he talked and his eyes were the exact shade of the Internet Explorer logo.
One night, a boy had a ‘cabin party’ where we all drank in his room. Dan said he wanted to show me the moon, so we stood on the balcony. I was rather drunk, and the moon was fuzzy and swaying (probably not helped by the fact I was on a ship) and then we kissed.
Looking back, it was more like when you jump on a fit guy in Freshers’ Week than anything from Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. It was…passionate. He sat down and I sat on his lap, which was very yummy but a bit of a weird position for a first kiss.
Then he walked me back to my room and we kissed very quietly, as it was 1am and I was sharing a room with my Nan.
The next evening, he largely ignored me. But I was “playing it cool” and chatting about him non-stop to my friends. We danced in the Youth Club and then stumbled out. I had a bit of eye contact with Dan, but then he left to go to the Over 18s Club.
Later that night, I was walking back to my room with my friend and then I saw Dan running towards me. He didn’t say anything, he just picked me up and swung me around. Then we started kissing and he picked me up, so I wrapped my legs around him (my friend left at this point. Sixteen-year-old me had no concept of Girl Code or manners when boys were involved).
It felt very Titanic, as we were kissing by a grand staircase, and we didn’t know if we’d get caught by our parents. But we kept it PG, he walked me back to my room and we had a little chat, and then he kissed me goodnight.
The next day, everything changed. Word on the ship was that he now liked an 18-year-old called Natalie. He’d been laying down groundwork for a few days, getting to know her, and he told her that he hadn’t liked anyone the way he liked her in a long time.
I sat on the grand staircase where we had kissed the night before and cried. It wasn’t the romance I’d been expecting.
I only saw Dan two more times. The first time was when he was sitting on the deck with Natalie, having a moonlit drink. My guy friends (who I haven’t spoken to since, but will always be grateful to them for this) all jumped up and shouted in unison “FUCK YOU, DAN!”
It was glorious.
The second time was on deck during the day. I practically ran after him and tapped him on the shoulder.
He looked terrified, as if I was going to throw him overboard.
I didn’t give him time to talk. I told him I’d seen him with Natalie and he just said “Yeah”. Then I said “I heard you’re going to train to be a cruise ship captain. I’m sure you’ll love that. You’ll get to have a girl in every port”, and walked away.
Age 22: The Perfectly Nice Boy From Austria
After Dan, there were a few holiday flirtations but nothing too noteworthy (a boy who followed me into a bookshop when I was 17; a barman who I fancied at 20, but who wasn’t interested).
Then two weeks ago I went to Austria with my sister. We were in a bar, drinking expensive cocktails, and a blonde boy walked over. He asked if we would like to join his table and pointed to his tall brunette friend.
Now, his friend was more my type on paper – tall, dark and broody. But they seemed to have already called shotgun on the girl they fancied. When I tried to talk to the brunette, he didn’t reply and just talked to my sister.
The blonde Austrian boy was nice, and I know that 17-year-old Me would have swooned that a good-looking and funny boy was paying attention to me and looking into my eyes when I talked.
But now that I’m 22, a cheeky grin from a cute boy no longer makes me feel like I’m special. I already feel special and confident in what I have to offer, so I’ve developed some standards. So I didn’t kiss Cute Austrian Boy, or go back to his place. We drank a lot of beer, we laughed and we sang along to Pitbull in an Irish pub, but that was the end of that.
Sex: The Rabbit in the Room
My increased self-esteem is one reason I no longer swoon at holiday romances, but the other reason is sex.
When I was 16, it never crossed my mind that a boy might be paying me attention because he wanted to have sex with me. Instead, I thought he could see some special quality that I couldn’t see yet, and that he was falling in love with me.
Now I’m older and wiser. When Cute Austrian Guy was putting his arm on my back (I was wearing a backless dress, so it was literally flesh-on-flesh contact), all I could think was: he wants to have sex.
Maybe that’s a bit cynical. Or maybe I shouldn’t see that as a bad thing. Sex is rather fun, after all.
But maybe we have to accept that that’s the End Goal. It’s probably not undying love (Titanic) or marriage (The Notebook), it’s probably just really good sex. As you get older, summer romances become summer flings.
That’s not to say I don’t still hold out hope for a holiday romance/fling hybrid. I still want to go on a moped ride before I turn 30 and, hey, it’s not over till Paolo sings.