My first love (the real one; not the “I’m saying I love you because I REALLY like you and it sounds right” type of love) was the type of thing that I always dreamed about but never expected to happen. Who knew that taking a chance and replying to an Instagram comment would lead to the most memorable relationship I have ever been in? Everything I wanted at that time, he was IT. He was the kind of guy that all of my girls wanted for themselves, and yet, he was mine.

Of course, as you can tell by my use of the past tense, my first love is not my current love. In fact, I haven’t been in love since the end of that relationship. But I can’t lie and say that I don’t have the upmost respect and appreciation for him and everything he showed me. Loving him and being loved by him caused me to learn so many things about myself, relationships, and how love can really be.

Out of all of the things I learned from that experience, here are the top three.

1. The overwhelming thought of fear will block the possibility of joy

In the beginning stages of our relationship, I had so many doubts as to whether or not this relationship was actually genuine. Not due to any peculiarities on his part, but because I had been let down and mislead so many times in the past that actually believing what I was told was like pulling teeth. And while I was happy, I would often stop myself from getting too comfortable because I just KNEW that it would end.

Until one day, I realized that I had someone right in front of me who was doing everything he could to keep me, and that I was afraid because of those who allowed me to walk away. He didn’t deserve that, and neither did I. From then on, I allowed myself to react based on the person who was in my present, and not those from my past. It made our relationship better, and it’s something that has strengthened my own personal happiness.

2. Men feel things just as deeply as women do; they might just express it differently

Women are emotional creatures by nature. So much of what we do is based off what we feel and not what we think. Our logic is often found in our soul and heartbeats. Men are often said to be completely opposite, and are known for thinking things through and not being as expressive as a woman. I always assumed that men didn’t understand emotions as a woman would and they could never feel some of the same things.

It took getting to know my ex and listening to him open up to me to realize that although some men don’t reveal their emotions in the way that women do, they feel emotions all the same. There were times that I would actually hurt my ex’s feelings but not think that it would hurt him as much as if it were me. It took actually sitting down and listening to him to understand that he felt things with the same depth that I did, and from this I was able to treat his feelings with the same sensitivity that he did mine.

3. “You deserve more than the minimum. Never allow people to give you that or less.”

One of our most memorable conversations was when I asked him why he did all that he did for me. He was an amazing, thoughtful and giving person, during and after our relationship. And when I asked him, along with the above quote, he informed me that he saw something in me that made him feel as if giving me the minimum was an insult to my worth. To hear someone feel and see this in me was something I had never heard and everything I needed to hear.

Before this, I had been accepting just any type of attention and treatment from guys. I thought that what I was getting was normal and acceptable, so I took it without thinking about exactly what was happening. Being with him and seeing the difference in treatment and respect really opened my eyes as to what I deserve. Since that relationship, I no longer behave as if someone can just give me anything and treat me any way. I no longer make people a priority who are content with giving me their crumbs. I now know what good, genuine love is and can be, all because I’ve had it before.

Although my first love and I might never be together again, these three lessons and so many more have permanently changed me. Relationships can teach you so much, and this one has taught me the most. These lessons have made me a better person, a better self-lover, and a better future girlfriend.