The Impact of a First Love
As I have got older and experienced more relationships, I have come to realise that everything I know about love, how I give love and how I expect to be loved back, links back to my first - and arguably most significant - relationship. And that first relationship often has a ricochet effect on how we perceive future relationships.
We subconsciously place our ideals about love on to all future relationships. What we expect it to feel like and how we believe love is meant to be. It can take a bit of self discovery to realise that we even do it. But when you catch yourself you might begin to realise where you have been going wrong.
The Science of it All
Most of us fall in love somewhere in our adolescent years. These are pinnacle, defining years when we are discovering the world, deciding who we want to be, and, on top of all that, learning how to love and be loved. The experience of a first love is deeply intense and magnified in our brains by the rush of hormones we are feeling for the very first time. It’s new, it's exciting and completely unforgettable. Dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin floods the brain. These "feel good" chemicals can cause you to feel euphoria and intense pleasure.
When we first fall in love and experience this new rush of hormones our brains cling onto this feeling for dear life - we become obsessed. Love becomes a drug. We feel like, now that we have experienced it, we aren’t sure we can live without it. Our teenage selves can’t disassociate between the feeling of love and the person we have attached this feeling to.
We pin our happiness wholey onto them and losing that person would be like someone ripping out our heart (less scientific now, but that’s what it feels like when you’re 16!) More literally, losing that love is cutting us off from our new and addictive hormone supply. Imagine taking cocaine away from an addict. We crave this feeling that we now know exists and we don’t feel like we can live without it.
This is why your first breakup will always be the worst.
Psychologists say that, when we experience love for the first time, we can develop a sense of desperate attachment. This means that the joy of having each other is coupled with the desperate fear of losing each other. This can result in an unhealthy love. We often pin our entire future onto this person - not for one second thinking it will end. For some, it doesn't but, for most of us, love comes crashing down and brings with it some invaluable lessons. With that, we move onto the next chapter of our lives having to redefine everything we thought we knew about love.
Your first love affects all your future relationships
Once we have experienced the drug of love it will always be something we search for again and again. The pain and heartbreak of losing it doesn’t compare to the feeling we get when we have it and I believe we are subconsciously always searching for our next dopamine fix. Sometimes, physical attention and the odd fling provides enough of a hit to tide us over but, most of us, continue to search for the same intensity and passion that will match or even eclipse what we had with our first love.
I hate to break it to you but you’re probably never going to find it.
Let me explain why that is a good thing before you cry into a pillow. That first love was so intense because of a combination of adolescence, new and unfamiliar hormones and a lovely but naive intensity that you shared together. Your adult self is wiser, less hormonal, much less naive and your brain will never experience that feeling again for the very first time. So, craving and wishing for that same powerful, all consuming - stick a dagger in my heart, Romeo and Juliet love is somewhat unrealistic.
But what you may be yet to experience is something even better.
Security, contentment and peace.
Remember when I mentioned the desperate attachment theory that comes along with first love? That feeling of being so desperately attached to something that you fear everyday you will lose it and your world will shatter? That is not healthy! And that is not how you will feel when you find your true love.
Love should make you feel safe. It should make you feel like the truest and best version of yourself and fill you with a warm glow. The hot burning fire that we get with our first love can’t and won’t last forever. Some people stay with the first loves but that internal chaos of flames and fireworks is replaced by an even better feeling. A safe and healthy love brings a warm glow, a feeling of such satisfying contentment that you know will never dull. No fear, jealousy or desperate longing, just pure peace.
So yes, your first love will probably always be your most intense love, like the first time you got drunk was probably the craziest or the first time you drove at 60MPH on the motorway was more thrilling than every time after. Our brain will always remember and treasure our first because of the hormones coursing through us creating a feeling like no other.
It’s so easy to worry and wonder if you will ever find a love like that again. To Compare future relationships to the very first one, wondering why that burning intensity and desperate longing just isn't there. Well the truth is it’s not supposed to be. Your brain is holding onto that and has decided that is what love is supposed to feel like, sometimes making it seem as if anything less can’t really be true love. Well let me tell you, TRUE love will be ever better.
Treasure your first love, and look back at it fondly but from now on search for that warm glow, that undeniable contentment. There might not be fireworks or a raging fire but if you give this feeling a chance, it will create new pathways in your brain and redefine what you know love to be.