7 Ways Your First Love Alters Your Brain — Permanently

Photo: getty
first love
Love

Our first love sets the bar for future relationships.

You never forget your first love. It only takes a certain song or the mention of their name, and suddenly, you’re fifteen again. You buzz with recollections of their eyes, that smile, the way your name tasted on their lips. You may even close your eyes and linger there awhile before the ding of your work email thrusts you back into reality.

If this happens to you from time to time, you're not alone. Psychologists agree it's completely normal to get lost in the occasional daydream about that first love. They also suggest the rosy lenses we view them through is about much more than happy nostalgia.

Many agree that first experience truly is special and helps you understand the meaning of love, especially if it occurs during teenage years and lasts for a year or more.

The power of that first love is so deep, science now suggests it can permanently influence you in several major ways. Here's how love changes you and sets the stage for your future relationships.

1. It embeds vivid memories in your brain.

I can still hear my first love's flirty laugh in my head and feel butterflies filling my stomach whenever I think of his eyes staring back with intense longing. These memories remain in vivid Technicolor while other recollections have grayed and pixilated over the years.

The term for this is flashbulb memory. These moments, like most that happen with first love encounters, engage all the senses at once, creating a unique combination of emotion and surprise that embeds itself in the brain forever. Details remain as clear as the day it happened and inspire a powerful emotional response. Flashbulb memories are known to decorate our first love experience, making them more memorable.


RELATED: 12 Photos Of Young Love That'll Make You Fondly Remember Your First


There's also a "memory bump" that occurs between ages 15 and 26. Connecticut College psychologist, Jefferson Singer, says people are able to recall more from that time period because of how the brain develops. Which means we have the rest of our lives to think back to our first love and “rehearse it and replay it, rethink it, reimagine it, re-experience it.”

2. Your first love becomes an extension of yourself.

Carl E. Pickhardt Ph.D. paints a fascinating image of the profound effects of teenage love in “Adolescence and Falling in Love”:

“Life changing is how ‘in-love’ feels in adolescence because it is a far more moving and compelling relationship than the young people have known before. The experience is all consuming — so each is always on the other’s mind. This is the person they want to spend all their time with — so time with good friends is often set aside. It is a merged relationship — so each one feels part of the other, not quite whole when they are not together. They are highly sensitized to each other — so both are alert to subtle interpersonal signals and are easily hurt by small slights from each other. The intimacy is deeper than with anyone else. To feel so deeply known and deeply knowing makes other relationships seem shallower by comparison."

We were innocent and willing to give our first love our all. As we grew closer, they began to feel less like a separate person and more like an extension of ourselves. It was a profound experience and one that typically cannot be replicated after heartbreaks and internal wounds teach us not to let others in quite as deeply.

3. You create a mold you measure your future lovers against.

According to Singer, that first love creates "a template" which becomes the holy grail of relationships; it's what we measure all future partners against. Susan Andersen, psychologist at NYU, agrees. In "Heartbreak and Home Runs: The Power of First Experiences," she reflects, "Powerful first relationships can stamp a template in your mind that gets activated in later interactions."

When we encounter someone who reminds us of our first love, whether on a conscious or subconscious level, they light up our attraction sensors like a Rockefeller Christmas tree. Part of our brain is so eager to recreate the excitement and novelty of that first time, we seek out partners who fit the mold of our ex. This is sometimes seen as transference. 

Dr. Niloo Dardashti concurs with the blueprint theory, saying, "If that first love was sort of riddled with a lot of unrequited stages where they couldn't be together, or they were longing for each other... that can become a blueprint where you start to expect that love isn't really love unless you're feeling this kind of deep longing."

4. It helps us define what love is.

Falling in love that first time changes our perception of what's possible. Dr. Nancy Kalish, psychology professor at California State University at Sacramento, claims that our first experience of being in love with someone who loves you back is so new and unfamiliar that the two of you have to explore the unknown together to reach a conclusion about what love is.

The two essentially create an identical map of how love should go and refer back to it again and again with each new relationship. In other words, these first experiences are responsible for how we define love and navigate it's murky waters.


RELATED: What You See First Reveals Your Greatest Weakness When It Comes To Love


5. It shapes your sense of identity.

The publication, "The Role of Romantic Relationships in Adolescent Development," states that romantic love during the teenage years plays a significant role in forming our sense of identity. If the quality of our relationship is positive, we develop confidence and the perception that we're attractive and desirable. A negative experience, on the other hand, can have adverse effects on our self-esteem.

This idea that our first love has a lasting effect on our identities is echoed in "Adolescent Romantic Relationships," by ACT for Youth: "Just like relationships with family and friends, romantic relationships can facilitate the process of youth gaining a greater understanding of who they are and what they value."

Our first loves help us develop empathy, communication skills, and even emotional resilience. They aid us as we redefine our values and decide what matters most in our search for intimacy. There are also a number of studies that suggest having a stable romantic relationship during our developmental years allows us to feel less stressed and less lonely than our peers and may even help us mature faster.

6. First love gives you the tools to truly know someone on a soul-deep level.

For starters, your first was probably someone you grew up with. They traveled alongside you during those awkward, angsty stages, witnessing your triumphs and failures. They were your cheerleader and the shoulder you cried on.

They also built a comfort level with you during a vulnerable time when you were still trying to figure out who you were. They might have even been the first person you had sex with.

Dr. Kalish says

"In those [adolescent] years we meet people and fall in love based on proximity, being near each other and sharing interests. The two people are in a peer group. They are like members of an extended family. And you never have that really again... Later in life, you just meet someone at a party or somebody introduces you, and they're probably from a background that's very different from yours. The word that keeps coming up is 'comfortable.' The other word that keeps coming up is 'soul-mate.' ...The first love, the first kiss, the first touch becomes a model for love."

Many believe their first love is their true soulmate and never lose that feeling.

7. It creates a bond that lasts a lifetime.

Dr. Kalish, who has made a career of studying lost love reunions, interestingly discovered that when people who experienced deep, mutual love during their teenage years had a chance to reunite later in life, they maintained a divorce rate of just 2 percent! Kalish also shared, "Even though courtship goes fast [during a reunion], and relatives and friends think they're absolutely nuts, the relationships work. The bond is so strong that these people never want to lose each other again."

Of the successful reconnections, she noted the pairs had originally broken up as teens when the boys were developmentally behind the girls, and it was a fear of commitment or circumstances that forced them apart.

"One myth is that people reconnect when they're down in the dumps. I found that when they're at peace with themselves and like themselves, that's when they go back... Most have thought of each other in the interim, but it's been in the back of their heads. It's not something where every time they have an argument with their spouse, they said, 'Oh, I should have married the other one,'" she says.

Yet that special bond lived on like a sleeping giant in each person's heart until their first love woke it once more.

Our first love never leaves us. Whether we’re 25 or 95, there will always be a special place in our heart for the relationship helped form our perception of love and taught us the meaning of love.

That's why it's perfectly okay to look back fondly and enjoy the memories of a more carefree and thrilling time.


RELATED: My Heart Still Breaks When I Hear Your Name


Carrie Manner is a freelance writer from Northern MN. In addition to writing for One Love Foundation and local newspapers, she blogs, copywrites, and writes fiction. Connect with Carrie at www.cpmanner.com or on Instagram and Twitter @cp_manner.

Author
Blogger