Do you remember your first love? How was its feeling? All of us have had our first love, whether too young or too old. It’s the one special person who brings us a unique experience of love and, perhaps, the first time of hurt and pain. But why do we find it so hard to forget our first love? Famous words remind us: “First love never dies.”
Is Your First Love Your First Dose of Addiction?
Yes. Romantic love can be likened to an impulse or motivation system, rather than a feeling, that can be akin to addiction. Several hormones and neurotransmitters play a role in our experience of love, including oxytocin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These substances are released when we are in love, contributing to the emotion’s intensity.
Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”, plays an integral role in creating a feeling of attachment and intimacy. It is the same chemical that helps to form bonds between people, encourages monogamy, reduces inhibitions, and allows for greater openness and trust. Additionally, it is the same hormone that helps to create a strong bond between mothers and their children.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked with emotions, pleasure, reward, and even the modulation of the immune system. This is where the “addiction” to love is found. When this hormone is released, it stimulates the reward centre of the brain, creating a ‘motivation-reward’ effect. Therefore, we seek out the reward of love, even if it means going through hazardous or agonizing experiences (such as a cheating or abusive partner).
Medical experts use norepinephrine to treat low blood pressure (hypotension) and heart diseases. It is similar to adrenaline and dopamine, which can cause a quickened heart rate and excitement. Helen Fisher explains that these two hormones – dopamine and norepinephrine – can lead to elation, high energy, lack of sleep, strong cravings, and heightened focus. These effects are also seen in the early stages of love, such as lust or infatuation.
Studies have revealed that individuals in love have decreased amounts of serotonin (a hormone that functions as a neurotransmitter, aiding to transmit signals from one part of the brain to another). Reduced levels of serotonin are observed in individuals diagnosed with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), which could be the cause of why those in love ‘obsess’ over their partners.
Impact of First love on the Sensory Areas of the Brain
Studies have shown that our brains can become ‘addicted’ to love, so falling in love for the first time is significant, especially during adolescence when our brains are still developing. This initial experience of love can form the foundation for future relationships.
Cognitive scientists at MIT have concluded that, at around 18 years of age, our processing and memory capabilities are at their peak, and it is at this time that we experience many “firsts”, such as our first love.
A ‘memory bump’ is reported by another psychologist to happen between 15 and 26 years of age. This is a period when many of us are having our ‘firsts’, such as a first kiss, first time having sex, or first time driving a car. These memories may be especially significant later on in life due to our peak memory during these years.
The hormonal interactions we experience in our early life can have life-long effects. These memories are imprinted in the sensory areas of the brain during critical neurological development, causing us to recall our first love when we see them on social media or when a certain song plays in our playlist.
Does Your First Love Affect All Your Future Relationships?
The intense emotion of first love can lead someone to think that it was the best love they ever had. This feeling can cause one to yearn for the same intensity of their past relationship and look for it in anyone they meet after. If this intensity isn’t found, they may be tempted to rekindle things with their ex.
Although first love may seem like the most powerful, it may not be the most meaningful. The intensity of the initial feelings of love can often be remembered more vividly than the later, deeper connections that may come later in life.
Your initial love affair will shape all your future relationships, due to the lessons it imparts. You will discover the feeling of being wanted and cherished. Furthermore, you will learn how you would like to be treated. When the relationship ends, you will have your first experience of heartache. As they say, there is no pain like the first time.
A 2017 study revealed that 71% of people are able to heal, or self-discover, within three months after a breakup. This has come to be known as the “three-month rule” in relationships. Additionally, first love can be a period of personal growth and development, as it is often marked by new experiences and facing your fears. The relationship can in turn shape who you are and how you live your life, as it may be the first time you have allowed someone else’s impact to have such a significant effect on you.
It is undeniable that first love is difficult to forget. Nevertheless, that does not mean it is the only real love a person will ever experience. Usually, it is a formative experience. Therefore, take this situation as an invaluable lesson and a signpost on the course to finding the appropriate partner.