Here’s why you never forget your first love

Over the course of a lifetime, most of us see sparks with more than one other person. But you only have one first love. They’re usually the person you share many other “firsts” with, whether that’s a first kiss, a first date, or a first intimate encounter. And no matter if you end up marrying them or not, it’s safe to say they’re very, very difficult to forget.

“Your first love is a new experience in your life,” says Adina Mahalli, MSW, a certified relationship expert at Maple Holistics. “This is one of the reasons you never forget it.”

According to Mahalli, the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for new memories, learning, and emotions, “has the ability to detect the rareness or novelty of an experience or image.” And research has shown that “new information stands out among other familiar information.”

Psychologists refer to this as “primacy effect,” a concept that you’re more likely to remember your “firsts” than your “seconds,” “thirds,” and so on. That’s why your first international trip stands out more than your fifth, why your first day at a new job resonates more than your twentieth, and why your first love is so hard to shake, too.

A pivotal 2004 study published in the journal Neuron proved that important emotional memories in particular, like the thrill of a first love, engage different parts of the brain than the average memories of every day life. Through brain scans, researchers were able to see that these emotional memories evoked activity in the amygdala and various medial temporal lobe structures involved in memory processing, the hippocampus included.

However, it’s not just the novelty or the emotions attached to that first love that leave it forever etched in your brain. It can also be the heartbreak that follows.

“Unfortunately, your first love often comes with a powerful feeling of your first experience of heartbreak,” says Beverly Friedmann, who has a background in behavioral psychology. “This may mean we always have a special place in our heart for our first love and remember the pain that came with the separation.”

It’s true. Like novel or emotional memories, negative events are also remembered in greater detail than positive ones, according to a 2007 study published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science. So the painful experience of a first heartbreak may stick around for longer than you’d like.

And thanks to the advent of social media, it’s becoming that much harder to forget your first love. A 2016 study published in the journal Memory revealed that posting your personal experiences online—like a photo from your first anniversary, or a sappy quote after your first love breaks your heart—can make certain events much easier to recall.

“The process of writing about one’s experiences in the public sphere, often sustained by subsequent social feedback, may allow people to reflect on the experiences and their personal relevance,” Qi Wang, lead study author, said in a statement. “Memory is often selective.”

So, the next time you find yourself daydreaming about your high school boyfriend or girlfriend, don’t read too much into it. Your first love may have a special place in your brain, but it doesn’t always have to have a special place in your heart, too.

 

Compiled by Olalekan Adeleye

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