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 a while 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 are 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 your first love can change you psychologically.
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 happens 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.
There’s also a “memory bump” that occurs between ages 15 and 26. This means we have the rest of our lives to think back to our first love and rehearse it and replay it, rethink it, re-imagine it, re-experience it.
2. Your first love becomes an extension of yourself.
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.
Susan Andersen, a psychologist at NYU, says, “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.
4. It helps us define what love is.
Falling in love that first time changes our perception of what’s possible.
Dr. Nancy Kalish, a 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.
5. It shapes your sense of identity.
Romantic love is something most of us experience for the first time in our teenage years. The years we are also running around trying to figure out who we are, and experiencing that first love can play a significant role in the person we turn out to be.
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.
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, angst 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.
Many believe their first love is their true soulmate and never lose that feeling.
7. It creates a bond that lasts a lifetime.
During your first love, your brain ends up creating a special bond with that feeling and experience. Though many first loves don’t work out due to the immaturity of the relationship, the bond stays.
Our first love never leaves us. Whether we’re 25 or 95, there will always be a special place in our hearts for the relationship that helped form our perception of love and taught us what it really means.
That’s why it’s perfectly okay to look back fondly and enjoy the memories of a more carefree and thrilling time.
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 her on Twitter.