A Phenomenology of First Loves
BY TAYLOR WADE
The phrase, “You never forget your first love” has become commonplace for a reason. People attach a stronger emotional attachment to their first love than to other relationships. Being in love for the first time has to be one of the most overwhelming, all-consuming human emotions ever felt.
As human beings, we are “feeling junkies.” The intensity of emotion associated with love and heartbreak is sure to have a long-lasting impact on our psyche. This sensation is then correlated with the individual with whom we fell in love. In a TIME report, research shows we don’t really fall in love with a person – we fall in love with how we feel when we’re with them. Feeling excited, stimulated and aroused is often associated with the people around us, even if they’re not the cause.
When I was twenty years old, I fell head-over-heels in love for the very first time. After a few short weeks, the L word was muttered. After three months, he proposed. We stayed together for eighteen months. When it abruptly ended, I was devastated. I couldn’t eat. I couldn't sleep. I didn't want to talk to my friends. I was officially experiencing my first heartbreak.
Then, while on a recent trip to San Francisco, I saw him for the first time since the emotional roller-coaster. It had been eight years.
I felt disoriented. My emotional memory had outweighed my factual memory and I was suddenly transported back to my twenty year old self. I felt excitement and fear in equal portions – both representing my times in love and in heartbreak. And, just as if I was twenty years old again, I couldn’t resist seeing him every night of my trip.
Dr. Kalish is an expert on the topic of lost loves. She conducted the Lost Love Project, a research project consisting of 1001 participants who had loved someone years ago, parted, then five or more years later tried another relationship with that person. The culmination of this research comprises her book, "Lost & Found Lovers: Facts and Fantasies of Rekindled Romance."
The outcome? Two-thirds of the participants reunited with their lovers from when they were younger than seventeen years old had a 78% success rate. Each of these reunions was a continuation of love that was interrupted due to bad timing, moving away from each other, being too young, or another reason.
Carey Goldberg, author of Three Wishes: A True Story of Good Friends, Crushing Heartbreak and Astonishing Luck on Our Way to Love and Motherhood, says, “There is an actual neurological attachment that happens between these individuals.” Research indicates that a teenager may attach to a first love in much the same way as a baby attaches to a mother.
The underlying question to all of this…
If we reconnect with our first love and once again experience being in love, is it because we are, in fact, in love? Or is it because of the neurological attachment formed with this person? The key word in this question is attachment – are we attached to our prior feelings of being in love, or are we indeed still in love with this person?
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