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What’s the Psychology Behind First Love?

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All of us have our first love. We either fall in love too young or too old, but we all have our first love. That special someone who makes us experience love in an intense and special way for the very first time. Also, is it the kind of love that made us experience a different kind of hurt and pain for the first time? But have you ever wondered why first love is always special and difficult to forget? As the famous quote says, “First love never dies.”

First love is the first dose of addiction

According to the study carried out by Helen Fisher in 2005 on the fMRI of couples in love, romantic love is primarily a motivation system, rather than an emotion, that can be similar to what we experience during addiction

There are several hormones and neurotransmitters that are involved or are released when we are in love. These are oxytocin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Oxytocin, which is also called the “love hormone”, is responsible for feelings of attachment and intimacy. It helps bond people closer together; it’s what keeps some people monogamous; it can lower your inhibitions; and it can help you become more open and trusting of others. It is also the same chemical that binds mothers and children. For example, the intertwining of fingers signifies a deep and intimate connection, whereas a straightforward hand-in-hand grip may express companionship and mutual support. The subtleties of hand-holding styles reveal insights into their bond and the depth of their connection.

Oxytocin is what keeps some people monogamous; it can lower your inhibitions, and it can help you become more open and trusting of others. It is also the same chemical that binds mothers and children.

Dopamine, on the other hand, is a neurotransmitter that is strongly associated with emotions, pleasure, and reward and modulates the immune system. This is where the “addiction” part of love comes in. When this hormone is released, it activates the reward centre of the brain, which causes a ‘motivation-reward’ effect. Thus, we seek out the reward of love even through obstacles that may be dangerous or painful (a cheating partner, an abusive partner, etc.)

Norepinephrine is a drug that is used by medical experts to treat low blood pressure (hypotension) and heart diseases. It is similar to adrenaline and dopamine, which produce a racing heart and excitement. It is released in the first stages of love, either lust or infatuation. According to Helen Fisher, these two chemicals – dopamine and norepinephrine – produce elation, intense energy, sleeplessness, craving, and focused attention.

Researchers at UCL discovered that people in love have lower levels of serotonin (a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter and helps relay signals from one area of the brain to another). Low levels of serotonin are found in people diagnosed with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorders), which may be the reason why those in love ‘obsess’ about their partners.

First love leaves an “imprint” on the sensory areas of the brain

Since there are multiple studies that confirm that our brains experience “addiction” when we’re in love, falling in love for the very first time is important because it is the foundation, and, most of the time, we experience this kind of love during adolescence when our brain is still developing.

Cognitive scientists at MIT explain that we experience peak processing and memory power at around age 18, and this is the time when we experience a lot of firsts, including our first love. 

Another psychologist also says that most people experience a “memory bump” between the ages of 15 and 26. This memory bump happens at a time when we are experiencing all kinds of firsts, such as the first kiss, having sex, driving a car, etc. and later in life, these memories tend to be more impactful because they occurred when our memory was at its peak.

These memories leave hormonal imprints that cause the life-long effects we all experience. The hormonal interactions are imprinted in the sensory areas of the brain at a time when the neurological developments we are experiencing are forming who we are as individuals.

Crafting memorable first dates

In the context of these sensory imprints, the choice of a first date becomes even more significant. It’s the beginning of what could be a series of memorable experiences.

So, how about making that first date as impactful as the emotion it’s meant to foster? A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that couples who engage in novel activities are more likely to experience increased relationship quality. This highlights the value of choosing a first date that’s not just pleasant but also engaging and memorable.

Consider, for instance, a scenic hike that ends with a picnic at a local lake or a night at an observatory stargazing. These activities aren’t just fun; they engage the senses and create a vivid memory. Such experiences align perfectly with how first love imprints itself in our minds, setting the stage for a deeper, more meaningful connection

Your first love affects all your relationships after

First love often feels so intense that it could lead to someone believing that they love themselves more than others. They’ll long for the intense feelings they had when they were in their past relationships and look for that feeling in everyone they meet after. When they don’t find it, they might find themselves looking to rekindle things with their ex.

However, according to Davis, first love isn’t going to be the best or deepest love. It is the intensity of the first love that could give someone a feeling that they loved that person more in their memory.

Also, according to Davis, “Your first love will affect all your relationships afterward because of what it teaches you. For instance, you’ll learn for the first time that you can be wanted and desired. You’ll also learn how you want to be treated by another person. When you end the relationship, you’ll learn what heartbreak feels like.’ And as they say, there is no heartbreak that hits you like the first time.”

According to a 2017 study, 71% of people are able to heal from a breakup within a span of three months after the relationship has ended. In this context, healing means self-rediscovery for the participants. Thus creating the famous “three-month rule” in a relationship. 

Also, first love is often marked by a period of personal growth and development, a time of new experiences, and facing your fears. As a result, the relationship helps shape who you are and how you proceed through the world and may represent the first time you allowed someone else’s influence to have such a significant impact on who you are.


Remember, these are just several reasons why first love is hard to forget. However, just because your first love is hard to forget, it doesn’t mean that it’s the only true love you will ever have. For most people, it’s a learning experience. Take this experience as a lesson and as a sign pointing you on the right path in your journey of find the right person.

Nikka Celeste is a relationship and wellness expert.

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