Psychologists Explain Why You Can't Forget Your First Love

Experts explain why you still can’t forget them.

by Kristine Fellizar
Originally Published: 
How do you get over your first love? Experts say support is key.
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No matter how much time has gone by or how many relationships you've had since, it’s hard to truly forget your first love. Falling in love with someone for the first time is a life-changing experience. When it's the first time you've ever felt so strongly about another person, it can be truly devastating to have all of that end. If you’re wondering how to get over your first love — even years later — you aren’t alone.

According to relationship experts, there are reasons why your first love is so unforgettable. It doesn’t just open up a world of excitement and possibility for you, according to Dr. Holly Schiff, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist, it can also bring up feelings of fear. “This experience is unlike anything you have felt before, which makes the person associated with this discovery a permanent fixture in your memory,” Schiff tells Bustle. “Not to mention the chemical bonds you experience when in love, such as oxytocin.”

Oxytocin is known for being "the love hormone." 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. Simple things like hugging, kissing, and cuddling, can chemically bond you to your partner.

Your first love usually comes with other new milestones as well, such as physical firsts — like your first kiss or first time having sex — or relationship firsts — like learning how to compromise or fight fairly.

“You will carry these memories with you throughout your lifetime especially since this person was responsible for some of your personal growth,” Schiff says. “First loves usually also represent your youth or a younger, more simpler time, one which most people look upon fondly and long for.”

When it's the first time you've experienced that with someone, it can be hard to forget them. But that isn't the only reason why it's so hard to get your first love out of your head. According to experts, your first love actually impacts your brain.

Your Brain Is Wired To Remember & Seek Out Pleasurable Experiences

If the reason your first love still holds a special place in your heart, you can thank your brain for that. According to Dr. Robin Buckley, cognitive behavioral coach for couples, love is addicting.

“Some of the same neurotransmitters that are triggered in other addictions are also activated when we are in love such as endorphins, dopamine and serotonin,” Dr. Robin Buckley, cognitive behavioral coach for couples, tells Bustle. “Our brains learn to crave the release and creation of these neurotransmitters.”

These "feel good" chemicals can cause you to feel euphoria and intense pleasurable feelings, especially when they're combined with physical touch. According to Buckley, neurotransmitter release is even more heightened when sex is involved. When you experience this during your teenage years, the brain's reward pathway is wired to be particularly sensitive to gratifying and intense experiences like falling in love and having sex.

“Much like an addict's first high from a gambling win or an addict's first heroin high, we want to re-experience that ‘first time’ again,” Buckley says. “This is one reason forgetting a first love is difficult. Our brains remember the neurochemical ‘high’ associated with it and want that experience back.”

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Your First Love Leaves An Imprint On Your Brain

Many times people experience falling in love for the first time in their teens. As Joseph Bordelon, principal practitioner and owner of Christian Counseling Austin, tells Bustle, adolescence is a period in which our memory and processing powers are at its peak. Since your memory is much stronger during this period, you’re much more likely to remember the experience of falling in love vividly.

“Your first love is hard to forget because it leaves an ‘imprint’ on the sensory areas of your brain,” Bordelon says. “Memories during your adolescent years leave hormonal imprints at the same time as your neurological developments are forming your identity.”

These imprints can be intense and may elicit strong feelings when a memory is triggered. It’s why hearing that song you danced to or seeing a photo of them pop up on social media can bring you back and make you emotional.

Your First Love Affects The Way You Approach Your Future Relationships

Once you've experienced something so good like falling in love for the first time, you're likely to chase after that feeling again and again. It's a major reason why people are hung up on their first love long after the relationship has ended.

According to Buckley, your first love may become the “behavioral template for future relationships.” You learn what you like so you can find it again. And, you’ll also realize what you don’t like so you can avoid it.

“Our first love becomes a framework to judge future relationships which keeps the relationship alive in our memory, easily accessed and not forgotten,” Buckley says. “When we remember our first love as a comparison, we then trigger some of the neurochemistry associated with it, which only ensures the emotions associated with the memory stay active.”

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How To Get Over A First Love You Haven’t Moved On From

Just because your first love is hard to forget, it doesn't mean that it's the true love you'll ever have. But if moving on still feels hard for you, even years later, Buckley says there are a few key things you can to do to get over them.

For one, you can create a formal goodbye by “constructing a way for yourself to let go of the relationship.” This could mean writing a goodbye letter to yourself that you would send to your partner, burning personal items associated with the relationship in an informal ceremony, or getting together with friends to vent — or cry — about your first love experiences.

Connecting with a support group may even trigger some of the neurotransmitters that makes you feel good. “It reduces thoughts that we are ‘alone,’ and can provides us with positive social situations which fill the void left by the relationship,” Buckley says.

It’s also important to keep looking forward. For instance, don’t try to reconnect with your first love, especially if it’s clear that you two are in different places in your lives. There’s a chance that you’re holding on to a person that’s completely different from the one they are now.

“By making that connection, you are reliving the past, and distracting yourself from your present - who you are now and, if in a relationship, who you are now with,” Buckley says. “It also triggers the associated neurotransmitters and re-strengthens the biased memories.”

Lastly, work to “prime your brain to the present.” Think about what’s good in your life now. What have you changed? How have you become stronger emotionally, physically, or mentally? To move forward, you’ll have to stay focused on the present.

“This is where you are now,” Buckley says. “Only you can make the decision to stay here and move into your future, rather than regressing into your past.” While you may not be able to forget your first love, with support and reflection you can get over them.


Dr. Holly Schiff, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist

Dr. Robin Buckley, cognitive behavioral coach for couples

Joseph Bordelon, principal practitioner and owner of Christian Counseling Austin

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