• Part of an essay in progress

First love versus the memory of first love

Posted November 1, 2013 11:05 am  

Why first love is so powerful is not hard to answer:

because the first of anything has special resonance.

because being in love is an altered state, a kind of temporary insanity and, hence, a rarity in our lives.

because, assuming that it happened in adolescence or young adulthood, it likely involved attaching to someone outside our families at the moment  we were trying to separate from our parents, in our finding a new ego ideal to replace the one we’d had since childhood.

because it likely involved our feeling confirmed in our desirability at a moment when we were most insecure about our own identity, of seeing ourselves reflected in someone else’s eyes in the way we most wanted to be seen (i.e., it was about narcissism).

because it fulfilled a fantasy, developed over the previous few years, which we waited and waited to become a reality, until it finally did.

because it may have been our first experience of sex.


Why the memory of first love is so powerful is another matter. Most of us go on to have other experiences of romantic love, usually with much more appropriate partners. Our identity issues get resolved; our confidence in our desirability gets established; sex becomes more satisfying. But the first love memory continues to hold extraordinarily intense emotion.

Entering the emotional space of the relationship (in our imagination, or by speaking to the person on the phone or though the internet, or by revisiting places associated with that person) is like time-travel, enabling us to re-experience in the present our feelings from an earlier time in our lives.  Proust famously describes the experience of an aroma bringing back the past in all its particularity and vividness. An encounter with a long-ago first love can do something similar, allowing you to experience again the feelings of a much younger, naive, possibly more impulsive you.

The question of where these emotions reside is an interesting one, given that they are so encapsulated. For more on this see: How can you have intense feeling about someone in the past, while having no feelings about the person in the present?



share    site feed
  • RF   February 4, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Memeory of first love is powerful because we probably did not know the person well. We feel the passion un-incombered by the failings of the real person.

    • eliz   February 5, 2014 at 12:55 pm

      That’s a very good point: you are dealing more with fantasy and wish than with a real person. Plus, if the two first-lovers were young, they may also have been somewhat unformed. If you are right, young first love, for all that it appears to be about another person, may be more of a personal, internal experience, with the idealized other person serving as the spark to a changing sense of ourselves. Do you think that might be?

write quick comment