The article in the Washington Post caught my attention: Why we never really get over that first love.
Long after it ends, our first love maintains some power over us. A haunting, bittersweet hold on our psyches, pulling us back to what was and what can never be again. Unless . . . ?
But why? Why should this one lodge in our brains any differently than the others, even when the others were longer, better, more right? They just weren’t quite as intense as the first.
The scientific research on this topic is thin, but the collective wisdom among psychologists says it’s a lot like skydiving. Meaning, you’ll remember the first time you jumped out of an airplane much more clearly than the 10th time you took the leap.
“Your first experience of something is going to be well remembered, more than later experiences,” explains Art Aron, a psychology professor at State University of New York at Stony Brook who specializes in close relationships. “Presumably there’d be more arousal and excitement, especially if it’s somewhat scary. And falling in love is somewhat scary — you’re afraid you’ll be rejected, you’re afraid you won’t live up to their expectations, afraid they won’t live up to yours. Anxiety is a big part of falling in love, especially the first time.”
So the relationship embeds itself in us in a way that all those who follow never can. Not that the subsequent loves aren’t as good. For most people, hopefully, the ones that come later, that last, are ultimately more nourishing, steadier and more solid. But this doesn’t stop anyone from clicking on their first love’s new profile picture when it pops up on Facebook. You know, just to see.
Well my first serious love isn’t a Facebook click away (I don’t use Facebook anyway) but rather a tattered old Black & White photograph or two and a fading color snapshot of the two of us on the way to the Prom. But I still have my memories.
My first love spanned the transition from High School to college before it slipped around a dark corner and disappeared. It started innocently enough by meeting my soon-to-be girlfriend while on a movie date with another girl. Little did I know at the time that I was actually being pursued. When I finally took the bait, I showed up at a small house in the valley only to learn that my date was sick in bed. We chatted awhile and I promised to bring her my notes from class the next night and until she got well and back to school.
A week or two later we had our first date at a Drive-In Theater and I got a good lesson in differentiating between love and glands.
We were inseparable for the rest of my Senior year in High School and when I went away to the university we kept in touch despite the primitive state of long distance calling at the time (we actually wrote letters to each other). I came home periodically and exercised my hormones in that sweet way that was acceptable before the Summer of Love.
Then, for some reason, she broke up with me. I was devastated and several of the guys in the dorm would sit with me at night listening to my sad stories and offer less than useful advice. Although the next summer I pursued her with a vengeance, it wasn’t until the last couple of weeks that she gave in and we started going out again.
It seemed glorious but then I went back to the university and met a girl from New York City who intrigued me and my first love was at an end.
The really sad thing, however, was that I didn’t really replace love for love: I’m not certain I ever had a similar glandular response to my new love interest as I did to my first. And now over fifty years later, I can honestly say that I never have forgotten my first love and to this day I often stop and recall a smile, a squeaky voice, freckles, and probably the woman I most desired in all my life.