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Why it can be hard to get over your first love

Whether you still hold a spark for your ex, or whether it went down like a torched city, everyone remembers their first love. There is a popular view that your first love is hard to get over. But is that always the case? Do our experiences impact the way we look back on these relationships?

Associate Professor Gery Karantzas from Deakin University’s School of Psychology suggests it depends on the kind of relationship, and how it ended, as to how easy it is to move on from your first love.

Are you positive it was positive?  

Your first relationship was probably full of firsts. First kisses, first proper dates, your first time feeling cared for, protected, and in a proper partnership. Those firsts can be intense and memorable.

If these ‘firsts’ were positive, you may remember your first love with fondness, and consequently, find it harder to move on. On the other hand, if your experiences left a sour taste in your mouth, it is more likely you may find it easier to let go of that first love.

In hindsight, it is possible to forget the more negative moments in a mostly positive relationship. You may have a stronger focus on the cosy way you used to cuddle, the cute freckle on their right hip, or when they bought you flowers that one time.

But Assoc. Prof. Karantzas explains that ‘the reason a relationship is recalled as positive, is because it was positive’. And these are the first loves that may be harder to get over.

Creatures of connection

According to Assoc. Prof. Karantzas, ‘we are wired for human connection’This natural urge to reach out and bond with other people makes us crave contact. Most people relish being in a relationship where they share intimacy, and enjoy having someone to share their daily lives with, he says.

When a relationship ends, it can be difficult to re-adjust to single life without reminiscing about your lost love. ‘The distress we feel when our first relationship ends is something we experience across any meaningful relationship that comes to an end, [but] is not especially reserved for a first love,’ Assoc. Prof. Karantzas says.

'The distress we feel when our first relationship ends is something we experience across any meaningful relationship that comes to an end, [but] is not especially reserved for a first love.'

Associate Professor Gery Karantzas,
Deakin University

Time to say goodbye

For many of us, our first love is followed by our first break up. This in itself can make it hard to let go, as we teach ourselves how to survive a separation.

If your first relationship was a long term one, Assoc. Prof. Karantzas believes this adds to the struggle of moving on. He suggests it is common to have difficulty in letting go of a partner who has met our needs of love, comfort and security.

The aftershock

Sometimes relationships end because of a violation of trust, a lack of respect, or poor decision making. If this is the case for your first love, again, there’s no definitive answer on if moving on is easy or difficult.

Recognising that this was not the person for you may make you feel relief and in turn make it easier to walk away without ever glancing back. This was the case for Christina* (*not her real name). She reflects on her first love with candour, explaining, ‘we wanted different things and I finally got the courage to leave him. And I’m so glad I did.’

Christina was with her ex for eight toxic years. Christina described her time with her ex as full of problems; clashes with friends and family, cheating, and money issues. It was because of this that Christina finally realised she wanted to walk away – and did so with the support of her family and friends.

‘I thought I’d be alone forever, he completely shattered my confidence,’ Christina says. But after the initial grief of the first two weeks, Christina says she was able to see that she’d made the best decision for her future. In hindsight, once she had made the difficult decision, it was a relatively easy relationship to walk away from.

On the other hand, ending a relationship under such negative circumstances could mean an outdrawn and troubled mourning period. Assoc. Prof. Karantzas advises, ‘it may be difficult to get over because the relationship may have resulted in issues of mistrust and the formation of some negative attitudes and beliefs about relationship partners in the future.’

You do you

Some people are lucky enough to end up with their first love. Some are not. Some are still crying over a bottle of wine, listening to Adele on repeat and eating ice cream by the litre. Some throw an annual party celebrating the bullet they dodged that one time.

However hard it was to move on from your first love, or regardless of how fondly you reflect upon the relationship, one thing seems clear; you always remember your first.

Interested in understanding the complexities of human relationships? Consider studying psychology at Deakin. 

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Associate Professor Gery Karantzas
Associate Professor Gery Karantzas

School of Psychology, Faculty of Health, Deakin University

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