Love lingers in the heart, and the brain, psychologist says
There is something about a first love that stays with a person throughout their life, even if it ends, according to Nancy Kalish, a developmental psychologist and professor at California State University, Sacramento.
Kalish studied a group of 1,000 people of all ages who had broken up with their first love, but saw that person again later in life. She found their recollection of their first experience with love usually at a young age often is seen as the most emotional and sexual relationship of their life.
"These first loves are very significant, whether adults look at it that way or not," she said.
The reason that first love has such a big impact on a person's life is not raging hormones, but the experience of growing up and learning together, she said.
"Those teen years are formative years, they're very important," Kalish said. "You're forming identities together and figuring out what love is."
On average, men took longer to recover from losing their first love than women, she said. Some men said it took more than 10 years to get over the loss, while women commonly reported one or two years. A possible explanation is that men often keep their emotions pent up while women might confide in friends.
Kalish also studied a group of people who had broken up with their first love, but had not contacted them again. Many of them noted tragic circumstances for the breakup, and 15 percent of the people surveyed said they were interested in reuniting with their first love.
"Even with these awful first love experience they were valuable in some way," she said.