Why our first love is the deepest
Published 01/02/2012 | 06:00
Whether you were seven or 17, everyone remembers their first love. Not to mention the butterflies, hand-holding and heartbreak. And you could relive all those feelings at an exhibition in the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. A Day Like Any Other by Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander invited men and women to describe their first love to a sketch artist -- with the finished sketches making up a larger portrait called FirstLove.
But just what is it that leaves our childhood sweetheart etched so clearly into memory decades later?
"Falling in love for the first time is a bit like being hypnotised," says relationship counsellor Beth Fitzpatrick of Access Counselling.
"It's the first time you experience a love different from the love of a parent. Suddenly, you get this rush of endorphins and feel amazing -- so it's no wonder that people often view their first love through rose-tinted glasses."
Just look at The Notebook. Capturing that unforgettable feeling of first love -- and the loss of it, the 2004 tear-jerker starring Ryan Gosling has practically become a rite of passage for women everywhere.
More recently, One Day, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess told another familiar tale of two incompatible college pals irresistibly drawn together down through the decades.
"It's a fantasy," agrees Beth. "Without even knowing it, from a very young age we're all searching for our soulmate."
"And even when the fantasy ends, people still subconsciously compare every subsequent relationship to their first."
As Esquire's current Sexiest Woman Alive 2011, pop star Rihanna surely has her pick of the most eligible bachelors on the planet.
Back home in Barbados recently however, the 23-year-old was snapped dirty dancing with her first boyfriend 'Lucky' Negus Sealy -- who she met at a party when she was 15.
"Of course I fancy her," admitted Negus Sealy. "But right now she doesn't have time for anything serious with any guy. I will always be here for her."
Meanwhile, newly single Katy Perry perhaps forbodingly laments 'The One That Got Away' in her latest song.
"Some people can spend a lifetime wondering 'What if?'," says Beth.
"Especially if the relationship only ended because one person went off to college or travelling, rather than because they grew apart.
"When you're in a relationship a while, faraway hills often seem greener -- I have clients who admit to sleeping with an ex even though they're married."
But what happens if 'The One That Got Away' turns out simply to be 'The One'?
More than two decades after they first broke up, Asian superstar Kraen Mok married her ex-boyfriend in Italy in October.
Reconciling with her first love two years ago, the 41-year-old singer revealed: "It's all fate. This person is my first love when I was 17. [When he proposed], I didn't even hesitate."
And the first cut may be the deepest, but it seems reopening the wound can be surprisingly painless.
Almost 75pc of rekindled flames are successful, according to a landmark study of 'lost love' reunions.
"If there was essentially nothing wrong with their love the first time, then they are thrilled to get a second chance," says Dr Nancy Kalish, author of Lost & Found Lovers: Facts and Fantasies of Rekindled Romances, who conducted the international survey of over 1,000 people.
"Certainly not all relationships are lifelong -- sweethearts in college may be right for that time and place but not as lifelong partners. But our personalities stay the same and maintaining relationships throughout life is normative.
"Some loves that were lost are more successful later on because the partners are more mature, have better communication and compromising skills, and factors like parental disapproval are no longer relevant."
It's good news for Prince William and Kate Middleton, Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green and Nick Lachey and Vanessa Minillo -- all of whom broke up for a while before eventually tying the knot.
So is love lovelier the second time round, as Frank Sinatra once crooned?
'Sometimes when people separate, in hindsight, they realise that they weren't a very good boyfriend or girlfriend," says therapist Beth Fitzpatrick of AccessCounselling.ie. "Once they've gone off and grown up a bit, they may want to give it another go -- assuming that neither party has met someone else in the meantime.
"But it only works if you figure out why you broke up in the first place. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton broke up and got back together several times during their lives, but never really figured out how to be together."
And after four decades with the same man, Beth is testimony to the power of first love.
"I met my husband when I was 16 and we're happier than ever," she says. "We were introduced by his sister, who I worked with, at a dance.
"When he first asked me out, I was planning to stand him up -- but then he collected me from home, so I couldn't get out of it!"
"It was only after about six months when he went away to work as a glazier that I realised how much I loved him and we married two years later.
"If my daughter came to me now and said she'd found 'The One' at 16, I'd probably put her in an asylum," jokes Beth.
"But I firmly believe that a good relationship is one of the most important things in life. And whether you're 18 or 80, when you find it -- hang on to it with both hands."