I experienced my first heartbreak as a young teen. Standing at the bus stop. Desolate.
I pulled out my trusty Nokia 3310 and called Dad. Bawling my eyes out -- that particularly unattractive, can't-breathe-properly, snotty-nosed, red-faced sobbing. I needed him to make everything better.
An aficionado of all things conversation and charisma, I'd never found my Dad lost for words. But when it came to his little girl and her first heartbreak, he faltered. I knew he was hurting for me. Then he broke out into song (not even joking)...
The First Cut Is The Deepest.
I've never forgotten the words of Cat Stevens.
When two young people fall in love for the first time, it's fair to say they have no idea what they've fallen into. A naïve heart, that's never before been hurt. Untarnished and uninscribed. A Tabula Rasa.
Young love exists in an uncomplicated world before joint bank accounts. Shared belongings. In-laws. Kids' sport. Young love is powerful. It's irrational. It's all-consuming. It's addictive. And it leaves one hell of an indelible scar when it combusts.
That's not to say subsequent heartbreaks hurt any less (but God I wish they did). They just hurt differently. The landscape of concerns shifts over time. Coping mechanisms mature.
But is there some reason why first love is so unforgettable?
Psychologists think so, and they call it 'the primacy effect'. The intense emotional sensations experienced during 'firsts' (fueled by the 'novelty' factor) are seared into our psyches with a vividness that doesn't tend to fade.
In simple terms, memories like our first kiss (rather than our second, or our twentieth), our first day at a new job (rather than our fiftieth), the birth of a first child... all engage all our senses simultaneously, and make these memories much more likely to stick.
In fact, some psychologists believe we all have a 'memory bump' between age 15 and 26 (we seemingly make more memories during this time, and later recall them more vividly) because we experience so many 'firsts' during this part of our life.
Psychology aside, the main thing that separates first loves from all the others -- it's the only time you're ever in love where you've never had your heart broken. This feeds the tendency to love with a lack of inhibition, a lack of self-preservation.
That's not to say subsequent heartbreaks hurt any less (but God I wish they did). They just hurt differently. The landscape of concerns shifts over time. Coping mechanisms mature. You get better at talking yourself down from cliffs of irrationality. Thankfully, the wound of first love brings with it some important lessons in healing.
So if I ever have children, how will I nurse them through the minefield of first heartbreak warfare?
After I play them some Cat Stevens, I'll try to instill in them the importance of treating each new relationship like it's the first.
A life spent tending to old scars. Well, that's no life at all. So keep falling hard, intrepid young one. One day you'll land where you are meant to be.