There's a reason why countless movies, books, and songs have been written about first loves: they make a pretty strong mark on your memory — and your heart. In fact, that experience can become a blueprint for how you approach and behave in all your future relationships. Considering how impactful they can be, the question is: Can you ever really "get over" your first love? Yes and no, according to experts — ultimately, it all comes down to how that relationship ended and how content you are in your current life.
Experts say there are lots of valid reasons why a first love can be difficult to move on from. For one, you tend to go all in when your heart hasn't already been broken before.
"You believe that anything is possible as you can give and receive love so freely," explains Denna Babul, a relationship expert and the author of Love Strong. "At this point in your relationship experience, you have yet to be hurt, so vulnerability comes freely to you."
Another reason why these relationships are so powerful is that they tend to happen during adolescence, a pivotal time of self-discovery and growth that's packed with intense emotions. Not only that, but Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear, notes that the brain tends to encode memories more vividly during early adulthood, which is when many people encounter their first love.
During this time period, Dr. Manly says the brain is actually more sensitive to certain types of information — including emotionally-charged events. Since profoundly strong emotions often arise from the first time you fall in love (and have your heart broken), these memories can obviously have a lasting impression.
"Think of your first love as part of your early steps toward independence from your caregivers," says Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, nationally recognized psychotherapist and author of Training Your Love Intuition. "These steps toward greater independence can be especially emotionally super-charged because, well, they are your first steps toward becoming you. These experiences that get encoded in your brain's pleasure and pain areas — permanently."
In other words, your first partner can help shape who you are and the lens through which you view love.
There's also the element of novelty. Think of it this way: You likely remember your first kiss, your first concert, and your first legal drink — but you probably don't remember every one after that.
"Like many firsts in life, these relationships tend to leave an impact on the psyche," says Dr. Manly.
As Babul points out, you may have also learned a lot from your first love.
"The experience teaches you how you want to be treated and loved moving forward," she tells Elite Daily.
For all of these reasons, it can feel like your first love forever haunts your love life. You may find yourself frequently reminiscing about them, wondering what they're up to (and perhaps creeping on their social media), or even comparing new partners to them. While you definitely can't erase the memories, experts say it is possible to "get over" them in the sense of emotionally closing that chapter and opening yourself up to new possibilities. However, that may take some work on your part.
According to Dr. Manly, the problem with fixating on your first love is that very often, you're unknowingly seeing the experience through rose-colored glasses.
"The mind has a way of forgetting any difficulties encountered in the relationship (in a phenomenon often referred to as the Pollyanna Syndrome) and, instead, focuses on the positive relationship memories," she explains.
With this in mind, it's easy to see why obsessing over a first love can be problematic. How can a new partner ever hold a candle to someone if you're trapped in the past, and furthermore, only focusing on all the good things about your ex?
"There’s a certain danger in doing this, as first love often occurs during high school or college when life is not acutely demanding," adds Dr. Manly. "Absent significant relationship stressors such as financial difficulties, health crises, or raising children, one can idealize a first love experience. When this happens, future relationships pale by comparison to the perfect (or near-perfect) first love.
Fortunately, it is possible to put the past behind you. There are some factors, however, that may make complicate things. For example, Dr. Wish explains that if the relationship didn't work out the way you wanted it to — for instance, if your first love blindsided you by abruptly breaking up with you, then that can definitely make it harder to move on. Or, if you broke up with them due to circumstances outside of the relationship (like if you were going to college in different states), you may be left wondering what might have been, which can be painful. If you're really struggling to get over your first love, Dr. Wish recommends taking a look at your current love life, too.
"If you are currently unhappy in love, you might be more susceptible to recalling your early love and crush feelings," she tells Elite Daily.
Also, Dr. Wish adds that if your current romantic experiences are in any way reminding you of your first love, it's natural for some of those old feelings to resurface — including everything from excitement and infatuation to sadness and rejection.
As Babul points out, you may also be more likely to cling to a first love if your family life isn't stable, or you were otherwise not getting the affection you needed from others at home.
The good news is, experts indicate that it usually becomes increasingly easier to let go of a first love the more you grow, mature, and evolve.
"By putting the relationship into context — from the impressionable nature of the psyche to the undeniably poignant aura of first love — one can come to see that the relationship might not have been perfect and that it might not have withstood the challenges of life," explains Dr. Manly.
If your first love entailed a codependent relationship, Babul notes that you may need to do a little soul searching to find your individuality again. Otherwise, it can be extremely difficult to move on from that relationship — because in a way, your sense of self is still attached to it, so it would mean leaving a piece of your own identity behind. Dr. Wish suggests getting to the bottom of why you're having trouble moving forward by asking yourself the following questions: how lovable do I feel? If I don't feel lovable, what's getting in the way? What changes can I now make in my life to reinforce that I'm "worthy" of love? Would I change jobs? Go back to school? Break up with my current partner? This the type of self-exploration that can help you focus on the present, rather than the past — and it's especially important if you're hoping to strike up another relationship or eager to start dating again.
"By grieving the first love fully, accepting that life has taken a different path, and moving forward, the psyche is then open to new possibilities," adds Dr. Manly. "But for any new relationship to have a chance at true success, it’s truly important to 'do the work' to let go. Otherwise, any new relationship is unconsciously held hostage by ghosts from the past."
Getting over your first love won't be easy — but it's not supposed to be. Accepting that this relationship had a lasting emotional impact on you is the first step in breaking free. And however you decide to put the past behind you, remember to be patient and compassionate with yourself. You will undoubtedly never forget your first love, but you can certainly file them away in a different part of your heart to make room for someone new.
Denna Babul, relationship expert
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and relationship expert
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, psychotherapist and relationship expert