Heart to Heart: Conversations about First Loves

“Talking about previous relationships, including significant ones from early on, is an essential step in establishing a connection with another person. But it can also turn into a divide between you and your new significant other.” / Published in the March 2019 YM Issue

“Talking about previous relationships, including significant ones from early on, is an essential step in establishing a connection with another person. But it can also turn into a divide between you and your new significant other.” / Published in the March 2019 YM Issue

Reuniting and settling down with the person on the receiving end of our first genuine “I love you” is a sweet thought. In the chaos that is one’s often lifelong experience with love, dating, and sometimes marriage, defaulting to the partner who introduced us to all these feelings may seem like a scenario straight out of a dream. 

Illicit Encounters, a British dating site, conducted a 1000-person survey that found only 25 percent of people end up with their first love. To me, even that result seems exceedingly high.

So when most of us inevitably move on to other people, we are left with the problem of how to deal with the feelings from our first love that still plague both us, and sadly, our new partners. Talking about previous relationships, including significant ones from early on, is an essential step in establishing a connection with another person. But it can also turn into a divide between you and your new significant other.

Angela Wright, a freshman at Berklee College of Music, said the talk about first loves is inevitable for a couple. “It’s not like you plan on having that conversation,” says Wright. “It just comes up, and you have to tell the person the truth if you want to be taken seriously and show that you care.”

There’s a reason our feelings for first loves dwindle in our memory even after we have moved on. According to an article in the Washington Post, our first experiences with a significant other are stamped in our brains because “for many, it happens during adolescence, when hormones are raging, and every life experience feels magnified.” 

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Maria Sato, a freshman journalism major, said her experience with her first love left her emotionally unstable, hurting her ability to date new people. “For a while, I felt like I could never love anyone else,” says Sato. “And that was a real problem for me, because I didn’t feel anything honestly. I was numb.”

As a newly established adult––only 18 and in my second real relationship—my first experience with romantic love is still fresh in my mind. The relationship lasted through high school but quickly ended after we parted ways to colleges across the country. In the four years we were together, every laugh and every argument was bold. Together, we explored what sex and romance were truly like and came to know how they were supposed to be. My fond memories with my high school boyfriend are similar to how many, if not most, people remember their first love. 

When the topic of first loves came up with my current boyfriend, we were sitting in the kitchenette in my Piano Row suite on a late night. He told me about little letters he wrote to a girl he fell for at summer camp and saw occasionally later on—cliche yet true. It was weird hearing someone talk about the feelings they now have for me, while seeing the faint glimmer of past emotions in their eyes. I felt protective even though I knew he now lived over a 1,000 miles away from where they had initially met. 

After hearing the story, I almost regretted contributing to the initiation of the conversation about first loves. In an odd way, I thought I was overstepping my boundaries into a confined part of his life he rarely revisited. 

Though in the moment it may be nice to briefly reliving old relationships, these conversations can hurt a new couple more than help. 

Wright said she would avoid mentioning her ex to stave off these feelings of overstepping and emotional confusion. “It was kind of a hard line to balance and tiptoe around. I always found myself steering away from using [my ex’s] name so it didn’t cause drama with the person I was dating now,” says Wright. 

I couldn’t blame my boyfriend for being nostalgic and frankly a little upset after retelling his unique story of love and loss. Though there was no reason for me to be, I felt faintly jealous of the new love he had felt for her. 

Berklee freshman Erik Martinek summed up the reasoning behind these complicated, enduring emotions. “I don’t think love is something that necessarily ever leaves you. You learn how to cope and move on, but there’s always going to be those memories and that excitement that you always remember.”

But the messy nature of first loves and their impact on our lives should not stop us from sharing these sweetheart stories with our new loves. Our experiences explain who we were and frame who we continue to be, so sharing the effect of this history with our partners can only bring us closer together.