Looking for Love?
Find your First Love
Jan Cullinane is an award-winning retirement author, speaker, and consultant. Her current book is The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (AARP/Wiley).
Do you remember how you felt on the day of
your first “real” job interview? I know I experienced
a gut-churning mixture of optimism, anxiety,
racing heart, exhilaration, and sweaty palms. How
about the first time you had to speak in front of a
large crowd, ask for a raise, or went parasailing?
For most of us, memories of “firsts” containing
elements of scariness and excitement are burned
into our minds, making them unforgettable. So it
is with our first love.
Many first-love experiences bloom during
adolescence, replete with raging hormones,
heightened emotional responses, and a brain still
“under construction.” Researchers from Syracuse
University found that when we fall in love, we
release euphoria-producing chemicals with an
effect similar to cocaine. Combine that with
the tendency to recall more positive memories
between the ages of 15 and 26, and you have
a recipe for craving a repeat of that first-love
The research about people reuniting with their
first loves is compelling. For more than 2 0 years,
Dr. Nancy Kalish, Professor of Psychology at the
University of California, Sacramento, has studied
couples who reconnected after being apart for
many years. Kalish found that couples, both
of whom are available because they remained
single or became widowed or divorced, enjoy
an astounding 70% relationship success rate
when they reunite and found about 75% are still
together after following them for over a decade,
with only a 1.5% divorce rate after four years.
Quick story: Kristi R. cut my hair when I lived in
another state. Kristi was divorced, had three
children, and was telling me about her upcoming
40-year high school reunion. I was familiar with
Kalish’s research, and asked Kristi if she had a “first
love” who would also be attending the reunion.
She said that yes, as a matter of fact, one of her
friends said “John” would be there, and was also
divorced. Kristi hadn’t spoken to John since they
broke up in high school. I told Kristi she’d end up
marrying this guy. Kristi laughed, but guess what?
She and John are now married. Anecdotal, but
Kalish’s research verifies this common scenario.
The research is so powerful, there is even a reality
show called “Find My First Love!”
There is a dark side to reconnecting with a long-
lost love, however, if either or both parties are
not truly available. From Facebook, to LinkedIn,
to Classmates.com, to Google, the Internet has
made it easier than ever to locate that first person
who made our pulse jump and our insides turn
to jelly. Kalish’s research on connections via the
Internet found that 62% of the 1600 participants
she surveyed were married (or the former love
or both were married), and only 5% of these
reunions ended up with the couple getting
married. Many married people, most of whom
considered themselves happily married, ended
up in emotional and/or physical affairs, resulting
in heartbreak, ruined lives, and shattered families
The research indicates that first loves that
were ended by “outside” factors such as parental
disapproval, separation due to relocation, or
pressure to end the relationship because the
couple was “too young” had the highest rates of
success when reconnecting. Obviously, couples
involved in a first love that ended because of
fighting, cheating, different values, or abuse
tended not to look for their first love.
If it turns out that both you and your first love
are unattached, consider contacting him/her. If
either you or your first love isn’t completely free
to reconnect, don’t reach out – it could lead to a
world of trouble!