Though it is human nature to want a happy ending, Koreans tend to like first love stories that focused on love unfulfilled. The movie, An Introduction to Architecture, released in 2012, also dealt with first love that ends tragically and it ended up serving as a reminder for many of their heartbreaking first lo0ve. Nevertheless, there must be a reason that people are drawn to first love stories; people want to have it as memories that last permanently.
First love can be truly wonderful yet fragile and/or tormenting at the same time. In reality, not many love stories romantically end like that of Noah and Allie’s, and often, a person’s first love relationship may seem like it ended too soon. As a result, the memory of it lingers at the back of people’s minds only to unexpectedly reveal itself from time to time. For some, their first love is remembered as heartrending while for others, it is romanticized and transformed into something more on the level of fantasy than reality. What both scenarios have in common is that in both cases, a person’s first love can greatly affect a subsequent love relationship.
How the Memories of Love are Stored
If a person sees a random number it is soon forgotten unless conscious efforts are made to remember it, such as repeating the number over and over again. It is said that the average person can remember seven types of information for only 30 seconds. Changing short term memory into long term memory necessitates repetition called Rehearsal. There are two types of Rehearsal: Maintenance Rehearsal and Elaborative Rehearsal. Maintenance Rehearsal is similar to mechanical repetition such as when memorizing a phone number. While it may help us extend the duration of our short term memory, it is not critical for our long term memory. In order to form long term memory, Elaborative Rehearsal is needed whereby the more the process of repetition is elaborated, the more likely long term memory forms.
The elaboration of memory not only requires the information given, but also additional information related to the given information. It helps the memory to be enriched and thus the memory becomes deeply rooted in our brain as long term memory. In case of first love, there are many examples of how the memories are stored. Jeong Tae-young, a Junior in the Department of Material Science Engineering at Korea University, said, “Whenever I see a woman in the pouring rain without an umbrella, I automatically think of my first love. The day I first met her, she was soaked by unrelenting rain. I asked if she would like to share my umbrella and we sheltered ourselves from the rain together. Her face was dripping wet and she looked like an adorable rain-soaked puppy.”
Haunting First Love
Like Jeong’s example, the memories of a first love can pop up inadvertently when a person sees something that serves as a reminder of that love. To make the matters worse, these memories can overshadow the future love of a person. Choi Jun-hyuk a Sophomore, in the Department of English Language and Literature, said, “I prefer girls who have dimples on their cheeks. That’s because my first girlfriend had a beautiful smile with dimples. Whenever I see someone who has dimples, it reminds me of her. In fact, this has become one of the criteria I look for when choosing someone I would like to date.”
Choi’s example shows how some people tend to seek someone who shares similarities with their first love. The qualities and/or characteristics of a person’s first love can even subconsciously become the standard by which that person selects others for a romantic relationship. This phenomenon is described as the Anchoring Effect, which is the human tendency to rely on initial information provided when rendering decisions.
Chae Kyu-man, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Sungshin Women’s University, said, “When people make a decision, they need something to compare. When it comes to love, people are inclined to compare their current or even future love with their first love experience, especially college students, who often do not have much experience with romantic love. Imagine for instance, that a girl’s first love was kind and considerate. When she starts to date someone else, the standard of kindness she has will be based on her first memory of kindness in a romantic relationship, so naturally she will compare her current boyfriend’s level of kindness with her ex-boyfriend’s.”
First Love Is Not the Absolute Standard
There are some who may be concerned that the vivid memories of their first love will make it extremely difficult or even impossible to free themselves of their influence. This is unlikely however, because adaptation is the key in human evolution. Although anchoring occurs, it can be changed and replaced by other later experiences. Chae said, “Although the memories of one’s first love may be painful and seem indelible, the truth is, anchoring is not permanent. Of course, some obstinate people can insist on clinging to past memories, but anchoring itself is temporal and can be substituted by other variables due to factors such as age, experience, social status, and so on. For example, suppose someone intends to choose someone who is rich and attractive because that person’s first love had those qualities. But then, the person meets and is attracted to someone who is completely the opposite. The person realizes that those things he or she once thought were desirable (by using their first love as their standard) are no longer satisfying. As a result, he or she changes his standards. This actually happens all the time.”
Finding Comfort from the Memories of One’s First Love
If a person continues to use his or her first love as an anchor, it can have negative effects. Because college students do not have much experience in love, they are likely to use their first love experience as their standard of love. Some even claim that they are not able to love the way they did with their first love. These people are haunted by lingering thoughts of their first love and thus, they limit themselves and their choices. This kind of suffering is actually self-imposed and thus, not necessary. These sufferers need to realize that an important part of maturing means being able to change and adapt to one’s situation in order to move on and progress.
This is not to say that memories of one’s first love should be intentionally disregarded and forgotten. Rather, these memoires should serve as a type of comfort. According to Chae, “Repressing memories of one’s first love can actually bring about problems. A person’s experience and memories of their first love have their own value as they are, and thus people should not feel that it is absolutely necessary to erase them. People tend to select fond memories of their first love when they recall them. Therefore, every time these memories come to mind, we should think of them as visitors that come and go. Doing so will allow us to find comfort in these memories of our first love.”