Why You Can’t Let Go of Your First Love – and How to Be Free

Learning why you can’t let go of your first love (research calls it “emotional memories”) will help you know what to do and how to heal from the past. The first time you fall in love is more precious and enchanting than all your other loves put together! You never forget your first love because it has a special resonance in your very DNA. First love is intense and vulnerable, heady and scary – and that’s why it’s so difficult to let go of a past relationship. Your first love is part of who you are, who you were, and who you thought you would become.

Below is the story of Roy and Nora. Roy is a man who is engaged to marry his first love, Nora, 72 years after he proposed to her. During their 72 years apart they married other people, they lost their spouses, and yet they never let go of their first love for each other. Instead of trying to figure out why they couldn’t let go of their first loves, Roy and Nora simply moved forward with life. Their first love was always in their hearts and souls…and that love returned to them.

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • Why Roy and Nora “waited” 72 years to get married
  • Why you can’t let go of your first love (emotional memories)
  • What to do about emotional memories that haunt you

I urge you to write your “first love story” in your personal journal or even the comments section below. Writing is a healthy way to process your emotions and experiences, and can give you personal and practical insight into why you can’t let go of the past.

What to Do When You Can’t Let Go of Your First Love

Take hope. You may never be able to reconnect with or even marry your first love the way Roy and Nora did, but you can find a place in your heart and life for your first love. That’s the healthiest solution, it’s the best tip on what to do when you can’t let go of your first love: allow it to live in your heart without trying to quell or kill it.

If that doesn’t work for you, the practical research below will help you learn how to cope with emotional memories that are unbearable.

Why Roy and Nora “waited” 72 years to get married

In D-Day hero set to marry first love, 72 years after he first proposed to her, reporter Allison Lynch describes how Roy and Nora fell in love and got engaged in 1944. They were both 18 years old; it was a week before Roy went to fight in the D-Day Landings in Normandy.

Roy was shot and wounded during the Allied Invasion of Germany in 1945. He was hit with a bad case of shell shock (today, we call it post traumatic stress disorder); after he got back to England, his emotional struggles led to a breakup with Nora.

Both Roy and Nora moved on with their lives – even though they never forgot their first love. They married other people. They had children and grandchildren. They both eventually became widowed in later years. Nora thought about Roy occasionally, but she thought she’d never see him again. “I did think about him over the years,” she said. “In fact I dreamed about him a few times.”

Can’t Let Go of Your First Love

Why You Can’t Let Go of Your First Love

After 70 years passed, Roy tracked his first love down. He found Nora – and he didn’t even know if she was married or not! This is the part that surprises me; he simply wanted to give her a bunch of flowers and apologize for the way their relationship ended.

But Nora wouldn’t let him leave. “I knew him straight away,” she says. “It was a shock to see him because it had been such a long time, but it was lovely. It was just like old times.”

Roy proposed to Nora a second time – 72 years after his first proposal. This time, he proposed during his 90th birthday celebrations. The best part? She has the ORIGINAL ENGAGEMENT RING back on her finger – it’s the same ring Roy bought for £100 from 72 years earlier!

“I didn’t go down on one knee because I wouldn’t get up again,” Roy said. “But we had the first dance.”

Ain’t first love grand? Maybe you shouldn’t be searching for what to do when you can’t let go of your first love. Maybe you should let your life unfold naturally…because a surprise may be in store. In 4 Reasons to Wait Until You’re 35 to Get Married, I share why my husband and I waited for 17 years before we got engaged. It wasn’t a romantic first love situation like Roy and Nora, but it’s definitely true love. We are meant to be together, and I am grateful it took us 17 years to get married.

Why you can’t let go of your first love

Research provides clear evidence that your brain’s emotional center interacts with emotional memories differently than other types of memories. Emotional memories engage different brain structures than do “normal” memories, according to researchers at Duke University.

eThis research will help you understand the basic neural mechanisms underlying emotional memory formation.

This might help you know what to do when memories of your first love rise to haunt you.

In a study of emotional memories, Duke University researchers first exposed volunteer subjects to pictures that evoked both positive and negative emotions, and those that were neutral. Emotional pictures depicted such negative events as aggressive acts or injured people, as well as positive events such as as romantic scenes or sporting triumphs. Neutral pictures included such subjects as buildings or scenes of routine shopping.

While viewing the emotional and neutral pictures, the research participants’ brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRIletting go first love). After the scan, the volunteers’ brains were tested.

The results showed that the memories of emotional images were more strongly encoded in the participants’ brains than the neutral ones. Further, those emotional memories created activity in the amygdala as well as the medial temporal lobe memory structures of the brain.

This means that the emotional memories of your first love are stronger than, say, your memories of assemblies at school or going to class every day. The emotional and memory regions of your brain are intereacting systematically and consistently to form emotional memories; this doesn’t happen when you form neutral or normal memories. To learn more about this study from Duke, read How Brain Gives Special Resonance to Emotional Memories.

Emotions enhance memories. This is why you can’t let go of your first love: your brain has glommed on to the experience, and those neural grooves run deep.

What to do about emotional memories that haunt you

Painful, emotional memories – including the experiences and people that you most want to forget – are actually the toughest to leave behind. Cognitive research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that when those memories are created through visual cues (eg, your first love giving you a teddy bear or peck on the cheek at the movie theater), they are even more difficult to forget.

Ok, so now you know why it’s so hard to let go of the first person you ever fell in love with. What now?

2 options when you can’t let go of your first love: 

  1. Allow yourself to live with your first love in your heart
  2. Actively work towards grieving, healing, and forgetting

Which option you choose depends on your situation, personality, lifestyle, first love experience, current relationships, other emotional health issues, and spirituality.

1. Allow your first love to take residence in your heart

Can you reserve a small space in your heart for the person you loved and lost? You may not be able to force yourself to forget an emotional memory, but you can learn how to live in peace with the past. You CAN be happy and you CAN love someone new even if your first love is living in a small part of your heart. Maybe your first love can help you love better in your new relationship.

The truth is that we never truly, fully recover from the loss of a loved one. We grieve and heal, we move forward, and we learn how to be happy and laugh again…but the heartbreak of losing someone we love never goes away.

We can choose how our lost loved ones live in our hearts. Do we live in pain, or acceptance? Misery, or surrender to life as it is?

Faith is key. I love God with all my heart, and I trust that He is allowing my life to unfold this way for a purpose. He is the source of my joy, peace, forgiveness, and freedom. He is my light, my hope, and my confidence. He doesn’t protect me from loss, pain, sickness, or grieve…but He does carry me through.

2. Actively work towards grieving, healing, and forgetting

how to let go of someone you loveRead my ebook – I share 3 secrets and 75 tips for letting go – it’s called How to Let Go of Someone You Love. I wrote it when I lost my sister. It was so hard to let her go, but I did. And I feel light and free – but it does take time. And effort.

Those two options on letting go of your first love can work together. If you still need to grieve and heal, then you need to actively process your loss. The ebook will help, and so will a counselor if you need support. After the worst of the grief is over, you might be in a better frame of mind. And then, you might be able to live happily with your first love in a small space of oyur heart.

A reminder for you: write your “first love story” in your personal journal or even the comments section below. Writing is such a healthy way to process your emotions and experiences, and can give you personal and practical insight into why you can’t let go of your first love.

I can’t offer advice on what to do or why you can’t let go of your first love, but I read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience of losing the first person you ever loved.

For more tips on letting go, read How to Fill the Emptiness When You Miss Your Ex.

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13 thoughts on “Why You Can’t Let Go of Your First Love – and How to Be Free

  • Elizabeth

    I dated my first love 9 years ago when we were just graduating college. We were only together 6 months and both of us knew that we would be separating later (moving away for jobs/ further education). I haven’t met him since then but we have been in touch sporadically. I got married 2013 to someone else, and I know he has been dating someone for a few years. But I still find it so hard to forget him. I don’t want us to be together – our lives have progressed too far since then – but I love him so deeply. I think I’ll always love him. I just hope to see him again one day. It hurts to think about him sometimes but sometimes I also feel blessed to have such a deep connection with another human being. I used to look at the night sky and just be grateful that we were looking at the same stars. At least our spirits will always be connected, even if our bodies are far apart.

  • EWOK

    I fell in love with a guy that I started working with at my landscaping job. It was really love at first site. I was 19, and he was 29. My parents married 20 years apart, so 10 years difference didn’t mean much to me. I fell in love with his wonderful personality, his charm, his sculpted face, his looming silhouette. I was scared though, that he liked me because I was not a priced package. My hair was unkept, and I had a very rough looking face. Not maniquered like most girls. ( now it is and I cut my hair short, black, and I wax my face and put make up on regularly. Lol, looks quite refined now)But, I only new him a month but everyone at work wanted us together. We got to know each other quite well, and went on a date. The date was messed up…..because I didn’t want it to be a date but everyone at work told him it was. Went terrible. But, he was so romantic at the same time. Next day we confirmed we were dating. He said he had kids and a house to worry about. But he was still in the process of getting a divorce. I told him I would support him know matter what. And then he said I’m too young to be with him, and I shouldn’t have to take on such things. We broke up two days after the first date and he said he’s sorry. Once a month I’d text him back, and come this January, we broke up in June, he texted me back in a flirty kind of way. I was so mad at him I told him off and even sent him a evil card telling him off. I loved him so much and I doubt he’s ever loved someone that way. I remember everything that month we dated, hung out, talked about God and his word and how it can help our lives. I miss him. But, I guess he can stay tucked in a corner of my heart. Thanks for listening.

  • Rin

    I met my first love when I was 13. I became very reliant of him emotionally over the next 4 years of my life. Our relationship was either emotionally unbalanced or it was good. We did not have troubles with trust or us befriending the opposite sex but we did have the problem of over thinking in a negative aspect, that lead to our official break ups. Our relationship had officially been ruined when he had planned to move away. He over thought the situation. And when he didn’t move but stayed in town instead, Over the course of months and he would look for me or I would look for him but one thing lead to another and we broke up once again. Recently I messaged him but he told me off, said he was trying to move on that he had found something better. That hurt like hell and I’m still hurting like hell.

  • Laurie Post author

    Trust that even though your heart is broken – and even though it feels like you can’t let go of your first love – you will heal. You’ll always remember your first love with joy and a twinge of heartache. You’ll always remember your first love with longing and yearning, with a mixture of joy and sadness.

    If you believe that you and your first love are meant to be together, you will find your way back. Have faith in the power of love. Trust that if you and your first love aren’t meant to be together, then you will not find your way back — and it will be better this way.

    Sometimes relationships end, and we are wracked with pain…but the truth is that some relationships weren’t meant to be.

    Trust that if you and your first love were meant to be, you will be together.

    Choose peace. Pursue wisdom. Experience joy.

  • XYZ

    I was dating him since a year.We both mutually decided to let our parents know about it. The day I confessed about it to my parents was the beginning of them being in a denial. I thought they would be happy to know this as my parents already knew him but it turned the other way round. I tried a lot of times but they never tried to accept him. They made excuses for their disliking and my boyfriend tried to resolve the issues they had. One of the reason being his profession. My parents took me to several counselors so that I break up with him. But I was very emotionally dependent on him. I always wanted his attention and his time. Every time he hurt me, his punishment was to take out a day for me and we would spend a day together. He always kept his phone aside when he was with me. Whenever there was something that troubled him or hurt him, he would call me up and felt better. I was there with him when he was low on life or even stressed. We were together through thick and thin. All the emotional stress that the counselor caused me was relieved by him. I would talk to him and he would cheer me up. His silly romantic actions made me feel special. Our day never ended if we dint talk even once. On somedays he would come to see me at night in my balcony or we would video chat. Having achieved what my father wanted, he tried to convince him and my father was in denial again. All his self-esteem was put to shame and he abruptly called me to say its over. We had planned our life ahead. I still wait for his text. I still hope he will come back to me. And, I’ve started to hate my parents. I oppose everything they say. They are the reason why I am so lonely today.

  • Tee

    My First love, I met him when I was 13 years old. I can remember when I first saw him it was weird the feeling. I met him at the summer school I had failed science that your so I had to go to summer school. I thought he was the cutest thing I had ever seen lol. One day during summer school we went to the park they had a store there and we all wanted to get something. I got in line and was waiting to get something he was in line behind me. I heard him said to say he wanted something so I bought him some M&M’s and gave them to him. We never dated that year I started dating someone else but he was always in my heart. I didn’t see him again for another two years when I saw I didn’t realize it was him he had matured so much. I can remember going up to him and says Damion he was like yeah with a deep voice. That summer we were working for the summer school we didn’t date that year but I still had that crush on him. I knew had it on me but I started dating someone else. During the school year I saw him at the basketball game and I went and said hello he didn’t say much. The year went on and another summer came around and I saw him again. We would talk to each other he let me use his headphones and would walk by the classroom I worked and look through the window lol. It was so cute. This was the miracle year we started dating I remember he had written his number down on a piece of paper it was like he waiting to give it to me. He told me to call him. I called him as soon as I got home and that when we became on separatable. From that day on we spend every day together. When school started back we didn’t go to the same school so we decided to join a trade school and we were able to see each other every day. We knew then that we wanted to spend the rest of our life together. My parents didn’t like the thought of us being together so much they said wasn’t healthy for us to be so close. They told us we were too you young to be so serious, but I knew I love him so much. Our senior year was come around and we were trying to decided what we wanted to do. We decided to go to college together. My parents didn’t like that so at the end of our sophomore year. My parents told us that they couldn’t keep helping him like had so he had to think about doing something else like maybe going to the army. My parents said after I graduate I can go with him where he was stationed and get married. I can remember when I took him to leave for the army. I told him my parents got what they wanted. You are leaving I knew it was going to be it. He said no I love that would never happen. I cried so hard that day my heart was broken. After he left he call me and I would write letters to him every day. He told me he was going to be graduating basic training he wanted me to come but my parents said no. They told me that they would disown me if I married him. I was so afraid because I didn’t know what I would do without my parents. Then he would call and say that he knew I had someone else. I didn’t I love him soooooooooo much. He told me how he would get stacks of letters from me. I was so stressed that I almost failed out of school I was so afraid of losing him. I got tired of him saying that I was cheating so I did. I told him I did. We broke up for a few months then we got back together he came back for a month and we spend the month together. When he left everything seems to be ok but then he started again. I loved that man, GOD, I loved him. Then out the blue one day he called me and asked me to marry him but I told him no because something happened that I rather not say. Then that was it. It was over. We still stay in contact all these year matter a fact I just talk to him yesterday. Why do I still I love him.

  • Lisa

    This is the story of my first love. .Mike and I were together for 1.5 years in high school. I loved him so very much
    We dated and broke up after graduation (his doing ) I was devastated beyond words. Eventually I met and married although I always carried Mike in my heart. After 30 years of marriage my husband passed away. I (foolishly ) contacted Mike. He had been married 3 times . The last marriage produced 2 children. I have 3. Mike and I rekindled our love. We currently live together. .but I’m angry that he didn’t choose me. Crazy huh? I know it’s wrong but I can’t let it go. I don’t even want to visit with his children. On occasion I have had to be in the company of his ex. Funny she doesn’t bother me as much as his kids. I think it’s because that’s what I wanted with him. Don’t get me wrong I adore my children. I just can’t help feeling this way. Please help.

  • Renee

    My first love have been off and on together for a few months now. I met him at 18 and now I’m almost 20. We lived together basically the entire time we were together, and I feel so emotionally and spiritually close to him. I know that we truly see and love each others souls, because I have never in my life met someone who has made me felt so understood. I’m close with his family as well and know in my heart that no matter what happens I will always love him, but at this point in my life I know I need to let him go. I’ve been living abroad for a little while, and we skype nearly every day chatting, watching movies together, making music, playing games… but four months ago he slept with his ex. She broke up with him a while before he and I met. Apparently they only cared about sex, and soon after she got a new boyfriend and cut most communication with my boyfriend. I do feel guilty not being physically there for him since he is an extremely sexual person. For four months I’ve been trying to let go of my anger and resent and forgive, but I don’t have much trust in him anymore. He has begged for forgiveness, and sometimes I can forgive, but I am too full of fear to let myself be vulnerable with him like how we used to be. Both of us are pretty young (he’s 22), so we don’t want to create a bunch of expectations in our relationship about getting married etc., but we also both want to fix our relationship. I’m scared to be intimate with him again and let myself be vulnerable after getting hurt like I did, but I also don’t want to lose him completely. Like I said, we will always love each other, but how do I detach while still healing from this infidelity and while still wanting to be with him? I’m such a romantic, so how do I accept that even though we feel so natural and right that we may not end up together? I want to enjoy this time we have. It seems stupid to end such a great relationship based on fear and “probably not ending up together.” I just don’t want to get hurt again…

  • Laurie - Blossom

    I’m sorry you can’t let go of your first love, Danankah. It’s hard when someone you love leaves – and it’s especially difficult when you know it’s for your own good, but you can’t stop yourself from stalking and begging!

    What would happen if you stopped begging him to come back, and started focusing on letting go? What would it feel like to accept that this is the way this relationship has to end, and start healing and moving forward in your life?

  • Danankah Jones

    Hi, just lost they greatest love I’ve experienced. Dream come true kind of love. He left for both our good. But I can’t seem to let go. It’s absolutely unbearable at times. It’s been over 4 months now. And I’ve stalked and begged. Unbelievable. Help!!

  • Jimmy

    I just had my first serious relationship of 6 months ended 2 weeks ago. We are in the same class for uni and both are 20. It was her first relationship as well (I was her first boyfriend, when she’s my first serious girlfriend). I truly had the best time of my life so far when being with her. Unfortunately, it all ended when we both headed home (in different cities) for the summer holiday. I have given her everything, especially my heart. However, she couldn’t see us working out in the future, so she decided to break up over the phone, 5 days before I was due to fly to see her. She told me that she has had enough with holding in her grudges during the time when we were together, whereas I told her everything I wasn’t happy about during the relationship. I was just disappointed of the lack of communication coming from her. I thought all these ‘grudges’ could have been avoided if she told me how she felt when they happened. However, she always blamed me for trying to “change” her. I only wanted her to know how I feel. In the end, she claims that its our difference in personality that ended the relationship. Whilst her being my first serious girlfriend, I was truly heart broken. Although in the end of the break up, we became ‘friends’. But 2 weeks after, during a night when I was trying to delete our messages on social media, I accidentally saw one of her posts. Although the original content was harmless, I overreacted and called her and accused her of being unthoughful, both to our relationship and to myself. We had one last argument, and by the end, I told her that we could no longer be friends. That hurt me, but in the end, I feel that the last hope of reconciling has disappeared, hence giving the closure I’ve always wanted. I have not cheated during the relationship, always confess my love to her. I may have sometimes got angry and silent treated her. That is something I should change in the future. But she also said to me that I didn’t take her out enough, whereas I always loved eating food that she cooked for me, because they are filled with ingredients of love. We also go out for dinners at least twice/ 3 times a week. She said she wants a more mature man in the relationship. I may have acted childish at times when unhappy. But most of the time, I’ve been considerate to her and truly cared for her. I always felt we could get back together. But after the last argument, I have truly lost her. But in the end, the saying of ‘You cannot be friends with an ex as long as you still love her.’ I think this argument truly gave me a full closure and an ending for this otherwise happy relationship.