OnDating: Is a First Love Bad for You?

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 27, 2009

The headlines came blaring across a trio of British newspapers:

"Why you SHOULD forget your first love."

"Puppy love should be avoided . . ."

"Why we can never recover from first love."

Citing new research by prominent U.K. sociologist Malcolm Brynin, the stories claimed that the relationship seekers of the world would all be better off if they could miraculously skip the experience of first love. That "the euphoria of first loves can damage future relationships," as the Guardian put it. The intensity of puppy love "could set unrealistic benchmarks, against which we judge future relationships."

The catch? That wasn't at all what Brynin meant. The book referenced in the articles, "Changing Relationships," is primarily about the shifting nature of modern relationships and the tendency of people to choose mates similar to themselves. And the short passage seized upon by the tabloids was just a reference to a Jane Austen quote: "Preserve yourself from a first love & you need not fear a second."

Intentionally or not, however, Brynin lit a small firestorm of Internet debate over the merits and danger of first love.

"I'm quite happy to keep the knowledge of previous relationships -- remembering both the good and bad parts are what helps make future relationships work," posted one commenter on the popular blog Jezebel.

"I think I've never been able to have another relationship because my first love was so perfect and intense and amazing," countered another.

So is it true? Would we be better off without that initial blaze of passion? Sociologist and relationship expert Pepper Schwartz doesn't buy it. "I would say, 'Lucky the person who's ever been over-the-top, madly in love with someone,' " she says. "You know what loving someone more than anything feels like. You know how selfless you can be, how big your heart is."

And while we're on the topic, Schwartz would like to dispel a related cultural myth: that true love comes only once in a lifetime. "Most people who are capable of passionate love are capable of having it again," she says.

So those who have felt love once are likely to feel it again, she adds, they just "won't feel it with the heart of a 15-year-old."

And if you're still looking for your first -- or second or third -- love, consider heading to the Hotel Palomar in Arlington this Wednesday for a speed-dating session designed for folks between 25 and 35. For more info, visit: http://www.hurrydate.com.

Send your thoughts on first love and dating in D.C. to dating@washpost.com.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company