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28 July 2014
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You are here: BBC Science > Human Body & Mind > The Mind > Emotions and instincts

Your first love

A couple in love

Everyone remembers their first love. Few experiences will ever be as intense and overwhelming as your first crush. When teenagers develop a sense of extraordinary closeness with another person, the experience has echoes of the close contact between mother and child in infancy.

Falling in love as a teenager is more intense than the experience in adulthood. But these early relationships usually burn out quickly. One survey showed that at age 15, dating relationships last an average of only three to four months.

Love on the brain

Researchers have identified pathways in the brain which light up when teenagers are in love. Falling in love seems to have a similar effect on the brain as using cocaine. It's so pleasurable it's almost like an addiction.

Brief loves

Researchers have identified three phases of love. The initial physical response is 'lust'. The falling in love is called 'attraction'. The emotional commitment, required to make relationships last in the long term, is known as 'attachment'.

Teenagers seem to experience the attraction phase more strongly than adults, but their failure to enter the attachment phase may be to blame for the short-term nature of their relationships.

Lessons in love

A couple in love

However short-lived it might turn out to be, an experience of passionate love can quickly become the most important thing in a young person's life. Teenagers in love spend endless hours talking, either on the phone or face to face.

This intimacy teaches them about their own identity, simply through becoming close to someone else. Intimacy also involves openness, sharing and trust, so it also contributes to maturity.

As well discovering new emotional feelings, most teenagers also experience new physical desires as well.


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