April 8, 2010
Remember that first kiss, or the first school dance you went to? (Maybe they happened on the same date.) How about the first time you played an instrument in public and you were so nervous you thought you’d pee your pants! Do you remember the first time you saw the ocean and were mesmerized by the power and cadence of the waves? Then, there was that first car…and your first year of college! Somewhere in those years may have been your first sexual encounter....and the first erotic love making that made your eyes roll back in your head! (I doubt those happened on the same date!) I can still walk though our first house and remember every detail, and wax nostalgic by its specialness, and the time I counted ten toes on our firstborn child and feeling I was in the presence of a miracle. Firsts have a special place in our lives. In fact our brains remember our firsts in great detail because of their novelty, excitement and wonder.
“Primacy effects” are often full of vivid memories collected from our first events. They highlight episodic markers in our lives and weave our life story into them. Many times we can recall first or unique moments that changed the course of our lives forever. I find it interesting that when people get older, these firsts are also the special memories that last the longest, and preserve the greatest details
The first love is one such memory…a delight to remember, but also a set up for the future if we try to compare our vivid first feelings with our present realities. The first kiss that rocked our worlds is often uniquely remembered because it literally engaged all of our sensations at once..(some for the very first time.) Such novelty literally amped up our brains driving up the production of dopamine and other ‘phrines”, which in turn engaged brain systems associated with focus and paying attention to every detail. Subsequent loves may be better or worse, but that first impression was often pretty amazing.
The problem is that our minds template can be activated throughout our life. So we can meet someone who reminds us of someone else, or an amazing first experience, and find that it becomes the lens we judge all other experiences or relationships through. This is why it is not uncommon for us to drive each other crazy trying to re- make present partners into someone that conforms to the person who first rocked our world. When we start thinking, that “if I act a certain way…or the way I once did, I can make this new person perform the way the old person did,”, we are headed for trouble.
Traveling through the memories of our “Field of Firsts,” can be a fun adventure. But once we let our FIRSTS set up unrealistic expectations for our present lives, or attempt to hook up with our FIRST flame on facebook, there is usually only one result…ROAD KILL! As they used to say each week in the Hill Street Blues TV show.. “Hey! Let’s be careful out there.”