First loves prove unforgettable

By Pham Nga   June 12, 2023 | 04:58 am PT
A few years ago, every time he visited his hometown, Tung got drunk and sat on the river bank looking over the water towards his ex-girlfriend’s house.

There he remembered the times when they were together, and he sang out into the night.

Nguyen Xuan Tung, 65, who now lives in the southernmost province of Ca Mau, admits that it took him some 40 years to move on from the memories of his first love, who grew up with him in a small village in the central province of Nghe An.

The relationship began when Tung was 18. They maintained a long-distance relationship for four years during Tung’s time at university.

After graduating, Tung was sent to the south for work. He asked his girlfriend to go with him, but she refused because she didn’t want to leave their hometown and her elderly parents. A few years later, they officially ended their relationship.

Photo illustration by VnExpress/Pham Nga

Psychologists claim that it is common for people to not be able to forget their first love easily. Photo illustration by VnExpress/Pham Nga

At that time, the woman was in her 20s and considered a "spinster." She wedded a man from the same village who had already divorced and had a child.

"I always regretted it and thought if I had been stronger, marrying me could have made her more complete," said Tung.

Tung then married a woman from Ca Mau province, who was both good-looking and competent, and had his children. Still, he felt unfulfilled.

That’s why he used to get drunk before sitting on that riverbank where he and his first woman fell in love every time he returned to his hometown. He enjoyed the bittersweet, if not melancholic, memories of the times they shared there.

Every once in a while, he ran into her in person, and each time he felt like it awakened all the old feelings that come rushing back in, overwhelming his senses.

Minh Ha, 37, of Hanoi, had to consult her psychologist after suffering depression and not being able to move on from her first boyfriend, whom she dated in her secondary school years.

When they took the university entrance exam, her boyfriend passed but Ha failed. She tried to maintain their relationship while her boyfriend was away at school, but by sophomore year he had a new girlfriend and suggested that he and Ha break up.

Ha didn’t fight it because she felt inferior to his new more educated girl. Then she married someone she didn’t love, or even have a single romantic feeling for.

Then later, when she found out her ex-boyfriend was getting married, she realized she still had strong feelings for him.

"I often dream about him when I sleep," she told her therapist.

"Then I cry when I wake up and regret not trying harder for my true love."

Ha had done her best to take care of her family without feeling too unhappy. She tried to forget her first love, but the more she did so, the more she missed and dreamt about him.

"In those dreams, I feel loved. The feeling is really vibrant," she said.

Her inner dilemma pushed her into a psychological crisis, making her have to ask for the help from her psychologist therapist.

‘Deepest, most shocking feelings’

In a VnExpress survey of 1,300 people, around 20% reported that they had not moved on completely from their first loves, like Tung and Ha. Another 57% said they missed their first love sometimes, but they did not let it affect their current lives.

Psychologists claim that it is common for people to not be able to forget their first love easily. People normally have their first relationships when they are young, which leaves them with clear and vivid memories that last for a long time.

"Your first love is hard to forget because it leaves an 'imprint' on the sensory areas of your brain," says American counselor Joseph Bordenlon.

Vera Ha Anh, a Hanoi-based couple therapist, explains that many people bear the thought "the grass is greener on the other side," which makes them miss the relationships they lost.

"It’s not necessarily first loves that make it hard to move on," she says. "It’s the relationship that generates the deepest or most shocking feelings."

Psychologist Nguyen Thi Tam adds an insight to this, claiming that relationships that ended because of external factors like distance or familial forces are most likely to linger.

She warns that: "Those who have not completely moved on from first loves tend to compare their current partners with former ones."

"If these people don’t know how to control their words, they’ll easily hurt their partner."

Tung was a typical case of this. He often called his ex-girlfriend’s name when he got drunk. Everyone in his family knows about his old relationship and they even talked about it in front of his wife.

"I know I hurt my wife and children many times, but when I got drunk, I couldn’t control myself," he admitted.

When speaking to his wife, he even compared her directly to his ex-girlfriend and forced his spouse to dress and behave like her.

Vera Ha Anh suggests another possible risk when people do not completely move on from their former relationships.

"Many do not even control their feelings for their ex-loves," she says. "When they have the chance to meet their ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends again, they will easily fall into the trap of wanting to start the relationship over again."

This is not suggested by experts. Tam says: "You should not bring your old feelings to your current life. Instead, just think of your previous relationships as parts of your life."

"Remember that you broke up with that person, which means the relationship had a problem or your feelings ran out."

What Vera Ha Anh suggested to Ha is similar: "Don’t trade your precious present with merely some recalls of the past."

Tung only realized that now, in the twilight of his life.

"When I get sick, when I fail, my wife is the one beside taking care of me," he says. "I missed too many moments of my current life."

Now, he and his wife ride their bikes around the city every morning, seeing the sun rise together. He sings lullabies for his grandchildren instead of singing songs about regrets over his first love.

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