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The Scientific Theory Why Breakups Hurt More When You're Younger

Time really is a healer - but not for the reason you might think.

If you've ever wondered why heartbreak is supposed to hurt more when you're younger, it turns out there could be a scientific explanation as to why. And it's not just because you've never experienced it before...

 

According to Dr Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D, a dual-trained brain surgeon and neuroscientist, there are a few different factors at play the first time you go through a romantic split in your teens, twenties or thirties.

 

Firstly, it's important to understand what happens when you first fall in love. "Wild, new, passionate love releases chemicals from the natural pharmacy in your brain such as dopamine and serotonin, the same ones that are artificially triggered with some drug use (such as cocaine or ecstasy)," the neuroscientist explains.

 

So basically, love is a pretty potent thing to experience. "It's the same feeling as scoring the winning goal or a ballerina nailing a pirouette, you get a thrill," says Dr Jandial.

 

Love and drugs offer similar highs, ergo the crashes are similar too when the substance is removed. "When you're younger, there’s also more of a hormonal component to consider as well - there's sexual desire," notes the expert.

 

This comes in the form of a shedload of testosterone and oestrogen, and while brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin take mere seconds to kick in, brain hormones take minutes, sometimes even take days. They truly embed themselves up in your head, essentially. Now that's not to say that when you turn 40, that's it, no more sex drive – but female hormones change and male hormones lessen with age, usually when an adult hits their 40s, 50s and 60s. In younger people - teenagers, or those in their twenties or thirties - the hormone are more intense and all over the place when falling in love.

 

"Brain hormones – things like oxytocin, the bonding chemical – are far harder to shake"

 

"So the heartbreak, after passionate love, may feel like it lasts longer because it goes beyond only fairly fleeting brain chemicals," the neuroscientist explains. "Brain hormones – things like oxytocin, the bonding chemical – are far harder to shake."

 

There's another reason that first love heartbreak ends up hurting so much, too: brains need to contextualise - but this only happens with age. "Brain hormones and chemicals totally dominate when we’re younger and our brains haven't learnt to contextualise situations, like a break-up, yet, either. Brains like patterns, consistence and order, so the first time experiencing something unfamiliar or disruptive - like getting dumped or seeing your lover out with somebody else – is likely to take longer to process."

 

Makes sense, right?

 

"The older we get, the more thought and wisdom we gain, alongside the hormones and the chemicals withering a bit. The second [or third, or fourth, etc] time around, in theory, there should be slightly more of a voice saying, 'Keep going, you survived this once before and can do the same again'."

 

Obviously everybody is different, so even if this is your third, fifth or hell, even tenth break-up and are still feeling horrendously, unendingly lousy, then maybe your brain is just a little stubborn at registering the pattern.

 

If you're looking for a post-break-up boost, setting one of these motivational end-of-relationship quotes, as your phone lock screen might be a good place to start.