One of my website members asked me:
"I know you've touched on it elsewhere, but it would be nice to learn more about how men view their lost loves years later, after the weight has come on, and the wrinkles are showing. I often wonder, if the man were actually to become single again, would he REALLY want the older version of us? Or would he want a young, firm woman who is half his age? To me it seems like a no brainer that he'd go for the young sexy woman because men are so visual."
Certainly Charles Dickens fit the description of a man who could not get beyond the aging appearance of his lost love. His first love, in 1829, was Maria Beadnell. He pledged his everlasting love, but her parents did not approve of him. Her dad was a banker, and he did not think Charles was worthy of his daughter. Dickens was just a court stenographer.
Maria herself didn't think Charles was worthy of her. She was two years older and thought he was too young. Sometimes she seemed to encouraged his love, but at other times she pushed him away. She flirted with Charles to make other suitors jealous.
On his twenty-first, coming-of-age birthday, he confessed his deep love to Maria. She insulted him, calling him "boy," and they stopped speaking to each other. He was broken-hearted.
Dickens used Maria as his model for Dora in David Copperfield, a novel that was autobiographical. He describes Dora as having "the most delightful little voice, the gayest little laugh, the pleasantest and most fascinating little ways, that ever held a lost youth in hopeless slavery."
When Maria contacted Charles again, he was a famous author. In 1855, she was married, and wrote to Dickens. He was also married (with ten children!), but he was thrilled to hear from her again. He hoped for a rekindled romance with her. She warned him that she had changed during the 24 years since they had seen each other; she described herself as toothless, fat, and old-looking, but Charles could not believe his lost love would have aged badly.
They soon had a face to face meeting, at his home when his wife and children were out. Dickens was shocked. Maria had been truthful; she had changed! She continued to contact him, but he ignored her.
After that meeting, he used Maria again as a character, in his novel Little Dorrit, but this time the portrait was not flattering. "Flora, always tall, had grown to be very broad too, and short of breath; but that was not much. Flora, whom he had left a lily, had become a peony; but that was not much. Flora, who had seemed enchanting in all she said and thought, was diffuse and silly. That was much. Flora, who had been spoiled and artless long ago, was determined to be spoiled and artless now. That was a fatal blow."
But in my survey research, over 2 decades, I have not encountered men who behaved like Dickens. My male research participants reunited with their aging lost loves and couldn't care less about the weight gain, scars, sagging chins, and all the other ills of getting older. For one thing, they acknowledged that they had gotten older, too, and they worried about what their lost loves would think of their appearances when they met with these women again!
Yes, men are visual. But there is an inner eye, too: men who rediscover their lost loves see someone slightly different from the women who are actually in front of them; they see the girls they loved so much, years ago.
As one man expressed to me: "I looked her over from top to bottom—wrinkles, veins, gray hair, brown eyes a mile deep, white skin, red lips, and soft voice—and I lost it all over again."
Prince Charles loved Camilla and never stopped loving her. Was Diana more beautiful? Was Diana younger? It didn't matter.
Sure, there are men who care more about beauty than a woman's character and who prefer women much younger than themselves. There are just as many women who won't date men who are "too short," or "too fat", or don't have "enough" money. But these are not people I found in my lost love research survey; these are not people drawn to lost love reunions. Men and women who think about lost loves longingly throughout the years and want another chance with their old flames are not looking for a hot new partner. They are people who appreciate the essence of their former sweethearts and what they experienced together; they want that person, wrinkles, weight and all.