Sticky Bonds

Lost Loves, Romances, and Families in the 21st Century.

With an Ex, Is It Ever "Just Lunch"?

An innocent get-together can trigger complicated, powerful feelings.

Many happily married people still want to see their lost loves. And they firmly believe they can control their actions and not cross "the line" with romantic or sexual contact (never mind that the line is crossed long before that).

Can they?

We do not control all aspects of ourselves. Even hearing a lost love's voice in a phone call can unexpectedly bring old emotional memories, sexually tinged, back into our consciousness. You can't prepare for this, or hold the line against it. You are not in control.

After a face-to-face contact with a lost love, even for a relatively innocent lunch, emotions and obsessive thoughts may break through. Add a "simple" hug, after many years apart, and you may be in for trouble. Are you really prepared to look into his or her eyes as you converse, see that familiar smile that used to be "just for you," and hear that voice with all its nuances of feelings?

And then, even if there is nothing more that day, imagine going home to your husband or wife and starting to fantasize about the lost love being there instead. Or watching a romantic movie and reminiscing through its scenes about moments with your lost love. The lights in the theater go on, or you turn off the TV, and reality tries its best to return—but those lost love feelings linger.

Some people (and therapists) think that seeing a lost love will defuse the feelings. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Days pass, after the lunch, and the obsession gets stronger. Why is "that song" on the radio? It must be a sign. You turn your head in the car, thinking you just saw the lost love walk by. Or there's a mental flicker of a lost love's presence in the food store, causing a double-take. Or familiar perfumes may waft through a department store as you walk by the cosmetics counter, or you spot the unusual brand of soap or shampoo your lost love used shelved in your local drugstore. With each sensory trigger, there is discomfort and mixed messages: It's disappointing that the lost love is not really there. But you also feel awful that you wanted the lost love to be there.

You may not be in contact with the lost love at this point, neither of you having done anything wrong—it really was "just lunch." And yet those sensory triggers surface unbidden and will not retreat. Focus may begin to shift from your spouse to your lost love and back again with distressing randomness throughout the day.

Yes, your current relationship is affected, whether or not you've been unfaithful.

And if you and the lost love continue to see each other, even "as friends," after all this unintentional sensory reinforcement in between, the physical relationship may become more difficult to resist. It starts to "feel right," and your current relationship starts to feel wrong. After that, sex with your spouse may even feel like cheating on the lost love.

It's a strong and topsy-turvy connection, because the emotions involved are fed by the initial romance from years ago. It causes anguish to the lost loves who don't know what to do, and to the families when an affair is discovered or announced, or even if continued secret contact, even if platonic, continues. As one's Facebook might read, "It's complicated."


Copyright by Dr. Nancy Kalish. All rights reserved.

Nancy Kalish, Ph.D., is an Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the California State University, Sacramento. She is the author of Lost & Found Lovers.


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