"I had a really nice time with Alex, but it paled next to how I felt with Steve. Don't get me wrong, Alex was considerate, kind to me, generous and a good lover. It's just that the world didn't stop for me as it did with Steve." Ellen said.
I responded, "I understand. Steve was your first love."
Ellen's eyes closed as she swooned. "He was the love of my life."
"The first love always seems that way. It's magical and that's because love was in full bloom back then." I said.
She agreed, "Yeah, I was crazy in love back then."
"And back then was?" I asked.
She quickly answered. "Twenty years ago." Grimacing, she said, "I know, I know. I've told you already how miserable I was for the last eight years. Steve was controlling, inconsiderate, a workaholic, and I felt lonely, depressed, with terrible back aches and headaches."
I came back with "And now that you have ended the relationship how do you feel?"
Sadly, Ellen remarked, "Still lonely, a little depressed, but no back aches or headaches."
"So your separation was pretty good for your health." I said.
She pondered my remark and then said, "It seems that way, so why can't I get over the past, the good stuff that is? I want so much to fall in love again."
I offered. "In many ways you're fortunate. Some people hold onto the bad stuff, and the brain gets locked into the trauma so that moving on and falling in love again is exceedingly difficult. In your case, the difficulty in moving on is that your brain has locked into the love you had. And that's because love is such a strong driving force in all of us. Indeed, we're wired for love, born to bond, to connect, to attach, partly, because love is essential for the survival of our species."
"My brain is one-tracked and a lot of the time, I forget the pain, the hurt, the disappointments, the fights, the resentment, the depression and hold onto the beginning, the dream we had." Ellen explained.
I said, "So your brain is disconnecting from the negative."
"It's like I pushed the negative to the back of my brain." Ellen concurred.
"But it's there." I held out the possibility of integration of good and bad experience
"I'm afraid that if I bring it to the front, I'll feel terrible again," she said.
I made an interpretation. "You push the trauma to the background in order to protect yourself. Indeed, you were hurt deeply and at some level you may fear just what you want most ─ to fall in love again."
"You're saying that I have mixed feelings about love." She got it.
I then told her, "It seems there's some unfinished business. Perhaps we could review some of the painful interactions that you have pushed to the background and bring them into the foreground here in therapy where it is safe. Freud said that you can't fight an effigy in hiding."
This then was a good part of the problem. Ellen, like many of us, find it difficult to move on after the separation of a long term relationship. Many of us stay glued to the old mad crazy love even after it has faded, deteriorated, or even become toxic. No matter how abusive, neglectful, or unfaithful our partners have been, some of us hold onto the dream we had of creating a life together.
Falling in love again takes time. Before you can connect to a new person, you must reconnect to yourself. For starters, take stock of your strengths. For example, begin to value your maturity and life experience rather than yearn for youth and naiveté. That you have experienced love and loss enriches you so that you are more in touch with who you are, what you need and desire, and all that you have to offer a new love partner.
Then of course, for you to really accept all of you there are your shortcomings that you must face. For example if you were too needy, too clingy, too demanding, too dependent on your partner, you might want to find new avenues for engagement so you can feel fulfilled internally and more autonomous, and independent. Immerse yourself into satisfying activity, whether it is family related, work, hobbies, or supportive friends.
Then again, you may fear intimacy and distance yourself from your partner. If that is the case, it would be wise to examine the old trauma that is lodged in your brain so that you can modify it and move on.
With greater insight and self-acceptance you will be poised to reconnect with yourself at a deep level. Only then can you accept and connect with someone else at a deep level. And that's part of what falling in love again is all about.