Many times I talk with men and women (especially men) who have developed a lost love problem accidentally and don't know how to escape it. They innocently friended a high school or college sweetheart on Facebook and before they put up their guard, their happy marriages were shaken. Yes, happy marriages. They come to me for consultation and ask how they can get over the obsession for the lost love, end the reunion, and return to their marriages. And as we talk, I often uncover a hidden factor that complicates everything: the hometown.
As adults, they left their hometowns to go to school or to begin a career. But their parents stayed in the family home and maybe the lost loves stayed in the old neighborhood, too. So along comes Facebook with the lost love, bringing memories of adolescence and young adulthood. The places and the high school (or college) sweetheart were experienced together: where they first kissed, went to the movies, walked hand in hand, the houses where they lived, the school they attended together. And so, sweetheart and hometown are intertwined in memory, and one brings sweet recall of the other.
These married clients know they want to stay married and know the marriage cannot include their lost loves. I can help with managing the obsessions and helping to interpret the initial romance stories they tell me (as needed). The clients assure me there will be no more phone calls or email... but what happens when they visit their parents in the hometown? All those triggers!
Yes, there are triggers, catalysts that bring all those sweet memories of the romance back to mind and heart. Visiting a hometown can make withdrawing from a lost love reunion difficult, no question about it; we discuss how to deal with that.
But here's a different question to think about: How much of the lost love longing is for the person and how much is for the places of happy memories?
The person reminds us of our youthfulness, and youthful milestones and places we loved. In fact, when a lost love reunion begins for two single, divorced or widowed people, they often travel down memory lane and return together to their old haunts in the old hometown or college town. Person and place are all wrapped up together, memories encoded as one.
Hometowns are important. Childhood houses are important. Even an old tree in the yard, that has grown through the years you've been away, takes on a wistful significance when you see it again. Do not dismiss the influence of these childhood places on who you are today.
The person is not the place. How much of the desire for the former sweetheart is desire for the whole package -- youthful excitement and hormones, families, familiar places, the zeitgeist of those years? Can you try to tease all the components apart, think about what can remain with you without the person? And think about what is no longer possible even with the person -- because there's really no going back to our once-in-a-lifetime youth.
I will always love my hometown on the Jersey shore (not that Jersey Shore).
Copyright 2012 Nancy Kalish, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved