Duana C. Welch Ph.D.

Love Proof

Is It Time to Track Down the One Who Got Away?

A survey finds startling results when old flames reconnect.

Posted Feb 25, 2015

dotshock/Shutterstock
Source: dotshock/Shutterstock

Do you have an old flame you can’t stop thinking about—someone you’ve never really gotten over? Perhaps you’ve dismissed such musings as impossible, impractical—or mere puppy love. 

My husband and I recently attended a dinner where one of the couples had gone to middle school together—and then had not seen one another again for 30 years. But the man never forgot his childhood sweetheart and went to great lengths to find her. Today, they’re nuts about each other.   

Factually speaking, surprisingly, that’s the norm.

When lost lovers reunite, it’s not casual, and they don’t just date—in one study, 80% of people who had a lost lover they recontacted after at least five years married that person! And these marriages are exceptionally likely to last. Consider the national divorce rate for first marriages: 47%. Now compare that to the divorce rate for rekindled lovers: 2%.

That’s not a typo—these are the safest odds on the planet. Ninety-eight percent of people who married their former love stayed together. And the unions are, the partners report, bliss—satisfying sex, highs that linger long-term (and maybe even baby-talk that ruins dinner party companions' people’s digestion).

Think about it this way: If you met a stranger today, and you clicked, what are the odds that you’d be blissfully high on one another for the rest of your lives? Now compare that with the odds for lost lovers who reconnect. It’s not even close.

So, should you contact your former lover?

According to research by Dr. Nancy Kalish, if you fit one of the following profiles profile—and you’re not married already—the answer may very well be Yes:

You were youths when you first met. Most happy rekindlers were younger than 22 when they met. Some they met as children at age 5 or even earlier.

Your breakup was because of circumstances, not incompatibility. Kalish told me that the Number One issue that had separated happy rekindlers was parental disapproval. “The parents tore them apart," she said, "and sometimes in very brutal, emotional ways. Or it could have been that the family moved away, or it could have been, ‘we went off to different colleges,’ or 'we were too young.’”

One woman told her, “We both had 30 years of unnecessary pain. I think if we could have been left alone then, we would have stayed together.”

Significantly, none—not one—of the happy rekindlers in her research had initially broken up because they weren’t getting along, had different values, or had character flaws that would make the relationship unworkable. to the contrary, past incompatibility is an excellent reason not to contact an old flame. “If somebody was abusive years ago or you weren’t getting along," Kalish said, "personalities don’t change. The person isn’t going to be right for you now, either.”

You've been apart for 10 years or more. Kalish only studied couples whose separations had been five years or longer, so we don’t know the outcomes of reunited couples who'd been apart for shorter time frames. But the most successful renewed relationships were those who'd endured separations of at least a decade. It’s unclear why rekindled relationships that tended not to work out had had shorter separations, but people who reconnected after fewer years may still have been so young that they might not have been in a position to make the relationship’s day-to-day details work out.

Your lost love was important to you. Successful reunited lovers were not casual about their partners. They always recalled their relationship as supremely special—just like that couple my mate and I had dinner with. In hindsight, they saw that the relationship was, in fact, irreplaceable. In the survey, this relationship tended to be the one to which all later relationships were unfavorably compared. And these lovers showed this appreciation of their relationship’s uniqueness in various ways, such as keeping old love letters, photos, and other mementos through the years.

Your reconnection was immediate. Although successful rekindlers didn’t always resume their romance right away, as soon as they spoke again they almost always knew that the relationship really had been "The One." And the intensity of the reconnection was felt even in the rare instances when it was not expressed. One of Kalish’s respondents who reunited with her first love after 45 years wrote, “My son recently asked me how long it took, after we met again, before I knew that ‘this was it.’ I thought awhile and answered, ‘About 10 minutes.’”

The couple we met was beyond doubt right for one another. They found their future in their past. How about you?

Duana Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, available now; this is a partial excerpt (copyright Duana Welch). You can get a free chapter and more at http://www.lovefactually.com