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Lost Loves: Real or Faux?

Some lost love obsessions aren't what they appear to be.

Throughout my 17 years of reading and hearing stories - written on my surveys, sent to me in emails or by snail mail, and by telephone - I have found that there is such a thing as a false/faux lost love relationship, and it is very common.

The basic profile of successfully reunited couples repeats over and over from story to story: they were 22 or younger; grew up in the same town and usually went to school together; they dated for a year or more; they separated because of a difficult situation, like parental disapproval, moved away, too young. Years later, the situation/obstacle is gone and they reunite happily (note: I am not talking about people who are married at the time of the reunion, just single, divorced, and widowed reconnections). Some may have been older during the initial romance, or dated a shorter time, or met at camp and didn't grow up in the same town, but that's the basic profile.

What the successful reunions are not: couples who years ago had problems in their romances and they separated because of that. And yet, people who were in early, difficult relationships sometimes have a strong desire to reunite, too. I call these faux lost loves.

A faux lost love situation is often one-sided; one person never got over the former sweetheart and obsesses over the past, but their ex-sweetheart may have no residual attachment to them. Additionally, the person who is obsessed with the ex often had a devastating life event occur during that romance years ago.

For example, maybe a couple was not getting along when they were teens, so they separate. But the teenage girl then learns she is pregnant (she may or may not tell her ex) and undergoes an abortion. For years, especially if she has an unsatisfying marriage or trouble conceiving a child in her marriage, she may think about her ex and wonder what could have been if they stayed together, if she had the baby.

A situation like this carries enormous emotions, and these may be misinterpreted as lingering love. There is a nagging pull to reconnect with the ex, to work through the past. But it is not the lost sweetheart that is really the focus; it is the related trauma that ties her to him. Chances are good that she does not really belong with him; her struggle is internal, and her ex cannot fix it.

In the situation above, if she decides to make contact, she may find that he had misgivings about the abortion, too (if he knew). The long repressed anxiety over the abortion, the high pitch of emotions, may spill out as a sexual affair. But again, that doesn't mean these two belong together as daily partners. They may ruin two marriages finding that out.

Another common faux lost love situation is when a parent dies during the teen romance. During his distress, the grieving teenage boy may turn to his sweetheart for support and receive it. That forever ties a major loss in his life to that teen partner. If the event hadn't happened, this might have been a casual relationship, ending as most teen romances do, with finality. But with a parent's death, there is no finality, the wound is always there, and the teen sweetheart's kindness always comes to mind. That doesn't mean he belongs with her as an adult.

Or, there may be a long relationship between two people in their twenties that has been going very well. Suddenly, without warning, one person ends it without explaining why, or simply disappears. The jilted partner is left to wonder, year after year, "What happened?" The ex becomes the focus, as a faux lost love, because that person who disappeared is tied to the situation, the question. The faux lost love takes on an importance, a feeling interpreted as lingering love, beyond the early romance, because the romance didn't land in a normal, understandable ending; it was cut off in midair.

If the jilted partner finally can't stand the obsession any longer and contacts the ex, there is a good chance that the answer to the question will be, "I found someone else - I cheated on you - and didn't know how to tell you that." I have seen this many times. So the person gets the answer, but the price is often very high: a good marriage may be destroyed by the obsession, which was misinterpreted as a lasting love.

So when I am a consultant for people who have lost love issues, I spend a great deal of time hearing about the romance that existed years ago. Some people initially think I am wasting their time - they want to talk about what is going on now - but unless the foundation is understood, the initial romance, the reunion issues won't make sense. Sorting the real loves from the faux loves is difficult, but it can save everyone a lot of anguish before real damage is done.

copyright Nancy Kalish, Ph.D.

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