There may be times of loneliness and longing, of romantic disenchantment, of warm memories of youth when your mind travels back in time to a first love or a young love – to times less complicated, times of exhilaration and discovery. And you wonder what might have been or what might be if only you could reconnect with and get a second chance with a long-lost love.
What would life be like if this dream came true?
Beyond the fantasy, there is the reality of finding one another at a very different stage of life, with more people involved than just you two, and with different life trajectories that include losses and triumphs and disappointments that can color one’s life in whole new hues.
All of these realities can combine to make a reconciliation blissful or disastrous.
Carla and Jack were high school sweethearts who broke up near the end of their junior year and only reconnected at their 40th high school reunion. Their relationship in high school was based on the excitement their differences generated: he was a risk-taking bad boy, she an excellent student rebelling against her parents’ expectations of perfection. Back then, their relationship ended when Jack dropped out of high school just as Carla was beginning to plan her applications for college. They went their separate ways. Armed with a college degree and an MBA, Carla has enjoyed much success in business, earning a six-figure salary and owning a lovely home. Jack’s life has taken a downward trajectory with dead-end jobs, two divorces, several troubled adult children and ongoing financial challenges.
When they met again at their high school reunion, sparks flew. Both were drawn to each other again with warm memories of young love just as they were beginning to feel the first signs of serious aging. They dated for three months, then married. During the next year, both realized that their marriage had been a mistake. Jack felt put down by Carla and her successful, affluent friends. Carla chafed at his disinclination to better himself and at his lack of intellectual curiosity. They divorced before their second anniversary and, once again, went their separate ways.
Jenny and Mike were also high school sweethearts who continued to date during their first two years of college. They were wonderfully compatible: both good students with dreams of building successful careers and a close, loving family. The only obstacle to their happiness was her parents’ objections to his Catholicism. And that was a big one. When Mike asked Jenny’s father if he could give her an engagement ring after their sophomore year of college, he physically assaulted Mike. Such strong opposition made them despair of a future together and, sadly, with great reluctance, they broke up. Mike transferred to another college. They had no contact for 40 years. Both married other people and had families.
Then, about a year after she ended her long, but difficult marriage, Jenny found Mike online. His wife had died the previous year. They cautiously reconnected – at first via email, then by Skype and finally, after about a year of long distance contact, Mike flew to Jenny’s Florida home for a visit. Sparks flew. They were married a year later — with the blessings of his five children and her two — and they recently celebrated their 7th wedding anniversary, treasuring every day they have together.
What made the difference between one long lost love story and the other? What factors could lead you to a blissful reconnection – or to a love disaster?
1. Consider the basis of your original attraction: Some relationship qualities wear well with time while others don’t. Sharing similar goals and values both in youth and later on can make a critical difference. A relationship of stark differences that began in the throes of adolescent rebellion can be tough to sustain in maturity.
2. Give your reconnected relationship time to grow. In the initial excitement of reconnection, there can be a tendency to try to make up for lost time with constant togetherness and a rush to commitment. You need time to discover who you both are now as adults and if the people you have become are truly compatible.
3. Make allowances for the ways your lives have changed. For most who rediscover a long lost love, the fact is that it isn’t just the two of you anymore. One or both of you may have children – dependent or adult. And that means a shift in priorities from the old days. What they feel about your relationship can have an impact on its success or failure. Your financial obligations and priorities may be a source of friction. And a failed marriage in the past may have left emotional scars not present the first time you fell in love.
4. Keep your expectations of each other realistic. You may both have obligations to demanding careers and to aging parents as well as to children. The long, languid days of leisure and endless opportunities have passed. You both have lives that require some skillful balancing of priorities. You may also need to adjust expectations springing from erotic memories: sexual athleticism and marathon lovemaking may be a distant dream as you deal with the reality of aging, changing bodies. You may still make wonderful love – but perhaps less often. You also may re-discover the joys of making out or cuddling, particularly if medical conditions preclude or limit the frequency of intercourse.
5. Be open to the idea that there are many ways to love an old flame. Maybe rekindled romance isn’t your destiny. Not all rediscovered loves need to follow a traditional path that includes sex, commitment and marriage. There are so many ways to love another. You may enjoy a close and treasured friendship, perhaps sharing the sweetness with more than each other. And that can be a very singular blessing.
Many years ago, I had a four year relationship with a man who was fifteen years older than I and from a vastly different culture – and these differences eventually factored into the fading of our romance. Living in different states now, we’ve always stayed in touch but our emails and phone visits have become more frequent as his health declines. Just yesterday, I got a letter from his niece/caregiver, who has become dear to me in recent years, letting me know that “my uncle can only say the sweetest things about you and it warms my heart, too. It’s wonderful, after all these years, to feel the sweetness and the kindness that you have both given each other.”
Loving each other as longtime friends can, indeed, be a wonderful life experience and a sweet legacy to the other loves in your life.