Rekindled Romances

What your family needs to know about them

By Karen Springen


Thanks to Facebook, it’s easier than ever to rekindle old romances. The desire is understandable: “There is a sweet nostalgia, safety, and joy in memories of one’s youth,” says Dr. Elizabeth Berger, a child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character.

But, especially for married couples, tracking down old flames can be dangerous. Developmental psychologist Nancy Kalish, a professor emeritus at California State University Sacramento who has spent years studying thousands of Americans in rekindled romances, says 62 percent of her internet-era reunited lovers were cheating on their spouses. (The other 38 percent were single, divorced, or widowed.) When she looked at rekindled couples a decade earlier, in 1993 to 1996, she found that only 30 percent were being unfaithful to their husbands or wives.

“What’s happened is people who never would have looked before, people who were not looking for romance, are contacting all their classmates,” says Kalish, author of Lost & Found Lovers: Facts and Fantasies of Rekindled Romances. “It’s fun, and they get caught up in this. They have never cheated before. It’s like a time of madness and craziness. They write, ‘How are you,’ and they exchange a picture. Then you want to talk on the phone, and then it goes from there once you start talking about the old memories.” One married woman left her spouse for a guy who was “way above her in stature in high school,” says Kalish, who runs “Her self-esteem went way, way up. The husband was out in the cold with two little children.”

Here’s what you need to know before you or anyone in your family pursues a lost love:

Do a gut check before you contact your old flame (if you’re already married). “If they’re not planning to get out of their relationship, marriage or otherwise right now, don’t contact the person,” says Kalish. “That’s not a moral judgment. That’s a psychology judgment that nobody’s happy once this happens.” As Crosby, Still, and Nash sing, it may be best to “love the one you’re with.

Understand the allure of the unresolved romance. “It’s not unrequited [love],” says Kalish. “It’s unfinished.” Like regular people, some celebrities seem drawn to old sweethearts. Gossip sites recently reported that actress Kate Bosworth was cheating on her boyfriend, “True Blood” actor Alexander Skarsgard, with her old high school flame.

Think about why you want to return to an old beau. “The idea may be to see what happened to them,” says psychologist Marcella Weiner, co-author of The Problem Is the Solution: A Jungian Approach to a Meaningful Life. “Was I important to you now that you’re now 40 and never got married? In a narcissistic sense, how did you manage without me all these years?”

Respect your emotions (or your adult child’s emotions). “Many of the love relationships between people of 14 or 16 or 18 are deep and devoted and lifelong — or deep and meaningful, if perhaps not lifelong,” says Berger. “So I think it is wise to have a respect for people’s emotions, including the romances of 14-year-olds. Remember Shakespeare!” (In case you’ve forgotten Romeo and Juliet’s youthful passion for each other, re-read the play — or at least check out SparkNotes.)

Remember why you split up. Did you fight all the time? Or did your parents come between the two of you? Sometimes moms and dads intervened because they simply disliked the beau or thought he would get a girl pregnant, says Kalish.

Factor in familiarity. “One’s old flame in high school shares memories and gives a sense of coherence to one’s lifetime — a feeling which may seem especially delightful to someone who is recovering from a divorce or widowhood or who has recently joined the ‘singles scene’ after many years in a marriage or raising children,” says Berger. “Many people, recently divorced or widowed, feeling completely at a loss in terms of knowing how they might go about meeting someone interested in a new relationship. They feel like they’re 17 again since they haven’t been on a date since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.”

Make sure you aren’t wearing rose-colored glasses. “Often the memories are more pleasant than the actual reality of the time,” says Berger.

Consider whether you’re just curious. Sometimes you’re simply dying to know what happened to your first love. “The mixture of curiosity (how did he turn out?) and nostalgia for one’s own former self, as well as a wish to recreate the innocence, trust, and passion that people often bring to a first love, can lend a sense of specialness to the fantasy of romantic reunion,” says Berger. “And perhaps, the magical idea that one can turn the clock back and enjoy the path not taken is also part of the allure.”

Know that not everyone wants to reunite. When Kalish asked non-rekindlers whether they would reunite with their first love if given the chance, she discovered that 30 percent of men and women said yes. (Of course, 70 percent said no, she says. “Some of them were saying, ‘Heck, no, who would want to do that?'”)

The bottom line: If you’re single, rekindle away. If you’re not, think twice (or thrice).

From Life goes strong website, Source Getty Images