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All You’ll Probably Ever Want To Know About Rekindled Romance

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All You’ll Probably Ever Want To Know About Rekindled Romance

Wise Readers,

Do you have someone from the past you just can’t stop thinking about?  Then you’re in luck, because today, LoveScience is honored to welcome Dr. Nancy Kalish, the world’s foremost researcher on rekindled romance.  Thanks to her generosity and your questions, we’ve got a lot to cover about whether or not it could be a good idea to contact The One Who Got Away.

 

Who are the Lost Lovers?   

DW:

Let’s start with some background, Dr. Kalish.  What are Lost Lovers or rekindlers, and how have you studied them?  

NK:

Well, I’m the one who defined that, since I’m the only one who ever researched it; I get to define it as I choose.  And the way I defined it for my research study was somebody who loved somebody years ago [who attempted or achieved a reunion at least five years later.  I didn’t want the Hollywood, “Oh, we broke up two weeks ago but now we’re back together” thing]…the relationship could have been a friendship [or a romance when it began]…And the research was sexual-orientation-neutral….

DW:

Mmhm.  So these lost lovers or rekindlers, they’re people who fell in love and then spent at least five years apart and then have made an attempt to get back together.

NK:

Yeah, now actually, when I do this, I say [rekindlers who qualify for the research should have] had at least one face-to-face meeting.  There are a lot of people now who do sexting, who have emotional affairs, all sorts of things, even Skype, but have never met face-to-face.  So they wouldn’t have been included in the two samples, but it works the same way.

How common are Lost Lovers? 

DW:

Okay, alright.  Your work on rekindlers has been the basis for two of the top-five most-read articles at LoveScience.  I mean, every week, every week, my search engine result shows that people are reading the articles that are about your work.  Is having a lost lover a common thing?

NK:

Umm, no.  It’s not uncommon, either; it’s just another way that we look for love.  So when I asked ordinary people who had never tried reunions if they’d be interested, over 70% said no, and a lot of them put in the margins, “Heck, no!  Who’d want to do that?”

The average person doesn’t even understand [the desire to locate a former love], and that’s true of therapists, too; they weren’t trained in this.  So it’s only a set of people who fall into a certain profile.

What’s the profile of Lost Lovers who reunite successfully? 

DW:

I see.  I guess what initially drew me to your work is, I had a lost lover, but things did not work out later on.  When people write to me about your work, usually their rekindled romances didn’t work, or they can’t work because life circumstances have prevented that.  But I’ve got neighbors who reunited 50 years after their parents broke them up; they are madly, passionately in love and they are now in their 90’s.  In your research, what’s the profile for people do reunite successfully?  

NK:

Well, let me address the difference first between the people who contact you and the happy neighbors, ‘cause I get that too.  [The set of issues people contact me about] is skewed, especially on my website and my consulting, to confusion and problems.  The people who are happy and who have a free chance to marry, yeah, maybe they’ll contact me, maybe they’ll send a picture, but they don’t need me.

And I think that’s important, because when you look at my early research and the book, one of the criticisms I got (not from psychologists but from someone in the media) was, “Well look at all these happy stories.  The unhappy people didn’t want to contact her.”  And you know that’s not true.

DW:

Exactly.  The people in pain are the ones who want your help.

NK:

Exactly, yeah.

DW:

So, these people who do reunite successfully, like my blissfully happy neighbors—I mean, they cannot keep their hands off each other, and they’re in their 90’s—what’s the profile for those folks?

NK:

The successful profile which has held up for all these years, whether it’s the early 90’s or Facebook or whatever—it’s the same.  These are people who fell in love, or even who were good friends years ago; it’s not about the sex, they could have just been good friends in high school, even, or in college, or even younger in the case of the friends.  They’re adolescent romances as we would define it in psychology—age 22 and under.

They grew up together with the same values, probably knew each other’s families, and they share roots.  So that when they find these people again, they’re comfortable, they’re familiar; there’s a very high degree of trust.  And I think that’s what makes these relationships so sexy.

DW:

Mmhm.  Yeah, I think trust is underrated as sexually exciting.

NK:

Yeah.  You have to be comfortable with your partner in order to let go and be your sexual self.

Another [difference between] these romances and people who never tried reunions and don’t want to is [that the rekindlers were separated by] a situation that was out of their control.  The #1 issue was parents disapproved.  That was my word, “disapproved”; actually, the parents tore them apart, and sometimes in very brutal emotional ways.  Or it could have been, “the family moved away,” or it could have been, “went off to different colleges,” or it’s “too young.”

I’ve [gotten responses from people who met as] five-year-olds who played together on a playground because their moms were friends.  Years later, when they grow up, they see each other and they fall in love.  I didn’t expect that group, but there you go.

So they loved each other when they were young, and there’s this ambiguous loss….”What could have been?” “What should have been?”  There’s a question that lingers.  “What if my parents hadn’t broken us up?  Would the relationship have worked?”

What should parents do to avoid being blamed for/ruining their kids’ lives?   

DW:

You know, that brings up a really interesting question, because most of the LoveScience readers are parents, and a lot of them have asked me, “How do I help my child with their burgeoning sexuality without making myself Public Enemy #1?  How do I help them?”  And a lot of parents are really hesitant to remember their own youth and to remember that love when we are young can be real nonetheless.  And I just wonder what advice you have for these parents given your research?

NK:

You know, it’s funny.  I wrote a book for parents on teen romance…I did not find a publisher….The acquisition editors said, “Parents aren’t interested in that.”  Of course, the acquisition editors are 22 and what they’re saying is their parents aren’t interested in them, maybe.

But yeah, it is real love, and when you think about it, years ago—I’m going back to the prairie days—people married young; you were 17, 18, you fell in love and married the guy from the next ranch, and you started a family.  And then we started marrying after college at 22, and now, for women, the mean age of marriage is 26, 27 and for men, 28, 29  We’ve gotten  that far away from the first love.

So what I’m saying is, years ago, people married their first love.  My parents did.  And there was no other.

Now, teenagers are taught by adults to think, “This doesn’t count.  I can let go of this because there’re thousands of people for me in the future.”  And they will never have that early bond or that familiarity, of shared roots…but even more than that, of establishing an identity together, because that’s when people do look at their identities, so they mold around this person.  I think that’s why some of the 18-year-old marriages—you know, my parents’ generation—worked really well.  ‘Cause they grew up in the same circumstances.  So, growing up together and kind of molding your personalities together and sharing all that—I think that’s very powerful.

For parents, my advice after listening to these couples is, if this person is not harmful to your kid, leave it alone.  Usually, early romances break up, but it’s not for a parent to do that, because when these couples reunite, years later, after parents broke them apart, they’re bitter.

And they’re resentful, because usually, they’ve missed their childbearing years together, so they can’t have children together.  And they have, maybe, nasty divorces from people they shouldn’t have married in the first place.  And, you know, their lives are kind of messed up.

Whereas if it had run its course and they had stayed together, they would have been happier.  Or at least, the parents would not have been resented.

DW:

So, parents out there—don’t necessarily blow this off as puppy love?

NK:

Right.  There’s no such thing.  It’s real love, it’s real feelings.  It’s not mature, in the sense that maybe you’ll want something different later, but isn’t that why we have divorces, too?

….For those couples whose parents broke them apart, I looked at the reunions.  Were the parents right?  And it didn’t work out?  Or were the parents wrong?…And what I found was interesting…50% of the time, parents were right, and 50% of the time, they weren’t.  

So a parent who doesn’t like a boy (and this was a common thing I got), who has, say, ADHD…he’s not doing well in school, he looks like a loser to the parents?  Well, one of these guys wound up as a famous dog handler and makes a lot of money.  You don’t know.  If somebody finds their niche later on, they’re not going to be losers like years ago.  Or if somebody’s a drinker, they’re not necessarily going to stay a drinker.  We’ve had Fortune 500 CEO’s who had terrible childhoods and came out of it.  You just don’t know, as a parent.

DW:

I’m sure that’s a message that’s really hard for a lot of parents to hear…unlike a few generations ago, people tend to have only one or two children in the United States today, and speaking as a mother, um, it’s kinda hard not to micromanage.  But I do hear your message there.

NK:

Yeah, I’m a mother too, and my daughter’s a pediatrician, so she gets the same thing with her patients.  It is difficult to step back.

The #1 reason when I asked the why the parents broke them apart was, ‘didn’t like the person.’  So that’s what I’m addressing.  If your daughter is running around with a drug addict who’s getting her into drugs too—no question!  You separate her from the entire crowd.  But if he’s not harmful—if you just don’t like him—(and a lot of the time, it’s the fathers, not the mothers that break them apart) and you dig deeper and deeper and deeper.  And what it comes to is the father is thinking, “This guy is gonna get my daughter pregnant.”  That’s what it comes down to.  [The parents are] afraid of the sex.

DW:

Ah, I see.  So maybe nobody would have been good enough for their little girl.

NK:

No, if you’re worried that he’s going to impregnate her.  Maybe you need a better conversation with your kids [on] how to handle their sexuality rather than getting rid of the sexual partner.

DW:

I would absolutely agree.

Where can Lost Lovers turn for help?   

In your first book, which was called Lost & Found Lovers, you mention that you quickly went from wondering how you were going to find these  rekindled lovers, to them finding you!

NK:

Yes.

DW:

And you continue getting letters and calls from [rekindled/lost lovers] now, don’t you?

NK:

Oh, yeah.  Many, many a day, either through my website, LostLovers.com http://www.lostlovers.com , or through my Psychology Today blog, which is called Sticky Bonds…yeah, people come.

DW:

When they have problems they want you to help them solve, what resources do you offer to them?  

NK:

Well, on the website, certainly they can buy the [Lost & Found Lovers and Lost Love Chronicles books.]  The Lost Love Chronicles book is in e-form only….There are some articles about my research as well.

And there’s a very popular member forum [at LostLovers.com] where people can join and, not in real time, communicate with other people who are going through their circumstances.  And that’s very helpful.

And then the other thing I offer are phone consultations, private, one-on-one, which is the best….I can talk to them for an hour, I can listen to the details and their story and help them figure out what to do.  Because a lot of these are different.  [All of this is available through LostLovers.com.] 

When should you NOT contact your old flame?   

DW:

OK, great.  I asked LoveScience readers before you and I spoke today to send me some of their questions, and I’d like to pass along one of them now.  “Do you have general advice about when it’s *not* a good idea to contact an old flame?”

NK:

Yes, and from this control group of people I had who didn’t contact lost loves, they didn’t, because when I asked them why it broke up, they put [as reasons], “Weren’t getting along,” “different expectations”…a lot of people checked “other” and then listed “physical abuse,” “sexual abuse,” “emotional abuse,” “he came at me with a gun,”—things that I never thought to put in the questionnaire.  So it was an awful romance, and they were done with it.  There was no ambiguity, they were done with it.  And that’s most people.

So if somebody was abusive years ago or you weren’t getting along, personalities don’t change.  The person isn’t going to be right for you now, either.  So that’s one thing….

Another thing that’s important is if you’re married or if you’re in a relationship now that you don’t want to leave now, then don’t go there.  Because even if these are happy marriages or relationships, they are breaking up or becoming very damaged.  And if [your lost love is married], don’t do it….

…Could I do one more thing with that topic [of whether to get back together]?  Within the person, they have to be ready.  Can you handle whatever happens when you make this contact?  What if you’re rejected, where you get nothing back?  Can you handle that?  What if you have a romance—are you in a position to do that?  Or what if you have a romance and the person breaks up with you again?  Can you handle that?

If you do a thought experiment and you can’t stomach it, then I wouldn’t do it.  

DW:

So…don’t re-contact this person if you are in a marriage, don’t re-contact them if they were horrible to you, because they still will be, and don’t re-contact them if you are not in an emotional place to deal with whatever consequences might occur.

NK:

That’s exactly right.

What about Facebook and the perils of casual contact? 

DW:

….I’ve heard you say that the odds used to be in favor of rekindlers remaining happily together, but over the years of your research, that has changed and most rekindled relationships now fail…why is that…?

NK:

Well, that’s an interesting statement.  Most rekindled relationships like they were in [my first study]—single, divorced, and widowed [when they reconnected]—are happy.  So the research that I did is still valid.

The difference is that now people are communicating with the lost love, getting into relationships with lost loves where one or both of them are married.  So they’re not available.  That’s why they end.  So I see a lot of that.

If you’re single, divorced, or widowed [when you reconnect], the odds are still in your favor.  

DW:

What role do you think social media is playing in these casual connections between people who are married to others, and they just reconnect?

NK:

That’s a big problem…You used the word ‘casual’ and that’s what it is.  So, when I wrote the first book, before social media, if you wanted to contact the lost love—and by the way, everyone knew where they were; they didn’t need detectives; they knew somebody who knew somebody—…you maybe call her elderly dad and ask for her phone number.  Well you’d better be single when you do that!  Right?  Or he’s not going to give it!  And if she’s married, he’s probably not going to give it.  So these were gate-keepers.

With the social media, and even with the older stuff like Classmates.com, it’s direct to the person.  So what people have been doing is, you know, surfing the Internet or Facebook and they’re writing to old friends; why not write to a lost love?  What could the harm be [they think]?  Especially if they’re happily married.

What if you’re the betrayed spouse?  Can you keep your husband or wife from going back to their lost love? 

DW:

Yeah, that’s really interesting, because there’s another group of people I’m hearing from, and I imagine you might hear from them too, and these are the current spouses of the mate who has contacted the lost lover.  And one of my readers says, “What if my spouse has contacted an old flame?  What can I do, if anything, to keep the lost lover from displacing my good marriage?” 

NK:

Okay, now a lot of people have exes.  Most of us have exes.  That’s not what I’m calling a lost love.  So you could be done with that person.  If you’re writing to a person that you sat next to in homeroom, and there was never any dating and there was never any spark—I mean, I do this myself, I write to high school friends, male or female—then that’s safe.

If the person’s writing to somebody that they’ve dated and that they’ve told you there was some sort of breakup, they’re conflicted about it—that’s a time where you need to worry.  

DW:

Yeah, yeah, exactly.  So is there anything a person like that could do to…I guess, to keep their mate faithful; to convince that person that “Hey, this really isn’t safe.  It seems casual, but this could be a danger to our marriage?”

NK:

Well, yeah, you can say that if they let you know that they’re writing at all.  The thing about the computer is it’s private.  You can do this, you know, in a dark room and you’re all by yourself and you think, you’re alone.  And it’s just you and the lost love.

And that’s really misleading.  This lost love has another life.  You know, maybe this person has a husband and children, and if you were to get together, all that real life is going to be part of your real life.  People aren’t [thinking like] that, it’s just this cocoon of the two of you.  And they often don’t tell their spouses because it’s exciting not to and because they supposedly don’t want to hurt the spouse.  But the real reason is that they’re preserving their right to do this.  

When, how and why should you tell your mate about your Lost Lover?   

DW:

The secrecy aspect is fascinating but sad.  I was surprised.  I was reading up on you last night, I was stalking you Dr. Kalish, and I read that if you had a sweetheart you never quite got over, you should tell your spouse about it.  And that really surprised me—I would have thought it would make the obsession with the lost lover even stronger.  What’s the reason people ought to go ahead and tell their mate that there’s still someone else they think about?  

NK:

Oh, they don’t have to do it unless they’re writing to that person…If they think about somebody, there’s no harm in that….But if they’ve been obsessed with the person—something didn’t finish—and you know that before you marry them, I would say that’s a red flag in the marriage.

These romances, these rekindled romances, didn’t start after they got married, they started prior to the marriage; a ticking time bomb that’s always been inside the marriage.  

If the person can control it, fine.  But if it gets to the point where after you know as the spouse that your husband or wife has contacted a lost love and is writing these emails back and forth…then you have to do something about that.

And if you’re the lost love doing this and you’re married, but you don’t want to leave your spouse and you really don’t want to have an affair, then if you tell your spouse, “You know, I’m having these old feelings.  Help me out,” you enlist them as your helper rather than keeping the [harmful] secret….[You can then say] “I’m sorry I have these feelings; I wish I didn’t.  But I just want you to know that this person contacted me and, you know, we’ll just deal with that together.”

DW:

That’s interesting because the now-deceased Shirley Glass, who wrote a very good research-based book about affairs [“NOT ‘Just Friends’”],

NK:

Yeah, she was a friend of mine….we were on several APAcommittees together, and that’s a wonderful book.  She was the leading fidelity expert.

DW:

Yes…she really thought, and her research showed, that keeping secrets is not good for a marriage.

NK:

Right, she did agree, and she also found like I did that the lost love affairs are different from regular affairs.  Very different.  And therapists who try to treat them like ordinary affairs are going to have an ex-client.

How can you help Lost Lovers if you’re the therapist?  (Hint: This is no everyday affair.)  

DW:

Hmm.  I’m wondering, for the therapists who may be reading out there, what should they be doing differently than how they would handle your garden-variety affair.  

NK:

Well first of all, take it seriously.  And don’t tell clients, “It’s just a mid-life crisis. It’s nostalgia.  The person isn’t really like that anymore.”

And the worst, I mean this is common, is for a therapist to say, “Why don’t you contact the person?  And you’ll see that they’re different and you have no desire for them anymore.”

That’s ruined a lot of marriages!  I can’t believe they do that!  But they don’t know.

DW:

So it’s kind of like the therapist teams up with the parents: “Oh, that was just puppy love, it wasn’t real.”

NK:

Yeah, or “You’ve moved on, you’re a different person now,” like you’re totally cut off from [who] you were in the past, and so, you know, what’s the harm.  Well, there’s a lot of harm.

So, therapists can start taking it seriously for one thing.

And the reason I say it’s not like a regular affair—these people, most of them, have never cheated before with anybody else and will never cheat again with anybody else.  It’s just this one person.

So it’s like, if you love two of your children—you love them differently, maybe, they were born at different times.  These loves were born at different times.  First, the rekindled love was when you were younger [than when you met your spouse]…your brain is even different than when you met your spouse.

You can love both these two people at the same time, and that’s the heartbreak.

So the therapist has to deal with that.  It is a real love and it’s a real conflict, and they can’t just say it’s an affair.  

DW:

….yeah, it’s…not only a real love, it’s a love that has stood the test of time in a lot of ways.

NK:

Right, and a lot of people say, “This is the person I should have married, if we hadn’t moved away, if my parents hadn’t disapproved.”  So there’s that too.  Think of Prince Charles.  He wanted to marry Camilla!  And his father said no—not [for] the regular parent’s reasons, but she was unsuitable for the monarchy because she was not a virgin [at the age of] 35.  And so he could not marry her so he found Lady Di at 19, and we all know what happened with that.  His love for Camilla was real and stood the test of time, and poor Di didn’t have a chance.

So when you have these reunions like that, it’s heartbreaking for everyone.  Nobody’s happy.  That’s what parents do [when they break these lovers apart].

What if you’re the one who got cheated on?  Help for betrayed spouses:    

DW:

Just to clarify, these folks who contact you or contact one another through your lost lovers forums—are some of them trying to keep their marriages together while their spouse is the one rekindling a relationship?

NK:

Yes, I call them…the betrayed spouses.  Yes, some of them are.  I added a forum just for them.  It’s an open forum.  So anybody can read it without joining, I thought that was important.  And they get to give their side.

Because as I’ve said, the lost lovers are in a bubble, so when they’re talking to each other, there are no spouses, there are no kids, there’s no job, it’s just the two of them, it seems like.  And that [illusion] can persist on my website as well, unfortunately….

So the betrayed spouses come on and go, “Wait a minute, I want to tell you the other side.”  And I think that’s very valuable.

DW:

I would imagine it’s valuable to them to get some validation also, from other betrayed spouses.

NK:

Yeah, it’s valuable for everybody; they can see that spouse is a real person, not just, “He tells me she’s a witch.”

Are Lost Lovers happy?  NOT if they’re having affairs: 

NK:

….Now I should also mention that the people in these affairs are not happy.  They’re happy, let’s say, once every six months when they see the person.  And the rest of the time they’re miserable because they’re without them; they’re conflicted, they’re terrified of getting caught—all of these negative things.

So if you do a thought experiment and you say, “In the last year, write down the number of days where you were happy with your lost love, and then write down all the unhappy days,” you know, it’s a no-brainer.  These don’t work if you’re married.

DW:

Yeah.  And yet, you can certainly see and have compassion for why it’s so hard to give up.

NK:

Yes, and why it’s so easy to start.  There’s a tremendous pull there.

Can Lost Lovers rely on their happy marriage to a good mate as an affair-preventer?   

DW:

You know, one thing I see a lot of at my website is justifications that married people will come up with for contacting an old flame…: “It’s harmless,” or “My spouse is going along on our dinner, so nothing can happen,” or

NK:

But they believe that!

DW:

Well, they do.  Or they’ll say, “I’m happy with my mate, nothing can come of seeing my old flame just once.”  What have you learned about that—is the current spouse or a happy marriage…a good protection against emotional entanglement with this lost lover?  

NK:

It’s no protection whatsoever!  Because again, you can love two people at different times in your life for different reasons, and it’s like a time machine where you have one foot out of the elevator.  So you’ve got this foot in the 1970s or who knows what, you know, and the rest of you is in the elevator in the new millennium.  And it just isn’t going to work, you know—you’re going to lose your foot!  So the time machine aspect seems to be a good analogy.

DW:

Yeah, it’s interesting because as you pointed out, they really believe that their spouse will protect them if they just bring the spouse along…

NK:

Right!  And the sparks are flying across the table, you know, and maybe the spouses catch it and maybe they don’t.  But what happens after the dinner is they start texting each other back channel.  That can happen at reunions as well.  The spouse is not protective at all because the person can love both of them.  That’s the sad part, really.

DW:

Yeah, it is.  I think just that statement right there—you can love two people at once—is something that a lot of people just don’t believe…

What happens after the Lost Lovers’ affair? 

DW:

Let’s say two people used to love one another and still do.  They do reconnect.   Do you know what happens in the aftermath of that old flame’s disruption to a marriage?

NK:

Yeah, well that’s what I’m mostly dealing with in the phone conversations [private phone consultation].  They’re people who didn’t find me, didn’t Google me, until they got in really deep trouble.  So they’re in an affair and one or both of them are married and they don’t know what to do about this.

And the one bottom-line piece of advice I always give everybody is: Get out of the middle. 

I don’t care if you stay in your marriage.  I don’t care if you divorce and get with your lost love.  Get out of the secret middle.  Because that’s the worst.  That’s betraying the spouse and when the spouse finds out, that’s when they have all these false memories.  You know, “We went on this cruise.  Were you really thinking about your lost love?  I thought it was a great cruise.  I guess not.”  You start doubting your own feelings and thoughts and everything else.  You know, affairs are pretty devastating.

DW:

It’s a betrayal to your entire history, not just that moment.

NK:

That’s a good way of putting it….and that’s why I said, if you’re married and you don’t want to leave right now, then don’t contact [your old flame].

These are good people.  And they contact me and they say, “First of all, thanks for your book.  I thought I was crazy and now I know I’m not…I’m an intelligent, well-together person, I’ve never cheated before.  I just don’t know what’s happening to me.”  You know, and they have a lot of guilt about it.

You can imagine: rabbis, ministers, a priest, a nun.  These people didn’t want to cheat!  Someone contacts them: “Hi, how are you?”

DW:

And they’re just blind-sided by the sweep of the emotions that they feel right now.

What about personal responsibility?   

NK:

Right, which is not to say they don’t have responsibility.  So, recently I was talking to a rabbi, you know, he finds out what I do, and he says, “You know, recently on Facebook my high school sweetheart contacted me and I deleted my whole Facebook account.”  He knew not to go there.

DW:

Smart guy!  That sounds atypical for someone to know that right out of the box like that.

NK:

Well, he felt these feelings and he said, “No, that’s it, I have to stop this.”  He said she wrote inappropriate things.

What should you (not) say in your first letter to your Lost Lover? 

NK:

And I get that a lot.  You know, if you want to contact a lost love, and you don’t know if they’re married or whatever, don’t say “I’ve always loved you” in the first letter!  And they do!

Say, “Hi, how are you, it’d be nice to hear from you.”  And then if that person’s married then the ball is in their court as to what to do.

I would say, write back politely, and then drop it, so this person knows you don’t hate them.  

DW:

And that’s, that’s if you’re married.

NK:

Yeah.

Which Lost Lover leaves their spouse and which one sticks around after the affair? 

DW:

Okay, I had read some of your research about what really happens when people who are married—not to their old flame—they re-contact each other and they wind up having torrid affairs, but they usually don’t actually wind up together.

Is there a gender pattern—do women have one set of behaviors and men another?….Do they wind up cutting off all contact with the lost lover?  Do they wind up living in limbo forever?  What happens to them?  

NK:

It’s variable.  That’s why I do the phone consultations which are individual for each person.  It depends on the marriage history, and the original romance history, all of that.

I will say if you have two married lost lovers, the one most likely to leave the marriage is the woman.

DW:

She’s most likely to leave the marriage?

NK:

Yeah, she’ll say, “You know, this never was a good marriage, and my eyes are open now and I wanna be single,” whether he leaves or not.  And chances are, he won’t leave.

DW:

So, the woman might wind up leaving her husband; she thinks her lost lover’s going to leave his wife, but he doesn’t.

NK:

No, and even if she thinks, even if she knows he’s not leaving his wife—she may divorce anyway and choose to get out of the marriage and be alone.

DW:

That sounds agonizing.

NK:

It’s all agonizing.  You know, and a lot of these marriages were going along just fine.  

What triggers Lost Lovers to re-contact each other?  

NK:

I asked [my research participants], “Why now?  Why did you contact this lost love now?  You had 20 years to do it, or whatever.”  And some of the [questionnaire] choices were: “surfing the Internet and just decided to do it,” “saw their name,” “had a major health problem [and] I wanted to contact the person before anything happened,” “nostalgia.”  All these reasons.

And the #1 reason they checked was astounding to me.  It was, “I had a dream.”

DW:

Really?!

NK:

Yes! “I had a vivid dream of my lost love, and then this obsession started and I had to contact that person.”  So they’re ruining marriages over dreams?!?! Oh, come on!

DW:

Wow, but apparently this is compelling.

NK:

Yeah, the obsession can become compelling, and if you try and squash it into the unconscious again, it’s not going to work.  So the more think about trying to get rid of it, the worse it gets…

And that’s why, to get back to your other question: “Why would you think that telling the spouse is a good idea?” It takes away the obsession.  Some of it, anyway.

I was reading my [member forum] board, and if you have the urge to write to the lost love, you can go to on my recovery part of my website….

What’s the difference between the private consultations versus member forums? 

DW:

I think that’s a really good idea.  And I wanted to talk more about both your phone consultations and your member forums.  Are the questions you get at the member forums the same kinds of questions you get in the individual phone consultations?

NK:

I’m not answering questions [at the forums].  I will step in and I’m certainly monitoring.  There won’t be any flaming there.  There won’t be any exchanging of real information there.  And some things are inappropriate and they get deleted.  But these are forums for people going through this, and they chat together.  So they come up with the questions [and discussion].

DW:

So the member forums are for the members to talk to each other and you moderate at some level.

NK:

Right, right.

What’s the #1 Lost Lover question?  

DW:

May I ask, what are the most frequent questions you get now from Lost Lovers who contact you—maybe in your phone consultations?

NK:

Well, it’s basically, “What do I do now?” 

So you have some who don’t know whether to go with the marriage or with the lost love.  And you have some who have decided.

Let’s say they’ve decided to get the divorce.  [How do] they approach their wife?  This happened with a couple of men I know.  And they’re just torn, you know?  The family is giving them a hard time: “How could you do this to all of us?”  And a lot of times, their clergy will come in and say, “You can’t do this, you can’t go with an affair partner.” And especially if you’re a minister [leaving for the lost love], you’re getting kicked out of your ministry.  I’ve seen that.

DW:

It’s amazing to me that—you and I are people who professionally talk to people in love.  I mean, it’s what we do.  And it still amazes me how powerful [love] is.  

How does Lost Love return our brains to the teen years?   

NK:

Yes, and lost love is even more powerful than other relationships because it was when you were young, and you had a different brain.  

So you think of a teenager, [he or she] doesn’t have—I don’t want to get technical, but they don’t have the prefrontal cortex yet.  They don’t have the command center thinking.  So they’re all hormones.  And later on, when you married your spouse, you probably had you full brain intact, and you marry them in a thinking way.

So the lost love romance…is a very visceral thing.  And very compelling.

DW:

So in a way, when you reconnect with the lost lover, you’re a teenager again.

NK:

Yes, that’s very unfortunate.  It took me four years [of research] to realize that not only does the lost love come back, but so does teenage thinking.  

They think, “Well, I’m not gonna get caught.  [Everybody] else will get caught, but I’m going to be the one [where] we’re both going to leave our spouses and live happily ever after.  I’m going to be that, you know, 5% or 1%.”  A lot of denial.  And thinking that it’s just the two of them like it was in high school.

So what I do with them on the phone is, “Let’s take this a step further.  Let’s say you both get together.  You know, you’re going to be a stepmother to a teenager with Asperger’s.  Do you want to blend that into your family of three children?”

You know, it’s a whole world that they’re reuniting with, not just this lost love who they’ve been in secret contact with.

DW:

It sounds like you do a lot of reality-checking with clients.

Is Lost Love an addiction?    

NK:

I try.  Sometimes they can hear that, and sometimes, the obsession is beyond it.  It’s like, you know, an alcoholic.  It takes a while.  Maybe they have to hit bottom.

DW:

It’s funny, because my columns this week and last week were about love as an addiction.  And it really can be.

NK:

Yeah!  You know, like gambling or anything else; gambling isn’t a drug.  And there were some studies a couple years ago [showing that] the same brain sensors light up for cocaine as for when you see a picture of your romantic partner.  

DW:

Yeah, I like to say that it’s not as if love is like cocaine; it’s more that cocaine is like love.  Love was here first.

NK:

Okay.  I’m sure there’s always been chemicals out there; even the birds get drunk on the berries…it’s all together, it’s all the same brain, and it can be very difficult to let go.

So even if a person says, “I want to stay in my marriage.  How do I avoid contacting this person?” it’s hard…There aren’t any AA meetings for this!

DW:

That’s true!  I guess what they have is your member forum, kind of.

NK:

That’s about it, yeah.

How can you move past a Lost Love? 

DW:

Speaking of people who’ve written to you or to me, I’ve gotten a letter from a LoveScience reader who calls him- or herself ‘My Pet’, and this is the letter—I’m just going to read it to you:

I have stepped over the line with an old childhood love, what is the best way to move past and get over them? I was contacted through an alumni site and we formed a great friendship. Unfortunately, there was a passionate (movie like) kiss exchanged and it was decided that the friendship couldn’t continue for the sake of our marriages.

My problem is that I miss the friendship and am having a difficult time dealing with the loss. The friendship reminded me of who I used to be and provided me an identity I had lost many years ago.

I understand this is not a unique situation and feel foolish for having let it go to far. But I feel as if I am grieving the childhood loss all over again.”

NK:

He is.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  You know, we go through different stages and circle back…Life isn’t a straight line.  It’s more a recursive process of looping around and back again.  Yeah, you can grieve the same thing twice.

He’s right that he can’t have a friendship with this person, and he was smart to know that, that it would affect his marriage.  It wouldn’t stay a friendship; it wasn’t a friendship, it was a romance.

And a lot of people want to make it into a friendship to keep the person.  But they can’t.

So what he’s done, the good news is, he’s reconnected with those old parts of himself.  And he can keep those.  It didn’t go away with the lost love….and he can use [those old parts of himself] if he want to move back to his old hometown or visit and get back in contact with other people from that period, you know, or if he was playing a musical instrument in a band then, maybe he wants to do that now.  There are all sorts of ways of taking that old you, which is now part of you, and reinvest in your present.   That’s a healthy thing.

What’s age got to do with it?   

DW:

Okay, another reader has asked, “Why are we susceptible to rekindle?”   And this is something I wonder as well.  Is this pull stronger for our first loves instead of later loves, or for loves we knew when we were very young and inexperienced?  

NK:

…We’re not susceptible to rekindle.  Only a very few of us are, maybe 10%?  I’m guessing, I’m just guessing.

But it has to be that important, good romance, no trouble in it, and that situational factor, that is no longer there.  It doesn’t have to be a first love, a lot of people have the second love, the college love.  It’s usually an early love…My research didn’t preclude [later loves], it’s just that those were not as successful as the early loves.

Is peace possible when the Lost Love isn’t? 

DW:

Okay, this is kind of a long letter, from someone who calls himself ‘Brickel’.  He wants to know how to find peace when the old flame is Impossible but very alluring nonetheless.  And he says,

“I reunited with the great love of my life after 20 years apart. The time we had together was unforgettable, the healing of old wounds deeply satisfying. Our ability to reflect on who we were and what we’ve become, in bed together, our hands running over familiar landscapes… to look into your lover’s eyes after 20 year and still see the young woman there, it was breath taking, and life changing. It is an experience that I wish everyone could experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

It also wouldn’t work, as a relationship. I had become a single father, she had no interest in having children. She said she thought she might be willing to try, but I knew better, and broke it off, I think, to the relief of us both. Our relationship the first time around was all-consuming, and I could feel my grip slipping as I slid back into it. Only this time, I had a small child, a house and career 400 miles away in the woods, she with her career and beautiful home near the ocean, the things we had spent our whole lives working towards. We have remained friends, and see each other, platonically, a few times a year, both of us with new lovers, but that spark there as strong as ever. For 20 years I have dreamed about her around once a month. Those dreams continue, filled in now with new details and updates, but as intense as ever.

I would be interested in hearing your guest’s advice on reconciling the two forces at play here— the intense, deep emotions one has towards someone that has been a true love your whole life, towards whom you may feel more love than anyone save your parents or children—in some cases, even, your current spouse— vs. the simple reality that in many cases such a relationship won’t work. How to come to peace with this? A logical understanding of the situation— the math here is simple and understood by all parties— doesn’t make the heart any happier.”

NK:

Yeah, um, that’s an unusual situation.  Very, very few people can see the person as a friend, like he is.  And a miniscule number of people have a mutual break-up.  So it sounds like he and his lost love were okay with that, and are okay with that, and all he’s concerned about is the grieving that they can’t be together and the obsession.  And I know he feels bad, but he is relatively safe compared to the people I talk to.

DW:

He’s kind of getting out of this unscathed even though it doesn’t feel good?

NK:

Yeah, you can’t wipe out that feeling.  But what I like to tell people is that for the most part, that feeling is for the person who is 18, or whatever; it doesn’t have to be for the person now.  You know, it reawakens an old self.  And an old romance.

But he recognizes that; he’s not in this bubble, and that there are other factors.  And that’s a wonderful thing.  But as I’ve said, it’s unusual that a person would have that kind of insight and control. 

What’s the paradox?  The low Lost Lover divorce rate but the high Lost Lover failure rate:

DW:

I’d like to wrap up our interview on a positive note, so I’ve got two last questions….:

What’s the stay-together rate of lost lovers who marry one another?  

NK:

It’s like, uh, 98% or something.

DW:

That’s amazing.  So their divorce rate is under 2%?

NK:

Yeah.  Now remember, a lot of these people were married to other people when they get together, and they will not be with their lost love.  So [what the success stats are talking about] is single, divorced, or widowed.  They get married and they stay happily ever after.  Or you’re talking about one or both who were married, get divorces, and get together.  And they stay together.

For most people to leave their marriages, it’s not, you know, the next day.  There’s a lot of hurt and soul-searching, and when they finally, if they finally make that decision, they know it’s the right decision.  They don’t regret it.  They feel guilt.  [But] they don’t regret it.  And their marriage is okay.

So, this is a problem for me as a researcher…on the one hand, I’m saying, “If you’re married, don’t do it.”  And on the other hand, I’m saying, “Of course, if you do wind up with your lost love, you’ll be very happy.”  There’s nothing I can do about that!

DW:

But there is this vast middle ground between, “I contacted my lost lover while I was married” and “I’m happily married to my lost lover.”  There’s a huge turmoil and transformation in that time, that most people don’t navigate successfully, is what I’m hearing you say.

NK:

That’s right.  Most people get caught.  This isn’t adolescence.  Most people get caught, and then you have a real mess, and that’s why I say to people who haven’t gotten caught yet: “Get out of the middle!  Go one way or the other.  I don’t care.  But get out of the middle before you’ve got a real problem on your hands.”

Why shouldn’t we (therapists, advice-givers, friends) tell Lost Lovers to stay in the marriage? And what’s the right advice instead? 

DW:

I’m putting myself in your shoes and thinking, could I say that to somebody—get out of the middle, I don’t really care?  I tend to be biased towards making the marriage work if at all possible, especially if there are children there.  But I see that if you’re talking to a client, you have to encourage them to find what’s in their own best interest.

NK:

Right.  And I think that’s another problem with therapists, that the person goes in to them not knowing what to do, and the therapist—by training if not morality—the therapist is trained to keep them in the marriage.

And what they need is to be able to explore, honestly, what their best choice is.  So I’m just saying, make a choice at least and don’t hurt these two women.  Or these two men.

DW:

Yeah.  Limbo is the worst place you can be, emotionally.  Don’t keep people there.

NK:

Right.  And staying in the middle is horrible.  You know, whenever I have publicity in a major newspaper or magazine, people in the forums cringe, because they know, in their heads, that their spouse is going to read the article, go “Aha!  I’m being cheated upon!” find my site, go to it, find their [spouse’s] screen name, and it’ll be all over.  That’s the level of paranoia.

People live with that.  I could never live with that.  They’re losing weight, they’re losing sleep, they’re doing poorly at work, they don’t care about their kids—their whole life is in shambles.

DW:

It really does sound a bit like heroin addiction.

NK:

Yeah!  These romances might be very hot in bed, and satisfying on a lot of levels, but on the whole of things, these people are pretty miserable.

What about when Lost Love works? Two amazing stories: 

DW:

Shifting gears a little bit, let’s talk about lost lovers who were single, divorced, or widowed when they rekindled.  What’s one of your favorite success stories of lost lovers who rekindled and did live happily ever after?  

NK:

Well, they’re all different, and I’m attached to them all.  I’ve met a lot of these people, so I’m attached to the people themselves.

But I mentioned earlier about little kids who marry later.  And one of my favorite stories, and you know, one I didn’t expect…they were five years old.  Their moms were best friends.  As little kids, they played together all the time.  And…this was in the days when people wrote you letters.  They sent a picture of themselves: two kids sitting on a board, looking into each other’s eyes, eating Popsicles.  So cute.  And she told me that at that age, he actually asked her to marry him.  And she said, “I don’t know, but I’d like some horses and cows.”  And he said okay.

So years later, they came in contact with each other, I think they were both divorced…no, I think he was widowed.  They married, they’re still happy, I’m still in touch with them.  And she got her horses and cows!

DW:

He was true to his word.

NK:

I also like the senior stories.  This one who, they were Holocaust survivors.  They lived in Germany at the beginning of the Jewish cremations and everything…one of the first things they did was to pull the Jewish kids out of school so they were all in a Jewish school.  And these two were in school together, he carried her books home.  You know, they were a sweet couple.

And the Nazis come.  And both families had the good fortune to get out.  Her family came to the United States.  His went to, I believe Australia first, and he wound up in France.

So 60 years go by.  And they had a school reunion for whoever is still alive, and she found out that he was still alive.  He spoke very little English [except for some] from being in Australia…He had never married.

And he came to Boston.  They were married.  And they were happy.  I’m hoping they’re still alive.  I haven’t talked to them in a year or two.

DW:

That’s an incredible, extremely touching story.  It must be quite the balm to your soul when you encounter stories like that after all the pain.

NK:

Right. And there are a lot of stories like that.

 

 

DW:

Well Dr. Kalish, thank you so much.  Wise Readers, I want to let you know that if you want to learn more about Dr. Kalish, maybe set up a phone consultation or join one of her forums, you can go to LostLovers.com.

 

Cheers,

Duana

 

The author wishes to thank Nancy Kalish, Ph.D.for this interview and the following resources she offers you: 

Psychology Today Blog on rekindled romances:     http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sticky-bonds

The Lost Lovers website:   http://www.lostlovers.com

The paperback of the Lost & Found Lovers book: http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Found-Lovers-Fantasies-Rekindled/dp/0595348556/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1350068386&sr=8-1&keywords=lost+&+found+lovers

Or, if you prefer Dr. Kalish’s books and special reports in e-book, audio, and video formats: http://www.lostlovers.com/books/

To arrange a one-on-one phone consultation with Dr. Kalish: http://www.lostlovers.com/consultations/

To join the member forums for rekindlers or the betrayed spouses of rekindlers: http://www.lostlovers.com/message-board-information/

Affair prevention and recovery resources: 

Dr. Shirley Glass’ book NOT ‘Just Friends’: http://www.shirleyglass.com/bookmain.htm

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Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, coming in January, 2015. She also contributes at Psychology Today and teaches psychology at Austin-area universities. Get a free chapter of Love Factually!

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