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Published December 17, 2010, 12:00 AM

Contact with past loves endangers relationship

Talking with people who have had affairs and courtship collapses, I’ve learned about the power of “first love” fantasy in their lives. A breakup of a first romance – not of one’s own choosing – has a lot of unresolved emotion connected with it.

By: Val Farmer, INFORUM

Talking with people who have had affairs and courtship collapses, I’ve learned about the power of “first love” fantasy in their lives. A breakup of a first romance – not of one’s own choosing – has a lot of unresolved emotion connected with it.

Fortunately, most people move on with their lives, court, marry and never have the opportunity to revisit their days of raging hormones and unrequited, idealized love. It is a lingering memory with a twinge of regret, nothing more. People make good lives for themselves and are genuinely happy. No remorse, no regrets – just a wondering of what might have been.

Out of the blue. That is until the lost lover makes contact. Class reunions are deadly for this. The Internet makes it possible to track down a past lover. One researcher calls the website that promotes contact with high school friends “the website of the devil” for its track record of starting affairs. Contact at a reunion or through e-mail leads to a phone call that triggers the secretive sharing of life histories and current unhappiness.

When the former couple talks, they fill each other in on their changed circumstances – death, divorce, unhappy marriage, etc. Former lovers reminisce over their past relationship and warm the sparks they once had. Any conversation is dangerous.

Memories and fantasies are triggered. No marriage is perfect. If there is normal conflict and tension, this contact may come at a time of vulnerability.

Hidden intent. Once past lovers stray into forbidden territory, they are off and running regardless of their commitments to others. The one that makes first contact is predatory. For purposes of this article, she’s a designing woman. She knows full well what she is about to do before she even makes contact. She can present her contact as “innocent” but what she remembers is the sexual and personal power she once had over her former boyfriend. She chooses to wield this power regardless of who may get hurt in the process.

The former lover is being selfish, thinking of herself and her needs. She is not thinking about breaking up a family, of children or a spouse who will be hurt by their reckless behavior. The former boyfriend is flattered, tempted and embraces the possibility of a rekindled romance.

Women approached by a first love are generally smarter about the implications of conversations and what is at risk. They usually discourages further contact from the start.

Honoring promises. A good movie with this theme is “The Age of Innocence.” In the movie, a man seeks out a former lover once his wife passes away. She is married and honors her marital vows. She chooses not to see him even though in her heart she still has strong feelings for him.

The playwright Thornton Wilder talked about the iron-willed commitment that protects marriage even when the couple may be unhappy. “I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them – it was that promise.”

Protecting marriage. If I had my way, I would put out two big signs for society to read. One would say, “If you are married, stay away from personal conversations with ‘first loves,’ former lovers and former spouses.” They are DANGEROUS! There is power there you don’t understand. Honor the people who have loved you and depend on you.

Discourage further contact immediately. Don’t arrange for a secret meeting. Don’t keep the conversation a secret from your spouse. If you are trying to keep the contact a secret, it isn’t innocent.

The “what if” relationship is nothing but a fantasy and infatuation from another time in your life. Let go of something that wasn’t meant to be and can never be. Live and honor the life and commitments you already have.

Once you get caught up in a sudden infatuation, it is easy to justify one’s actions on the basis of feelings. Feelings come and go. Commitments don’t. In the information age we live in, be ready to squelch old flames, not fan them.

Keep your hands off. The second sign would say, “If you are a ‘first love,’ don’t be reckless with your former lover’s heart.” Approaching a former lover who is married is shameless and selfish. You don’t know the lives and families you could ruin. Find your happiness somewhere else.

Solve your life’s problems some other way. Move forward with your life by dealing with the loneliness, pain or hurt from your life without turning to a past source for comfort and support. Become strong yourself instead of seeking out a former lover for that strength. Your outside interference can wreak havoc on their lives.

Val Farmer is a clinical psychologist specializing in family business consultation and mediation with farm families. He lives in Wildwood, Mo., and can be contacted through his website,