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Reuniting with a long lost love has always been common, but never as problematic as it is today. Before the Internet, it was not hard to find an old flame (through lost love’s friends or relatives, if need be), but getting that address or phone number by personal contact required transparency. Married adults usually didn’t risk this. The Internet cut out the middleman. Now, a married adult can find a lost love through search engines and classmate finder web sites — even finding out if the old flame is married or available, and getting his or her email address at work — and then send an email without being scrutinized by lost love’s friends or relatives. Your lost love will not know you are married unless you choose to reveal that. The connection by computer seems safe.
Because of the ease of secrecy and the simplicity of writing an email, no one thinks it could cause a problem. What could be the harm? As it turns out, plenty. These simple email letters to lost loves are ruining good marriages. Old feelings for a teen sweetheart often come back after contact has been made. Obsessive thinking about the lost love takes over, even for people who had no thought of a romance when they made contact with the lost love. Many people who contacted lost loves reported that they just “wanted closure.” But there is no closure. Old feelings come back. Even when there is a rekindled romance and it ends, there still may be no closure. People may always love the old aspects of that lost love from years ago. Some adults can’t get rid of that, no matter how much new information they get. They might be able to accept that the lost love romance will never work for them, but that may not close all the old feelings. If someone is married or in a committed relationship, he or she may have to learn to live with those feelings, accept them as part of one’s life, and dismiss them each time they come up. That’s a lot easier if you haven’t seen the lost love. Once a phone call is made, or worse, a face to face meeting occurs, there is no going back to the way it was.
Good marriages are crumbling. Many people who were and are interested in the topic of rekindled romances reported that they were afraid to buy a book about lost love reunions, because they didn’t know how to explain to their spouses why they would own a book about that topic. These people should read about rekindled romance, and they should talk about it with their spouses, before they get into trouble! Married couples have reported that, even though they had talked about their sexual experiences before they were married, they never talked about old feelings for lost loves.
And that is the much more dangerous topic: feelings lurk in the heart, hidden from the significant other like a ticking time bomb. “Move on” is a media term, not a psychological term. Teen feelings can return. If couples would open up, before marriage, about their feelings for old flames, that would make them less vulnerable to affairs with these lost loves if they are ever contacted. Putting the spouse on the alert is a good thing… if you really want to stay married. Married people who want to keep their marriages and families together should understand the strong pull of old love before they search for a lost love and create insurmountable problem for themselves. Understand that the feelings are normal, they won’t go away, but that doesn’t mean they have to be acted upon, or that it would solve anything or prove anything by acting upon them.
If a married person is inadvertently contacted by a lost love, it is okay for the married person to write back, politely. Otherwise, the lost love will feel like he or she was never cared about; that causes tremendous hurt. The lost love has probably written with innocent, although naive, intentions. As long as the married person is sure that he or she is not interested in resuming anything, one or two emails catching up on the years apart, probably won’t hurt. But that’s it — and he or she should tell the spouse! If the married person does not want to tell the spouse, and writes secretly, that is not innocent: it is preserving the right to secrecy and thus to whatever comes of it. And that is a recipe for an extramarital affair and all the heartache that will come of it. New survey research indicates that the likelihood that people will leave their marriages to marry their lost loves is about 5%.
Everyone in these affairs thinks that he or she will be one of the lucky couples. But reality is 5%. Most of the affairs end in heartbreak, but there is so much denial; when a teen sweetheart resurfaces, adults return to high school thinking: “It can’t happen to me. I won’t get caught cheating. I am careful.” The affair is often discovered, and there’s a gender difference: the woman’s marriage may break up as her husband can’t deal with her infidelity; but if her lost love won’t leave his marriage, she is stuck with a divorce, with no partner at all. If the man’s wife finds out about the affair, she may hold onto her marriage but it will be forever damaged. Happy outcomes of lost love affairs are rare. If two people are divorced, single, or widowed, second chances can be lasting and wonderfully satisfying. But a married person should not have any contact with an old flame from youth. No one will turn out happy. Teen idealism is appropriate in adolescence; but during adulthood, when there are spouses, children, careers, community standing, integrity, and financial assets, it is not worth the risk.