Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships


            By talking with people who have had affairs and courtship collapses, I’ve learned about the power of fantasy and “first loves.” A breakup of a first romance - not of one’s own choosing - has a lot of unresolved power connected with it.

Fortunately, people move on with their lives 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. If it is not a reunion, then it is a phone call out of the blue that triggers a secretive sharing of hurt and availability.

When the couple talks, they fill each other in their changed circumstances - death, divorce, unhappy marriage, etc., and a life story to share. Former lovers reminisce over their past relationship and warm the sparks they once had. Any conversation is dangerous.

It triggers memories and fantasies. An actual marriage falls short of perfection, and for sure, short of the fantasy of a perfect marriage. 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 contact is predatory, for purposes of discussion, 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 her sexual and personal power she once had over her former boyfriend. She chooses to wield it regardless of who may get hurt in the process.

The former lover is being selfish, thinking of herself and her needs, certainly not about breaking up a family, of children or a spouse who will be hurt by their reckless behavior.

The guy, a sucker for romance, is flattered, tempted and falls for it. Women approached by a first love are generally smarter about the implications of conversations and what is at risk. She is more likely to discourage further contact from the start.

Honoring promises. A good movie with this theme is the “Age of Innocence” where a man seeks out a former lover once his wife passes away. She is married and honors her marital vows. She refuses to see him even though in her heart she still has strong feelings for him.                  

            The playwright, Thornton Wilder, talked about the iron 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 be 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. You can rationalize your innocence but 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. Someone caught up in a sudden infatuation is not willing to hear what they need to hear because they justify what they are feeling.

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 with hidden intent is shameless and selfish. You don't know the lives and families you will 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 of comfort and support. Become strong yourself instead of seeking out a former lover for that strength.  Your outside interference can reek havoc on lives that have enough trouble (or happiness) in then already.