Several years ago my father's friend Jack (names have been changed) divorced his wife of nearly 30 years and married his first love, a woman he first met when they were both counselors at a sleep-away camp in upstate New York. Jack and Lorna had drifted apart, but never forgot one another. They built lives on opposite coasts, and had no contact for decades until Jack took a chance and sent a card.
"When I saw the return address I thought 'If I open this letter, my life will change,'" says Lorna. "And it did." By all accounts their wedding was a nostalgic affair full of references to their long-lost love found, an idea applauded by the guests. My father gave the toast that day, and said: "True love stories have no end."
At the time my father gave this toast, my mother was at his side. Cut to a decade later, my mother has left my father and is preparing to marry her high-school sweetheart, the man she says was always "the one." Oh.
But as this situation unfolded, I was in the midst of a flurry of email exchanges with a former flame of my own. And I was not the only one among my friends pursuing contact with a man from my past. It all made me wonder: what makes us think our future happiness lies in the past?
Compelled to Dwell on the Past
That's easy, suggests Colette Dowling, author of the 1980s bestseller The Cinderella Complex and expert on women's wellbeing with a private practice in New York City. "It's the power of young love. We never forget it."
According to Dowling, young love, and particularly first love, is unique and powerful. After we lose the sense of unconditional love we felt from our parents during very young childhood, and particularly if we go through a period where we feel we lack social acceptance from peers as teens, young romantic love can fill deep psychological needs. Experiencing that love for the first time, says Dowling, is to experience "a sense of complete and overwhelming acceptance by another. It's a true, tremendous bond for a reason."