Reader Question: Why Am I Still Thinking about a Past Romance?

The other day, I received a question from Vivian, a married woman in her 30s.  She is a bit consumed by her curiosity about her past romantic interest, so she asked me what I think about it.

Here is her story, and my response, printed with her permission.  (Names and details are changed to protect privacy)

Hello, I’ve been married 9 years, and I have one child about to be 3 years old. Things have been up and down a lot since we had our child, particularly with my husband’s job. Then, he’s had a lot of health issues, like sinus infections/allergies, migraines, back issues, and a liver problem. He travels at least once a month or so for his job, always has. I have problems with his family, always have.

First of all, I need you to know (you probably already know this) that your husband is under a lot of stress.  Stress and depression don’t all come out in moodiness or moroseness.  Some people maintain good attitude outwardly, but it comes out in their body.  Does he himself have problems with his family, or is it just you?  If his family has some unhealthy relationships, that may have planted the seed for health problems in his life.  Consider moving away from his family or at least create some distance.  To be under the kind of stress you’re talking about, and not let it get to you, takes a lot of mature and healthy coping mechanisms.  Sounds like his stress is too much for him to handle.

Make reducing your family stress a top priority.  People can cope with a lot less money if they are not stressed — so keep that in mind with your husband’s job situation.  Don’t trade health and happiness for money or for “a better future!”  What he is trading in return is more precious and important.

Also, having a child is a huge transition and by itself can introduce a lot of stress.  Don’t be hard on yourself — many people go through some very hard time following the birth of the first child.

Marriage tends to become a dumping ground for external stress.  Don’t jump to the conclusion that your marriage needs fixing, when there is so much stress and turmoil in the surroundings.  Focus on improving your environment, and see how your relationship will improve.

My marriage is okay, needs work, but why am I thinking about another guy from over a decade ago? I dated him only a few months, but our relationship got serious after a car accident.

I was really into this guy, and I think I sorta knew then he was a bit of a player, but I knew we weren’t so serious. I worked and was only 20 at the time having fun partying with friends, going out, etc. He was 22 at the time, going to college. We met each other out at a billard/pool hall with friends one night. And we dated for a few months, and we did have sex a few times, so it was at that level.

One day, he and I were out driving (I was driving) and we got into a car accident.  I hit a stopped car, not realizing it had stopped because I was looking down at the radio station. So, we went to the hospital, I had a huge scar on my head & my arm, he had a HUGE bruise on his back.

Well, my parents had to drive down to get me the next day. It was awful, I felt so ugly from this scar, and at 20, girls want to feel beautiful and I was so insecure and felt so literally scared.

Well, he usually would call to say he was coming down that weekend, he never called! So, I was hurt, and frustrated, mad at what happened, wrote him a nasty letter I guess telling him I was hurt and mad, and probably called him a player, and that I wondered would I ever hear from him again.

He wrote me a nasty letter back (still have it) typed that I was selfish, and he was trying to see if he’d miss me or something, and went off on me, saying no, it wouldn’t be the last time I’d hear from him.

You know, it’s really understandable that both you and he exchanged words after an accident.  It was a horrific event, you two were under a lot of stress.  People regress in their mental maturity when they’re under stress, reverting back to immature and improper ways to express their anguish.  I know it’s a cliché to say this, but you were young.

Well, he called me, he admitted he had been seeing other girls, that hurt me (even though we never said we were serious) I guess I’m more into a monogamous relationship than I realized. He wanted to bring me to his parents house to meet them or said that for dinner. I said no, too much had went wrong, etc. Not even sure what I said. Was I crazy to do this? Maybe not at the time, since he was a guy in college probably a player, who knows??

Then, about four or 5 years later I called him when I moved back to my hometown. I was dating someone, and not sure about our relationship I think I was in an on again/off again one, and wanted to talk to him. I wanted him to come see me where I was, he was seeing someone, and he wasn’t sure about her either. He was going to come, but I called him for some reason telling him not to. I don’t know, I am still not sure I did the right thing. I feel as if I have not closure.

I can relate to your curiosity.  I think all of us look up our old friends from time to time, regardless of whether we had proper closures to relationships or not.  We just want to know what happened to the people we once cared about.

Now, I’ve tried to search for him on people finder & other ways, think I’ve emailed a lot of people with his name (common one) on, classmates, just this week…why would I be doing this? I still feel as if I have no closure from what happened, but I am so curious to find out where he is & what he’s doing.

Sorry to write a novel, but I wanted to give all details. Would like advice. Don’t really understand my curiosity. Should I feel bad being curious or wanting to know what happened to him? Is this normal? Did I screw up with him? Just frustrated and confused…

I love my husband dearly and son, I would not want to do anything to jeapordize my marriage, I just don’t know how or why I’m feeling this way, or why it’s so important to me after all these years right now.  I did just turn 32, maybe that’s why–an age thing?

Well, I appreciate that you trusted me enough to tell me your personal story.  Here’s what I think:

As I said above, I think being curious about our past friends and dates is pretty normal and natural.  I wouldn’t think it’s harmful at all to look up some old friends and try contacting them.  Who knows, you may find that you still get along and you may rekindle some old friendships.

That said, I would tread carefully if I were in your shoes.  I suspect there may be 2 reasons that may be fueling your curiosity and turning it closer to the range of obsession:

  1. Your marriage has some issues, and
  2. You and your boyfriend from the past had a kind of connection that is different or missing from your relationship with your husband.

Let me share my personal story, which has some similarities.  I once had a close female friend.  At one point I was attracted her and tried to turn our friendship into a romantic one.  She refused, and I was very hurt from it, but our friendship survived and we remained close for years afterward.

Now, she and I had a special connection.  We both loved music.  Not only did we like similar kind of music, but the way we appreciated music was very similar.  We’d spend hours scrutinizing lyrics, for example, interpreting and exchanging ideas about what they meant to us and how insightful they were.  I am a musician so music is the most important thing in my life — so having a friend with such a common ground was very important to me. To this day, she remains a unique person in my life — I have never had a connection like that with another person, male or female, since.  My wife and I have a great relationship, but our tastes in music really don’t agree.

Well, unfortunately, this relationship also ended without a sense of closure.  Toward the end of our friendship, she grew increasingly unreliable in terms of communication — she took a long time to respond to my phone messages or e-mails, if she responded at all. One day she just stopped returning my calls.  I called several times, but I was in transition myself and really didn’t have time to keep following up.  I was heartbroken, but I gave up on her and moved on.

Over the years, every once in a while I try looking up her name.  I’ve tried looking up other friends, too, but hers is the one I looked most often.  Why?  Because I still miss that special connection she and I shared.  I don’t know if it was that special to her, but it was to me.  She left a void in my life that nobody else has been able to fill.  If I had found another friend to share our love of music as deeply, I don’t think she would remain on my mind so strongly.  Her friendship was unique to me.

The other day, I did find her name on Google.  I’m not certain but I’m pretty sure.  But you know what?  I decided not to pursue it any further.  I don’t want to contact her and get back in touch with her.

Why?  Because what I cherish is the fond memory of our friendship.  She and I are probably very different people now, compared to back then.  I know I am. Even if we get back in touch, the chance that we would be able to recreate that connection is very slim.  It would only disrupt and distract from my fondness of my past.  I would rather not know.  By not knowing, I can continue to enjoy reminiscing my friend and wonder what had become of her.  I’ve learned to enjoy the mystery, so I decided not to find the answer.

My marriage is deeply satisfying, as are my current friendships.  While I don’t have a friend like her, I would rather look for other people to serve a similar role in my life than try to find her and see if our relationship would resurrect itself.

Vivian, this experience is the reason why I am suspecting what I do.  I think you are dwelling on this past relationship because it had something special that has not been duplicated since.  And your curiosity is further fueled by the turmoils in your current situation.  I would be, too, if my marriage was in less stable place.

But the place where you need to invest your energy is in your marriage.  You have a husband and a child you love. It’s fine to take a break and fantasize about your past, but otherwise pour your heart and soul into improving your family’s situation.  I’m guessing you are already doing that, but the fact that you asked me this question means that your curiosity about your past flame is consuming you more than you feel comfortable with.

And about your ex-boyfriend — I suggest you not contact him.  Looking him up is OK (though still not recommended), but don’t get back in touch.  Why?  Because the relationship you had with him is gone.  It’s a thing of past.  Even if you and he remained more or less the same over the years, you yourself are not available to recreate that relationship.  You are curious about him because it was a special relationship.  But that special relationship is not coming back, even if you see him.  You don’t want it to.

So why taunt yourself by allowing yourself to see him?  It will only end in disappointment.  It may give you a bit of a sense of closure, but it will simply confirm that whatever you had with him, you can’t and don’t want to have again.  That’s what I chose to do, and by choosing to let go and instead keeping my fond memories intact, I have come to a peaceful place with that relationship.  I have given myself a closure, and I like how I ended it within me.

To sum up, I speculated two issues in your situation: the stress surrounding your otherwise good marriage, and the special nature of the past romance.  On the former, try to remove the external stress and see how that improves your relationship.  On the latter, accept the truth that the special bond between you and your ex is, and should remain, a thing of past.

Vivian, I hope my response is helpful to you in some way.  Whether you choose to follow my advise or not, keep in touch and let me know how things are going!  Thanks again for entrusting me with your personal question.


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  2. Hi Ari and Vivian! Reading this post stirred a lot of feelings in me, so I thought I’d share some of them. Since my family moved every 4 – 6 years (and even more often when we were still in South Korea), I carried with me with every move the most earnest fantasies of getting back in touch with my old best friends. These were the elaborate fantasies of a young girl, then teenager, then young adult — full of details about what I would be wearing, what everyone said, and how wonderfully amazing it would feel to connect not only in as special a way as we had in the past but even more so due to the passage of time and the realization that we had was utterly unique after all.

    Well, I actually managed to find and meet up with many of those folks over the years. And, I have to tell you, even with those who were my absolute friend-soul-mates (and I know I didn’t imagine it–it was real while it lasted!) and a few of my ex-lovers, it was so much less than I could possibly imagine. It was worse than going to a party full of strangers or going on a blind date. Asking each other questions and/or reminiscing about the past only made me realize that almost nothing I found truly memorable about our shared experiences were the same experiences that they recalled as being special to them — if they found any. It was very sad and quite pathetic on my end when it came to my ex-best-friends. As for ex-lovers, it was pathetic from their end because they obviously still had feelings for me. Extremely uncomfortable for me.

    Now, here’s the weird part. The one guy who used to be more my friend than my lover, very clam, very stable — not at all my typical all-consuming crazy physical attraction type of guy — when he emailed me out of the blue, I felt would be no threat to my then 6-year relationship to go ahead and meet him for a friendly lunch. This old friend/lover was in the most stable, long-lasting relationship he had ever been and was actually living with her (a first for him). I was living with my guy. We were just getting together as friends. I honestly believe that it was that very “safe” feeling that enabled us to slowly and inevitably fall in love. Granted, we were both unhappy in our then relationships. However, we were both committed to our then partners more than we had ever been with anyone else in our lives. But, we fell in love with each other anyway. We didn’t act on it — staying platonic for months — until we were absolutely sure we wanted to be with each other and ready to break up with our partners first.

    I guess the moral of this story is it’s best to let the past stay in the past unless you are willing to live with the consequences of whatever you find at the end of that road if you take it.

    If you still love your man, give him and your relationship with him 110%! Because if you do, and things still don’t feel right, you’ll know and you won’t have any regrets if you do leave him. (My conscious is totally clear about my ex!) And, you will never leave your son. Besides, his chances of being happy in his adult life and with his future relationships are vastly improved if he gets to witness his parents in happy relationships — even if it’s not with each other. Best of luck, Vivian! My heart goes out to you!

    1. Hi Shanel!

      Thanks for sharing your personal story — and welcome to OBV!

      I guess one thing we can discern from your stories, is that these encounters tend not to go as expected. If you get in touch with your old friends to rekindle friendships, you discover you just don’t have the common ground any more — or in your case, the person ends up being your new date! 😉

      I recently got in touch with some of my high school and college friends, and I still got along with them famously. But with neither of them I had very high expectations. I guess we all just have to watch out for the size of the baggages that are attached to relationships.

      Thanks again for your contribution. It just makes our discussion richer.


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  4. I am reading this post 3 years too late. I came across it seeking a specific answer that Ari gave.

    9 years ago while I was a sophomore in college and involved in a long term relationship, I met someone in school who was perfect for me in every way, shape and form. I ended up abandoning my long term relationship to be with this guy.

    We stayed together for only 8 months and it was just a whirlwind romance complete with all the bells and whistles. I literally loved him the second I saw him. We were inseperable, intellectually matched and both had very dry quirky senses of humor.

    That said, somewhere in the middle of our relationship, I had pangs of insecurity. Something didn’t feel right…nothing was wrong per se, but there was something that wasn’t there. I’d asked him a few times if there was someone else and he told me no. As time wore on, I ignored the feelings I had until I couldn’t take anymore. I had.a total meltdown which ultimately resulted in a breakup.

    I was pathetic, it was bad. In the weeks immediately following this breakup, I found out things about him that I could never have imagined. I also found out that he was involved in a relationship with someone else for the last 3 months of our relationshiop. I was devastated. My last 2 years of college were a nightmare.

    As the years have worn on, we have talked a few times. He asked me to get together but I’ve declined. I told him when I got married, he emailed me the week before his wedding. Its been 2 years since we’ve spoken in any capacity,

    I am happily married. My husband is a different man than this guy ever was and is. I’ve thought a lot about this past love a lot recently and I couldn’t put my finger on why. I don’t miss having a relationship with him, but I miss talking to him and bantering with him. I don’t feel any physical attraction to him, but I do wonder how it would be if we sat down for a beer.

    I agree with Ari. There was something special about that relationship that I cannot recapture and there is a void because of it. I don’t miss being in love with him or lying next to him in a bed, I miss his companionship.

    1. Hi Drea,

      Thanks for stopping by, and sharing your personal story. It is a bittersweet feeling, at least to me, to fondly remember a relationship that has a special, unduplicatable “something” — even though the relationship as a whole didn’t and couldn’t last.


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