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My first love from 30 years ago contacted me...He's free, I'm not. I still love him. Don't know how to quit him. Help!

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Question - (22 December 2010) 22 Answers - (Newest, 2 August 2014)
A female United States age 51-59, *ormentedblond writes:

I have been with my husband for over 20 years. We have a good marriage now, not always easy (I guess that's marriage afterall), but we are making it work. We also have children.

Last year, I was contacted by the first man I ever loved. There was some trauma in our relationship...not abuse, but things that always haunted me and that I never got over. I have loved this man my entire life. I dreamed about him for years, even long after I was married. I never thought he would contact me...and I never considered contacting him unless my days were numbered or I was free. During our relationship, he pulled away, suggested we date other people (which really rocked my world..in a sad way). When i did eventually "date" someone else, I let him know about it...we were in our early 20's at the time. He was heartbroken, and although we stayed together for a while, we eventually went our seperate ways, which was devastating for me. It took me a long time to heal from this. Of course, I had other relationships as I got older, and have a good man as a husband. Now this reconnection has me in a tizzy. We will go months between email contact...nothing more at this point, although he recently suggested phone contact. I just can't start down the path of hiding phonecalls, etc. Too much anxiety for me. I told hime that I felt I was being dishonest, but that I still care for him. He has been totally respectful of that, said he doesn't want to disrupt my life. There is no pressure from him at all. It's me. I still love this man. He is divorced, and we are still both raising children. I want to say goodbye to him, but somehow, I am finding it difficult to completely cut any ties with him. I am still in love with the boy I lost years ago. Sometimes, I feel like I am going to die. I would never intentionally hurt my family. I did not ask for this! Not sure what I should do. Tell him goodbye and die a thousand deaths, or allow periodic email and remain tortured, but alive and connected to him? Help!

View related questions: divorce, heartbroken, period

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A female reader, Tessie Girl United States +, writes (2 August 2014):

Just wondering where you are now over four years later.....I find myself faced with the same situation.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (23 January 2011):

You've gotten some really good answers here, answers I wish I had sought out before I reconnected with my first love. I thought I would write because I did what you are contemplating, and I'd like you to know how it turns out, or at least how it turned out for me. We have a lot in common. Here's a cautionary tale...

I was happily married for 27 years when I was contacted by my first love. I hadn't seen or heard from him in 30 years. He was my first everything and we were going to get married, but broke up instead because he wouldn't get married in a church and said he didn't want children (very stubborn). He left me to move in with, and eventually marry, a woman 13 years older than myself. I met and married my husband a couple of years later. We have two grown children.

When he first contacted me, it seemed innocent, friendly. He even told me he was happily married. Then he pushed for a meeting. I told him to leave me alone. About four months later he resurfaced with a whopper of a tale as to why he "had to see me." This time I fell for it and met him. My husband and I are only with each other about four days a month. Ex-boyfriend was close by.

Things exploded when we met. As some have pointed out, it was like stepping into a time machine. The chemistry was incredible and we picked up right where we left off. That is part of the danger. There is no awkwardness. You know them so well, instant intimacy is possible. There's also a lot of brain chemistry stuff going on that clouds your vision and your judgment. You might want to read the work of Dr. Nancy Kalish, who has studied this phenomenon extensively.

Well, it turned out he was not happily married. In fact, he and his wife had been no more than roommates for the last 15 years of their marriage. One day his wife read some of our correspondence, filed for divorce, and left. I think this was just the last straw for her. I also think he left the stuff out intentionally because he wanted a divorce, but didn't want to be the "bad guy." Then he wanted to know what I was going to do. What a mess. Meanwhile, I found out the things he told me to get me to meet him were lies. That was it for me.

I was very fortunate that my husband never found out and I would never want him to. I am still dealing with the aftershocks. I know I got involved in this because, although happy, I was lonely in my marriage. I am now looking for ways to rekindle things with my husband, see him more often, etc. Ex-boyfriend has moved in with another woman. He just looked me up because he knew his marriage was over and he was too afraid to be alone.

So, history repeats itself - I was hesitant for marriage when we were young, so he ran to the first woman that would take him in. He did the same thing this time. I know some of the folks here are saying we are not the same people 30, years later, and perhaps we're not, but in some ways we very much are. There was a reason things didn't work out when you were young. It will most likely be the same reason it won't work out today, but today there is much more at stake - your long marriage, your children, etc.

It will be difficult for you to cut ties with him, but you really should do it now. If you need help doing that, don't hesitate to get it (in the form of counseling perhaps). The longer you let it go on, the worse it will be for you in the end. Not to mention the fact that you could lose everything you've spent 20 something years to build. I remember telling him, "As high as I go with you now, so shall I go low." Truer words were never spoken. I have suffered and I brought it all on myself.

Best of luck to you.

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A female reader, jonas Singapore +, writes (7 January 2011):

jonas agony auntIf, I mean if, he shows genuine interest and you are confused to the extent you thought of giving him a chance, if that day should come, I like you to put him to a test ie. Test of him. That is the best way to tell if a person is genuinely interested in you or just want to be with you for some motives such as sex or whatever he can get out of you.

A period like 1 year or 2 is a good gauge. Some people I know they love someone, even if 4 or 5 years they are still in love with that person. By that I mean they will always be in contact with you and is consistent with their behavior, not like one minute you see them and the next minute you don’t, blowing hot and cold or one minute tell them they really love you and one minute telling you some other stuff that’s confusing.

But I like to believe that one who is truly in love with you will NEVER force you to make a choice btw him and your husband, never intend to break up your marriage, not even pressurizes you. He will just be a good friend, keeps a distance. Like the saying goes, if you love someone, let the person go. If he truly loves you, he won’t keep pestering you and try to create havoc in your family.

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A female reader, Tormentedblond United States +, writes (7 January 2011):

Tormentedblond is verified as being by the original poster of the question

Update for my team of cyber-advisors: thanks for all of your input. I know deep down that I belong with my husband. I have not spoken with this man on the phone, but he recently contacted me again via email just to say hi. Some of you are right; he might be fishing. I don't really know. Maybe a connection with someone he thought about over the years that makes him feel good. Quite honestly, I don't think I could just say "nice hearing from you, goodbye". I have thought that maybe a single phone conversation could put closer and wrap this up for me. I want to move on in my heart. I realize I really do love my husband and he deserves better. And I will also love the "memory" of that old beau...and may always wonder about what could have been. thanks everyone.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (26 December 2010):

If your marriage had been an unhappy one then I would say by all means maybe this is a wake up call to leave an unhappy marriage and see what can happen with your ex, maybe it is fate bringing you back together. Of course you two are very different now but that is part of the excitement. You reconnect and get to know each other all over again, you may have not been ready for each other 30 years ago but maybe now is the right time, it's funny how sometimes life can bring you back together when the time is right.

But if your marriage has been "good" and you have no complaints about your marriage, then I think you need to honor it first and foremost and not start something with your ex that you may regret later on.

You make the call - is your present life a meaningful and 'good' one? Do you want to start over? what is right FOR YOU?

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (24 December 2010):

You are in love with who he was... not who he is. This is a critical point to remember... In fact, you have absolutely no idea whatsoever who he is now. 30 years changes so much about a person. You can be in love with the idea of him and your memories, but that is the past and is not reality in the here and now. Sometimes the drive to undo painful experiences from the past can blur the lines on the present...

In other words, it is easy to get caught up with trying to rewrite history... Closure.

The difficulty with what is going on in your life, is that you are not really moving towards closure... but reopening pandora's box. Reliving history... and that is where trouble can begin.

Every once in a while we are given these forks in the road... that, if taken... will change our lives immeasurably... forever. This may be one of those.

Be very careful and do a 'fast forward' considering how entrenched this interaction could become... fueled by your desire to rewrite history.

The past along with the heartbreak led you to your husband and who you are today. Why undo you? Why undo your life? Closure. Thank him for his role in helping you grow and understand what love is... and what it isn't... and invest yourself in the life you are living now.

You are jogging in quicksand.... look at it and become very observant of this and bid him a fond... goodbye.

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A female reader, jonas Singapore +, writes (24 December 2010):

jonas agony auntSome guys they simply have sthg you cannot find in your husband. Put it this way, some of our ex bf or someone will make you have a weak spot for them bcos somehow they either know how to make you be crazy about them or they just have a way with you. I don't mean he's bad. He probably can connect with you in some ways your husband can't.

You mentioned earlier that during your relationship years ago, he requested to meet other people and when you did and met someone better, he was devastated. Both of you were reconciled later but things did not work out.

I'm sorry but I feel it's like he wasn't ready to commit years ago. Probably he feels that he should meet other people before he is sure even tho he is already in a relationship with you and he should be thoughtful about your feelings and be responsible and faithful to you. It's like he should get everything sorted out before he was with you but he didn't. Then he requested to be apart or to be in an open relationship. When you did and found someone better, he was confused and wanted to be back with you. He sounds like someone who doesn't know how to cherish you and would only do so when you're taken. Isn't it a bit too late?

It's like now he is divorced and single, he thinks of you and wants you back. Altho he didn't pressurize you, but in a way, he's telling you that he's interested and the rest is up to you. What is the cause of his divorce?

Someone who doesn't cherishes you years ago and takes you for granted and now he wants to rekindle that relationship with you. You have a good and understanding husband. Do you think you want to give up everything for him?

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A female reader, Jen1689 United States +, writes (23 December 2010):

Jen1689 agony auntThis is one of the worst parts about love: it comes in many different faces and genres. There is "puppy love" - the emotion you want to experience as love even though you have no idea what love even is. There is "toxic love" - the emotion you want to convince yourself is love because you've become attached to a person or an idea despite the presence of emotional, psychological, or physical pain. There is "first love" - the first 'true' experience of legitimate feelings and emotions of genuine passion, attachment, and connection to someone. There is "true love" - (this can sometimes evolve from "first love") the honest feeling of being genuinely 'completed' by someone. The knowledge that, through thick and thin, good times and bad, no one is going anywhere. The security and safeness and trust that comes with honestly knowing someone and what you've built together. That is what we all strive to have.

This old flame, no doubt, captured your heart, your emotions, the very essence of your entire being. He swept you off your feet and showed you what no one else had shown you before. He took you to heights of new passion and experiences that you didn't dare dream of having with anyone else. But then things ended, and that was that.

Now, you have a husband that you've been happily married to for some 20 years, who's provided you with security, loyalty, trust, a solid foundation, the promise of a great future, and beautiful children. You can't give that up for something that just wasn't meant to be. E-mails, phone calls, lunches, dinners - anything...It has to stop now. If it hasn't moved past e-mails, it will. You can't claim to "love" someone and only maintain a "friendly" relationship with them. It's just not possible. Tell yourself over and over that you're better than that, but I've seen people crumble who appeared to be the most strong of anyone. Any person can give in at a time of weakness, which is all emotions provide us. For your sake, and the sake of your husband and children, just let him go. I know it will be hard to get over, as the memories of that "first love" are oh-so-enticing, but honestly, you won't experience that again. He's an entirely different person now, just as you are, and the promise of "new" experiences together as a young couple can no longer be had. Just look forward to the wonderful life you've built for yourself and your family. Look forward to being that one old couple that holds hands and people just look and go... "AWWW!" =)

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A male reader, steph007 Hungary +, writes (22 December 2010):

It would not work really well. Now this old sweetheart is searching for a crutch. Of course you may help him psychologically, but do not dream of starting a big love affair.

Maybe a short and less stormy one; just to see, how the time passed :))

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (22 December 2010):

To everyone who has responded so far...thank you all for your perspectives. I know in my heart where I belong. I think what is happening to me is that I am finally processing some very old pain. As young lovers, I believe we both really hurt each other in ways that only young kids can, and that this is going to be healing for both of us. We were one another's first loves. The one memory I have that burns the brightest in the first time we confessed love for each other...he went first. It is really going to be very difficult for me to finally let that go.

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A female reader, Abella United States + , writes (22 December 2010):

Abella agony aunthe distanced himself from you before. Now he's going through his memories. He wants a reconnection. It is possible you are not the only old flame he's contacted.

Meanwhile you and your loyal husband have made a life together. You've built up trust. Worked things through. Even ups and downs. He married you, he's the father of your children. And your husband has stood by you.

I think it would be sad to throw it all away for a man who may, again, push you away when it suits him

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A female reader, Tbosse South Africa +, writes (22 December 2010):

Tbosse agony auntIs this not an emotional affair?does your husband know you've reconnected with an ex (30yrs later)? I call this CHEATING. Just stop the emails, and put more happines in your family

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A male reader, C. Grant Canada + , writes (22 December 2010):

C. Grant agony auntI really hear your anguish. And I can very easily imagine myself in your shoes.

Those first relationships when we’re young are something new, incredible. As is life then. First love imprints itself in a unique way, it sets down the pathways in our brain that set the tone for everything that follows.

And after, you meet and court and decide upon a life partner. It begins new and fresh and exciting – not, perhaps, in the same way as the first love, but in its way just as good.

Our time with our first love was short – a few months, a year, probably less than two. And the first few years with our life partner starts the same – new, lots of possibilities, lots of dreams. But making a life is a different thing than young dating – jobs, kids, increasing familiarity with our partner and the consequent loss of the new, the exciting. The best outcome is that we grow not just comfortable and familiar, but confident, and know that this person will have our back for the rest of our days.

But still – the memory of that raw emotion from the first love is heady. Even good marriages lose that edge, I think it’s impossible for it to be otherwise. Twenty-plus years on, to have that thrill back must be an amazing feeling, one you’ve forgotten and had not expected to feel again.

Whether you remain in contact is up to you. My advice, detached from the understandable emotion you’re viscerally feeling, is to understand that that raw feeling is (a) an echo of your younger, different self that you might be pining for, and (b) just as ephemeral as the first flush of *any* new relationship.

You’ve said you have a good marriage. That is the result of a lot of years of effort, of shared work, experience, highs, and tears. Explore the issues of your youth if you think it advisable, resolve the issues as necessary, but know that even if you were to be with him again, in a few years you would, at best, be back where you were before he contacted you. Honour the man you’ve made your life and children with.

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A female reader, AuntyEm United Kingdom +, writes (22 December 2010):

AuntyEm agony auntHave you ever asked him why he has contacted you after all this time?

Something isn't quite right here...not with you but with him. If he has no intention to disrupt your life then why is he pressing for phone contact? It just doesn't make sense. If he got in touch to find out how you were getting on, then one or two e-mails would have put him in the picture...but to press for more direct contact such as phone calls, suggests that he is trying to work his way back into your life and which ever way you look at it, it IS disrupting your life.

You have a good solid marriage. I would put your husband in the picture and e-mail the 'friend' and let him know you have told your husband. If he is just after a cursory 'how are you doing' friendship then he won't mind if you let your husband know. If he objects or gets akward with you, then you can bet he wants more...so he is lying about NOT wanting to disrupt your life.

Your feelings not withstanding, you have never tried to remake contact with this guy and have been quite happy in your marriage for 20 years, that's a very long time and not years you will want to lose for a 'blast from the past'.

Keeping contact with him will go very swiftly from e-mails to phone calls to face to face as men can be quite persistant...but do you really know what kind of a man he is now? Let him in and you could find things slipping out of your control very quickly so you really need to think very deeply as to where this might lead and if it is truly what you want.

Your feelings are important and maybe you just need to say goodbye to him for good. If it was ever meant to work out, it would of happened all those years back...but he wanted out. Also, do you know the circumstances of his divorce?

You still have feelings of love, but where have those feelings been for 20 years? and what about the love you have for your husband and children?

It's a sad fact that we cannot have it alland really we shouldn't. Modern communication and the internet makes it so much easier to track people down...but remember, you didn't look for him because you were safe happy and content. He looked for you because he is now unattached and probably following up old leads...but would he have bothered in the absence of e-mail? would he have looked up your number or hand written you a letter to find you?...most likely not, because it would be too invasive and committed...he is dipping his toe to test the water...to see if he can get a nibble.

Consider everything before you proceed and let us know how you get on.

Aunty em xxx

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A female reader, Initwithhim Hong Kong +, writes (22 December 2010):

Well, think about your children and your husband, that's all i can say

But always follow your heart.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (22 December 2010):

Talk to your husband about getting in touch with this guy. I think you'll all too soon realize that you have a great man in your husband.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (22 December 2010):

What do you think took him so long to contact you? Obviously he feels connected to you but are you sure it is for the same reasons you feel?

Men are a breed all their own and often when they find themselves lonely (say after a divorce, hint hint) they often turn to the past...this never fails. I am just saying because with facebook and all these ways nowadays to reconnect with people from the past I too have been contacted by exes! Exes I haven't heard from in over 15 years! haha!

Luckily I no longer have any feelings for them so perhaps can read into their intention with a sounder mind, at the very least a level head. Men regret losing girls, of course. And by what I have seen by being contacted by men from my past, they certainly never forget their past flames. Certainly a pleasant surprise and I am glad to be in contact with them again. It is nice. But that is where it ends. For all I know, they have tried to contact several past flames, not just me. And for all you know, this guy has contacted you in addition to a stream of other women from his past. You never know. Not trying to put a damper on your day, but being realistic, that is often what men do.

It has been 30 years. You both are very different now. It took him this long to contact you. And while certainly it is charming and all, just be careful, and try not to read too much into it. You have a family and a husband. Just trying to put things in perspective for you. Your husband married you. He didn't leave you to weigh his options and let 30 years go by to contact you only when he was in the midst of a divorce and perhaps feeling lonely...something to think about.

But at the end of the day this is your life and a chance meeting, maybe perhaps grab coffee one day and catch up could possibly be what you need in order to put closure on this and at the very least see what is going on. Sounds harmless to me. It is up to you. But don't get so easily swept up into something that might not be what you think it is. Try to be realistic.

All the best.

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A male reader, idoneitagain Australia +, writes (22 December 2010):

To me you have two choices - repress, or process and work through.

If you repress your thoughts and feelings, you will never resolve this aspect of your emotional life - this is the path that you have taken so far regarding this relationship, and which has affected you all this time. Sometimes it feels like it lies there dormant, but it is always there in a sense, in the background. You can never find peace going down this path, and you can never be fully yourself.

The other option is to process it and work it through. I would say the best way to do this is with a counsellor. The purpose of doing this with a counsellor is that it creates a safe environment for you to work through your emotional issues, rather than having to figure it all out from within the confusing contexts of your relationships with your husband and your long lost love. Ultimately you will want to reach a point of clarity and be able to communicate your thoughts and feelings to both of them, but it is a good idea to know where you stand first, and that is exactly the function a counsellor can provide.

If you don't really want to see a counsellor, you can process all of your thoughts and feelings in your relationships, with your husband and your long lost love. However, the difficulty with this is your thoughts and feelings are impacted by their reactions, and their feelings, this can make it a more difficult process, but it can be done. Take this path at your own risk, this path runs the risk of everyone concerned having to face their own issues and pain before coming out the other side, and it has cost many their relationships in the process. If you relationship with your husband is strong and you can communicate well, you have a good chance of the outcome enhancing your lives and your marriage.

Good luck.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (22 December 2010):

Honestly...you're playing with fire. And...you know what happens when people play with fire. They get burned. First of all...you're married. You've been married for over 20 years. You have children. You have a life. Now...some flame from the past comes waltzing into your life because he got divorced and you are contemplating letting this guy back in??? Do that, and get ready for a roller coaster ride from hell. The advice from others that you can keep him on email is bad advice. Your feelings will continue to grow and grow and grow and email will turn into coffee dates, and drinks later on, and dinner and then...oblivion.

Your former flame doesn't want to disrupt your life? Are you kidding me? He knows you're married, yet he is angling to intrude on your life. Where was he these past 20 years? Why now? If what you say is true that you "still love this man", well then divorce your husband and start getting real with yourself and with your husband. I would be devastated -- not to mention completely and throughly pissed off -- to know that my wife is "in love" with someone else. It's not fair to your husband. He deserves someone who loves him completely. Not some 1/2 life of a wife...which is what he has now. I'm sorry to be so direct, but you are not thinking very clearly on this. Your choices (ones in which you are living a principled life as opposed to some facsimile of a life) are:

1) Get rid of this guy and put your energy into making your husband as appealing as your former flame; or,

2) Tell your husband the truth and move out.

To do the 1/2 measure of keeping this guy in your life -- either via email or phone or smoke signals -- while your poor hubby and kids are deluded into believing they have all of you doesn't strike me as much of an option -- for you or them.

Good luck.

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A female reader, janniepeg Canada + , writes (22 December 2010):

janniepeg agony auntI think the desire to reconnect with long time exes has to do with correcting the wrongs in the past, wishing things were different. Don't feel guilty about ignoring his emails. You will actually be doing him a favor by letting him choose someone who's free. How would that be dying a thousand deaths?

Make Christmas really big this year with your husband. Renew your vows to each other. Tell him how happy you are that you met him. Then plan the next Valentine's Day.

Think about it, what's really going to happen if emails turn into phone calls, and phone calls turn into physical meeting? He's going to end up heart broken again because you won't leave your family.

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A female reader, Tormentedblond United States +, writes (22 December 2010):

Tormentedblond is verified as being by the original poster of the question

Natasia...thank you for giving me a nonjudgemental answer. I don't want to hurt my family. I hope I am able to come to terms with this. I still have a lot to share with this person about our past. Maybe once that is done, I will finally be able to move on. Thanks again.

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A female reader, natasia United Kingdom +, writes (22 December 2010):

natasia agony auntAllow periodic email, but always maintain your family's happiness as the first priority. You owe them that. You also owe yourself the emails, as you only live once.

And who knows. But you are more alive with it than without, and you aren't, to my mind, actually being disloyal to anybody. You are just allowing a bit more dimension to your life.

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