Dr. Nancy Kalish
When I began this research in 1993, I designed a questionnaire, and then I set out to find couples who had loved each other years ago, parted, then 5 or more years later tried another relationship with that person. The most successful way to find the participants (and the most fun), I discovered, was by being interviewed in newspapers and magazines, and on radio and television shows. I discussed my research, the post office box for volunteers was provided, and then people from all over the world wrote for a multiple choice questionnaire, which could be returned to me anonymously. Other ways of finding volunteers included posting messages asking for help in computer forums, word of mouth, posters in grocery stores, and paid advertising.
This first sample of participants, 1001, found their lost lovers without the Internet, which in 1993 was nonexistent as we know it today. Today, I have surveyed, met, emailed, or spoken to more than 3000 participants.
The findings of the Lost Love Project surprised even me! I thought, when I started the research, that this was a rare phenomenon, but I quickly learned that it was common for people to reunite with people from their past, even before the Internet. Now of course, it is much more common, with web sites such as Reunion.com (where I am the Relationship Expert) and search engines such as at Google.com.
I was also was surprised to learn that this is not a Baby Boomer, or senior citizen, phenomenon. People of all ages rekindle romances as just another, ordinary way to find love. In fact, half of my participants were under 35. Participants ranged from 18 to 95.
But people do not reunite with just any lost lover from their past; most participants, regardless of their ages, went back to someone they loved when they were 17 or younger. These are the romances that parents usually belittle, calling them puppy loves. But these were the very loves that my participants took most seriously as time went by, the loves they missed the most.
Parents not only belittled these young romances, but many played a large part in ending these romances. When I asked participants why their initial romances broke up, the reason cited by the largest group of respondents was, "Parents Disapproved." Years later, when the couple reunites, do they resent that past parental intrusion? Very much so. Many parents went to extremes to separate the young couple -- from hiding letters to jailing the young man. Couples who are happily reunited as adults are most resentful if their child rearing days are over and they can never have children together:
"We have a wonderful life now. Hooray! But we both had thirty years of unnecessary pain. I think if we could have been left alone then, we would have stayed together."
Other typical reasons for the initial breakups included "We Were Too Young," "Moved Away," "Left to Join the Military," and "Went Away to College." But only a very few couples checked the box, "We Were Not Getting Along." These were not neurotic, try-and-try-again couples who went back for another round of emotional battering. People don't change very much when it comes to personality, so a reunion with a batterer would be a very poor choice. The reasons the romances broke up were situational, and years later, during the second romance, the original roadblocks were gone.
There were other surprises for me over the 14 years of this research project. I noticed that whenever newspapers ran stories about local couples who had reunited and were about to marry, the journalist made an assumption that most rekindled couples reconnect at school reunions. When I looked at the data, it turned out to be a false assumption. Very few couples waited until the year of the school reunion to reconnect.
The two most common ways that they reunited were by writing a letter or email to the Lost Love or by placing a telephone call. Even before the Internet, they had no trouble finding the other person. Only 4 people out of the original 1001 participants used a private investigator. Most people leave a trail when they move: relatives that remained in the old home town, mutual friends who know the current address, or a school alumni association that is willing to forward a letter to the new address. The Internet has made it simpler still.
I also learned that people don't usually go looking for lost lovers unless they are happy and secure within themselves. These are not desperate and lonely individuals who are afraid to form new attachments so instead they take the easy way out and find an old flame. Quite the opposite; people search when they feel good about themselves, and that makes sense. Would you go to a school reunion, and let your old friends see you, if you were unemployed, newly overweight, or depressed? No, we want to put our best foot forward -- especially if we want to win back someone who left us.
And that brings me to another surprise finding: the person who goes searching for the lost lover is usually the person who was initially left by the other, the person I call the "dumpee."
Perhaps the most surprising finding of all is that the second time around, these romances can be very successful. 72 % of the couples in the original sample (1993-1996) reported that they were still together at the time they filled out my questionnaire. And if the partners had been first loves, they were successful 78% of the time. Participants often describe their romances as "comfortable" and "familiar," but these words do not indicate a ho-hum attachment. Most of the couples reported that this Lost and Found Love experience was the most emotional and sexual romance in all of their love history. One woman wrote:
"First time either of us ever went to bed before the first date. It was, and still is, fabulous every time."
And a man told me:
" Just wanted you to know that I have never been happier in my entire life!! I owe it all to my Lost Lover. We've been married ten years now, and still feel like we're on our honeymoon! Seriously. I have never been more relaxed, more secure, more honest, or more loved. It's the neatest feeling in the whole world!"
They are "soul mates," couples told me, and many believe that a "Higher Power" has brought them back together. Because of this, they believe they will never be separated again.
But there is a decidedly detrimental and unexpected consequence to looking for lost loves online: good marriages that would have survived have crumbled when a lost lover entered the picture. My 1993-1996 research revealed an extramarital rate among these couples of 30%. The extramarital rate of the couples whom I surveyed in 2005 is 62%, and most of these people have found each other on the Internet.
These people did not expect the reappearance of a lost lover to carry such a wallop. They thought they could merely catch up on old times, get "closure," or even have lunch with this old friend. My lost love participants reported that they were blind-sided; they did not expect their feelings to return, with a vengeance, from their past. They did not understand the risks to their marriages. But the initial, safe email message was followed by another. Soon the back and forth messages were sent several times a day; then when that was not enough, the phone calls started, and then the visits. The innocence departs and the angst begins.
Any medium can be misused, and technology should not be blamed for these marital problems. For people who are single, divorced, or widowed, rekindled romances may offer a way to find one's soul mate. However, if someone is married, or in any romantic relationship that he or she values and has no desire to leave, he or she should not contact a lost love at all.
Dr. Nancy Kalish, Professor of Psychology at California State University, Sacramento, is the international expert on love reunions. She is the only researcher to study lost loves reunited. She began her highly publicized Lost Love Project in 1993, an international landmark study of people ages 18 to 95 who tried to reunite with a lost lover 5 or more years after their separation. Her early research findings, and the tales of recaptured love in the couples' own words, were published in LOST & FOUND LOVERS: Facts and Fantasies of Rekindled Romances (Morrow, 1997).
Dr. Kalish was honored by her fellow psychologists to give an Invited Presentation at the Western Psychological Association Annual Convention in 2003 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Drawing from ten years of research with couples who tried rekindled romances, Dr. Kalish's address focused on new data and offered suggestions for psychotherapists who have clients obsessed with old flames, or already reunited with old flames, often in destructive extramarital affairs. Her e-book The Lost Love Chronicles (2006), a collection of love stories (all new) by adults who reunited with, or still long for, a lost love is available through her website.
She has been in great demand as a speaker on this topic, appearing as a guest on many shows, including Oprah, 20/20, National Public Radio, and CNN, Canadian and Australian TV. Dear Abby has cited Dr. Kalish's research in two of her columns. AARP, Self, Mademoiselle, The Chicago Tribune, Parade, Men's Health, USA Today, and The New York Times are among her numerous and diverse media appearances worldwide. Her website is www.lostlovers.com
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