Our first love can either be a distant memory from our past, or something we compare all future relationships against. But is revisiting your first love ever a good idea?
When we think of our first love, our minds are cast back to a time of innocence and optimism, accompanied by overwhelming feelings we’ve never felt before. There’s the physical chemistry of desire and euphoria, kisses that made us swoon, the belief that love will last forever, and dreams of a perfect future.
For some, our first love is a hazy memory from long ago, while others remember theirs from time to time and wonder what might have been. Some view their first love as the “one who got away” and against whom later partners can never measure up.
We’re more connected than ever
Social media has made reconnecting with high school sweethearts more common. Often people simply reconnect out of curiosity and to touch base. It is natural to seek out a warm and understanding connection to manage our current stress. After all, they are just an ‘old friend’!
Socially, it’s also often received very positively when we hear of couples who rekindle a relationship with their first love or high school sweetheart later in life.
However, the late US-based psychology professor Dr Nancy Kalish, in her research on rekindled romances, found that these couples often fit a certain profile — they were younger than 24 when they dated, grew up in the same place, and their relationship was interrupted by some external factor such as parental disapproval. This profile is in stark contrast to those first love relationships that reached a natural end for good reasons.
Kalish also found that relationships have a 70%success rate when both parties are truly available — single, widowed, or divorced — when they reunite.
Do high school sweethearts have the best chance of survival?
Contrary to romantic ideas, high school sweethearts who marry in their early 20s face a greater risk for future divorce. The Institute of Family Relationships in the US reports that a couple who marries at age 20 is over 50% more likely to get divorced than a couple who marries at age 25. Similarly, the Australian Institute of Family Studies reports the highest divorce rate for those aged 25–29 years.
With 77% of Australian couples now living together before getting married, the notion of marrying a high school sweetheart is perhaps more connected with an older generation.
Obvious realities are at play in the demise of high school sweetheart relationships: lack of life experience and emotional maturity; limits imposed on education and personal development; financial pressures; and the long-term consequences of choices that each person may not fully understand until later in life.
If you are toying with the idea of rekindling a past relationship, here are some tips to help put romantic memories or yearnings into perspective.
Remember that we often look at the past with rose-coloured glasses
When we find ourselves unhappy with our lives, unresolved about the past, or the future appears uncertain and lonely, we can find ourselves thinking of the past rather than dealing with the present. Memories of our first love can creep into our thoughts.
First loves were often part of a less complicated time in life when we had fewer responsibilities and more hope for the future. We might hope we can somehow experience this time again by reconnecting with people who shared important events and experiences with us.
Be honest with yourself about what you’re looking for
Before we contact an old flame, we need to be honest about what we hope to achieve. If both of you are single and something special can develop again, that can be a wonderful thing. However, if one or both are not truly available, are you prepared for the minefield of what might happen if you reach out and you’re both searching for meaning or excitement?
Consider the past’s impact on the present
Reconnecting with a past love can impact current partners. It has the potential to develop into an affair, but even if it doesn’t, the special nostalgia you feel can be felt by your partner. They may feel they were your second choice and wonder, “how can I compete with a ghost?”
Sometimes we try to cope with current unhappiness through a nostalgic re-storying of a past love, and we forget the break-up occurred for a good reason. These nostalgic narratives can hold us back in important efforts to resolve issues in our current relationship.
Find ways to make your life simpler and happier in the present
When we think back to a first love it doesn’t take much imagination to know that it was not just all about them, but also about our experience of who we were at that time. We long to be that young, fresh, healthy, alive, carefree and beautiful person once again. While we can never go back to our youth, we can find ways make our lives less pressured, simpler and happier again in the present. If you’ve been neglecting your self care habits, healthy eating, or your hobbies lately, let this be the motivation for you to start focusing on yourself a little more.
Look forward to the future
We can’t move forward in our lives if we are held back by the past. If you struggle to let go, allow regrets to dominate your life, and carry a missed opportunity from a past love into current relationships — it’s time to get help.
Taking time to reflect on the past as part of a useful stocktake is best done with a neutral person like a counsellor..
Reflecting with old friends who were present at the time might mean that you get swept up in group nostalgia, and perhaps collectively reminiscing about the past rather than reflecting on things clearly — and without the rose-tinted glasses on.