Double take: Living in the past

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker & Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA

When I was in high school (over 10 years ago) I fell in with this boy. It was love at first sight. We never dated. We were never close friends. We had some classes together and I felt this connection to him and I thought that he felt it too.However, nothing ever happened. After we graduated, I had this idea that one day we will meet again and we will end up together. Shortly after high school, he found a girlfriend and they have been together ever since. Due to some mutual friends I always knew what was going on in his life. He had a tumoltuous relationship with that girl and several times they were breaking up and making up. I never wanted to interfere while he was with her. I guess I was hoping that once they break up for good there would be a way for us to be together. I never really made any steps to make anything happen. Also, I’ve been regretting that I wasn’t more upfront with him when we were both still in high school. Now, it’s been more than 10 years and he is always in my mind, He is not married yet, however, I’ve heard that he wants to propose and marry that girl. Meanwhile I have been with somebody as well. When I met my current partner (6years ago) he was mostly my friend and although we were going out I always thought that this relationship would eventually end. When he proposed to me 2 years ago I said no. However, 2 years later i married him mainly due to his legal status and him being in a desperate situation. We have been married now for 2 years and I still think everyday about my first love. My husband loves me and many times I told him that I’m not in love with him. I never had an orgasm with him. Now, I guess I feel that I’m in a desperate situation knowing that my “first love” will be getting married. I can’t let go of the past. I’ve read many books about obsession in love but I don’t think that I am obsessed, I believe that I am truly in love with my first love. You might say that how well can I know him since I had no person-person contact with him for so many years, but I believe I truly know him on an emotional level. I thought about getting in touch with him, however, I always thought the situation would be very unnatural. I guess I have always thought that we would have an opportunity to meet and reconnect but I never wanted to force it. ALso, because I am now legally married that presents an issue. I tried many times to stop thinking about him but it seems hopeless. I can’t forget him and yet I cannot be with him.

A: “The only abnormality is the incapacity to love.” Anais Nin.
I believe that you believe you are deeply in love. My reality is that your love only exists in the very safe world of your own head. You’ve never tested it out. You’ve never given yourself over emotionally or physically to someone who can love you back. This strikes me as very, very sad. When a fantasy is this strong, it generally means that there is an equally strong fear lurking in the background. For ten years, you have deprived yourself of true love and romance, even to the extent that you are pushing away your husband’s love and affection. I have to wonder why you are so afraid of love’s reality that you would rather settle for unrealistic daydreams about a man who probably doesn’t know you exist. Of course you haven’t had an orgasm! To enjoy sex requires being present and giving yourself over to emotions that you only allow yourself in dreams. Of course you believe yourself to be truly in love. Otherwise it would be too painful to face the loneliness you’ve created for yourself.

Unrequited love may be the stuff of romantic poems but it’s ultimately not very satisfying in life. I suspect that you wrote to us here at PC because somewhere inside you are waking up to the fact that time is marching on. You are getting older but have yet to experience real love.

I suggest you ask yourself, “What will I start thinking about if I accept the fact that my emotional connection is a myth and this guy will never, ever be interested in me?” The first thing that comes to mind is probably a hint about what you are afraid of. Stay with the thought if you can tolerate it. Just note it if you can’t. This is the material you could bring to a therapist. Therapy would help you face your fears. If that idea terrifies you, then therapy will help you take things one step at a time until you can.

Dr. Dan’s take

“The love that lasts the longest is the love that is never returned.”
William Somerset Maugham (English short-story Writer, Novelist and Playwright, 1874-1965)

This is a very interesting situation. Here is the way I see it:

  1. You are in a relationship that you don’t want to be in.
  2. This was a marriage that you didn’t want, but decided to go ahead with anyway.
  3. The love from the past was never acted on.
  4. Opportunities existed for you to act on that love were not taken.
  5. You say you knew everything about what was happening to is other person, but don’t mention if he knew anything about you.
  6. Right now you are in a relationship you don’t want with a person you don’t love — wishing you were with a person that doesn’t know that you have loving feelings.

Each situation leaves you in the exact same space: wanting and not having. I believe the real issue here is your core thoughts about intimacy. Intimacy sounds like something that you desire and from which you are blocked. With your husband you are with a man who is available and yet don’t want him. With your fantasy lover you want him but he is not available. Each situation leaves you in the same place: unfulfilled.

I would recommend spending a bit more time alone. I am not suggesting you ignore your husband or your fantasy. But I am recommending sitting with the core struggle of wanting and not having. This dynamic is likely to keep manifesting until it is possible for you to sort it through. The likely source is your family of origin. In situations like this there is one or both parents simultaneously available but unavailable in some way. Perhaps meditation and journaling to expose the core feelings and ambivalence will be helpful.

I couldn’t agree more with Marie on bringing this material to a therapist. The find help tab at the top of the page will help you locate someone in your area.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

 

 

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Aug 2010

APA Reference
Daniel J. Tomasulo, D. (2010). Double take: Living in the past. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/08/19/double-take-living-in-the-past/