It is easy to romanticize former relationships, but make sure you keep it all in perspective.
“I ran into the guy I was in love with when I was 20, and all the same feelings came flooding back,” my friend Leah confided in me, both embarrassed and starry-eyed at the same time. “It felt like I could finally realize what wasn’t possible back then. But I’m married now and the mother of three teenagers…”
Then she told me how that young love affair had been thwarted by external circumstances that, at the time, the couple was unable to overcome. Meeting again plunged Leah back into the past when everything still seemed possible. A return to a lovers’ paradise, as romantic as you could wish. It was as though the 20 intervening years, during which she’d built a marriage and a family she’s very much attached to, had been erased.
Between fantasy and reality
Leah talked to her husband about it, wistfully, but without that the passion that devoured her when she’d spoken to me about it. She and her husband are both busy professionals and when they’re at home they are , dealing with urgent daily activities: housekeeping, their children’s schooling, planning vacations. Routine had taken over their marital relationship: “I would even say a certain boredom,” she says with melancholy.
Indeed, after a few years of married life, a couple can feel a certain weariness, even disappointment in their daily life because of everyday constraints: being a good spouse, a good parent, a success in professional life, being there for friends. It’s then when you can start dreaming that, with someone else — especially perhaps that first real love that didn’t work out — life would be more meaningful, more joyful, more passionate … a rediscovered youth, in other words.
But isn’t that living in a fantasy world, where we re-imagine relationships that were no doubt never that simple, that wonderful, that pure? Memory reconstructs things the way we’d like to remember them: we add things, leave out others, we mix up what’s true and what’s false. And it can happen without us even realizing it. Regrets then arise. But are they really well founded?
To get our bearings amid all these mixed emotions, we have to put back in perspective the sacramental commitment that binds us unfailingly to our spouse, rather than harking back to a previous love, a love that is not the sacramental marriage to which we freely committed ourselves, and which implicates more than just ourselves but our spouse, our children, and more. That way, it’s possible, with help, to get beyond a resurgence of past emotions that are detrimental to one’s commitments … humbly and with courage.