NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Relationships: Obsessions About the "One Who Got Away"

Many people, especially people who are middle aged, obsess about their first love, the "one who got away."  Even if they're happy in their current relationship, it's not unusual for people to ruminate about an old love and think how much better life would be if they were still with their "first love."

Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away"

In these fantasies about an old love, people tend to think that they would have had the ideal relationship with that former girlfriend or boyfriend.

Before the advent of social media, these fantasies would usually remain just that-fantasies.

Romantic Fantasies About the "One Who Got Away"

But now with so many different ways to reconnect with former friends and lovers, many people, even people who are already relationships, are making an effort to try to find their old love to reconnect with them and start over (see my article: Relationships: Romantic Reconnections).

Even if someone doesn't make an effort to reconnect with an old love, s/he can remain stuck in old memories and fantasies about what "could have been" if the relationship hadn't ended.

If there is an existing relationship, the current spouse or partner usually can't live up to the ideal fantasies about the old love.

Romantic Fantasies About the "One Who Got Away"

These fantasies usually don't include the mundane aspects of life, like taking out the garbage, paying bills or looking at your spouse snoring while asleep.  They're usually romantic fantasies where life is blissful without a care.

Even if the person who is obsessing about an old love isn't in a relationship, these fantasies can keep him or her from finding someone to be with who could be a real partner and not a fantasy.

The following fictionalized vignette is an example of how obsessions about an old love can affect relationship and how therapy can help:

Dan and his wife, Marie, were married for almost 15 years.

As Dan approached his 40th birthday, he started going through his old college pictures and he found pictures of his former girlfriend, Karen.

When he saw her pictures, he remembered how beautiful she was and how in love with her he had been.

Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away"

They had dated for three years in college and they were almost always together.  Everyone, including Dan, assumed that they would get married after college.

Then, as graduation approached, Karen decided that, rather than taking an apartment with Dan in NYC, as they had planned, she wanted to go back home to California for a while.

Dan remembered being shocked and heart broken, and he was even more heart broken when Karen told him that she wanted to be free to date other men.

On their last day at college, they stayed up all night and watched the sun rise.  They were both crying, knowing that they would miss each other.

Dan tried to convince Karen to change her mind, but she told him that she needed to be sure about him, and she wanted to date other  people before she made a lifetime commitment to be with him.

She told him that she doubted that she would meet anyone that she would care about as much as him, and she would probably call him after a while and tell him that she regretted ever moving away from him.  But, she said, for now she needed to be free.

Seeing Karen's pictures after all of these years brought back all those memories.

Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away"

He remembered that after college graduation, at first, they talked on the phone everyday and told each other how much they missed each other.

Dan told Karen that it was crazy for them to be separated and she should just come live with him in New York.  No matter how she explained it to him, he couldn't understand why she wasn't with him.

Then, after a while, Karen wasn't calling him or returning his calls as often.

At first, when he questioned her about it, she denied that she met anyone new.  But, as he persisted to question her, she admitted that she was dating someone that she really liked, and Dan was devastated.

At that point, Karen told him that she thought it would better for them not to talk on the phone anymore.  She told him that she would write to him and let him know what she decided.  She also encouraged Dan to date other women, which he had not done until then.  No amount of pleading with her would change her mind.

Dan heard from Karen a couple of months later that she was in a serious relationship with this other man and she didn't think it would be right for her to keep communicating with Dan.  She told him in her letter how much she had loved him in the past, but she knew that there was something missing from their relationship and she found it with this other man.

In a fit of rage, Dan tore up her letter and everything that he found of hers.  But, somehow, he never found these pictures, until now.

He never heard from Karen again, but he heard from mutual friends that she got married a year later to the man she was dating when she last communicated with Dan.  Then, he lost contact with their mutual friends and he didn't hear about her anymore.

Dan wasn't unhappy in his marriage, but sometimes he felt bored.

By the time he met Marie, he and Karen had been broken up for a few years.  The first couple of years, his relationship with Marie was loving and passionate.  But after several years, their life settled down into a predictable routine.

One of things that he loved about Karen was that she was so adventurous and open to new experiences.    When they were together, they would talk about all the places that they would travel to after college graduation and what their dream house would be like.  He always felt happy around her.

Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away"

Even though he had not thought about Karen for several years before he found her picture, he was obsessing about her now.

He would go to sleep wondering what her life was like and if she ever thought about him.  He would have dreams about their days together in college.  He had a dream that he called her after all these years, and she told him that she regretted ever breaking up with him.

Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away" 

In one of his dreams, he flew to California, reconnected with Karen and left Marie.  When he woke up, he felt disoriented.  When he saw Marie lying next to him, he felt partly relieved and partly disappointed.

Although Dan told Marie early on about his relationship with Karen, Dan didn't tell Marie now about finding Karen's picture.  But Marie sensed that something was wrong because Dan seemed so distracted when he was around her.  When she asked him about it, he made up an excuse and went out for a walk.

Dan felt that his obsessive thoughts were becoming overwhelming, especially since he was thinking more and more about trying to contact Karen.

The thought of contacting her made him feel excited and scared at the same time.  He didn't know what he would say to her or if she would even talk to him.

In his fantasies, she would be thrilled to hear from him, but he also knew that she might think it was very strange to hear from him all these years later.

Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away"

Dan looked Karen up online one day and found her address in San Francisco.  He tried to see if she had a Facebook page, but he couldn't find one.  He told himself that he was just curious but, on some level, Dan knew that he was becoming more and more obsessed.

One night over dinner, when Marie was talking to him, he realized that he hadn't heard a word that she had said.  At first, he felt embarrassed, but then when he saw the hurt look on his face, he felt sad and guilty.

Marie asked him if he was having an affair.  When he told her no, he felt like he was lying, and she looked suspicious and hurt.  She asked him why he had been looking so distracted lately, and he lied to her and told her that he didn't know.

That night when they were in bed and Marie approached him, he knew that he wasn't in the mood to make love to her, but he didn't dare say no.  The only way that he was able to make love to her was by thinking about how passionately he used to make love to Karen.

Afterwards, Marie looked happy, cuddled in his arms and told him how much she loved him.  But Dan felt guilty and like a fraud.  He knew he needed help before he ruined his marriage.

He found a psychotherapist through his doctor and made an appointment for that week.

After he explained his situation and his therapist told him that his experience was common, he felt relieved.

Then, he and his therapist began exploring the underlying reasons why Dan was obsessing about Karen.  He knew, logically, that he had not thought about her in several years, but his feelings were so strong now.

His therapist helped him to understand that his feelings were based on memories and he was reliving his experiences with Karen in his mind.  Even though the emotions felt were very powerful now, they were related to memories and fantasies.  In reality, Dan didn't know what being with Karen would be like now.

He also knew that he loved Marie and he didn't want to leave her.

Then, he and his therapist talked about how he felt about his upcoming 40th birthday, and Dan slumped in his chair.  He soon realized that his fantasies about his time with Karen were mostly about being young and in love during an earlier time in his life that was carefree and exciting.

Instead of obsessing about Karen, Dan decided to work on his marriage.

He and Marie began traveling and doing some of the things that they had always wanted to do and were always putting them off.  He was thrilled to discover that Marie was open to new experiences, and he felt closer to her than he had felt in a long time.

Working on Your Relationship

Dan continued to work in therapy on his fears about getting old and all that this entailed.

In the meantime, he and Marie rekindled their relationship and his thoughts about Karen faded back into his memory.

Getting Help in Therapy
Having fantasies about an old love isn't unusual, but if these thoughts are getting in the way of your current life and you can't put them into perspective for yourself, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you to discover the underlying reasons for your fantasies so you can take steps to get your life back.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.