The dilemma Forty years ago, as I was leaving school and starting university, I had an all-consuming relationship with a young woman. She ended it in a long, drawn-out way, which left me a wreck. I had a breakdown, which went pretty much unacknowledged by everyone.
I staggered through my studies and then life carried on, although the trauma of losing her never left me. I lost what promised to be a good academic career and have always been haunted by “what might have been”. Ironically, she went on to be a very successful academic.
I have been in and out of therapy with depression for decades. Thirty years ago, I met the woman who I am now married to. We have been together very happily and have two wonderful children – she is a great mother.
A year ago, my lost love made contact, which prompted an immense crisis for me. I have maintained contact, but we’ve not met up. However, this has allowed me, with help from my therapist, to deal with the 40-year-old issues, and I’m now in a much happier place.
My wife, on the other hand, is convinced she is second-best. I have promised to let her know whenever there is contact by text or email, which I have done, although every instance is difficult. She is upset by any contact and I feel she is spying on me. I rarely initiate the contact myself. My old lover has shown no inclination to take things any further, she’s single and adamant that she doesn’t want to be seen as a seductress. I want to maintain friendship; she is the only person I still know from that period of my life. Dealing with the past trauma and forming a new relationship with her has been extremely good for me. But my wife’s reactions are unbearable. If I broke things off I will once again lose someone I am still fond of.
Philippa’s answer If I was your wife I would not be reassured by you referring to or thinking of your friend from the past as your “lost love”. Nor would I be happy about the only reassurance being that your “lost love” doesn’t want to be a seductress, because that would not reassure me that you did not want to be seduced, or did not want to seduce her.
It sounds as though you are blaming your wife for your present dilemma as though you have done nothing to cause her unhappiness. She has been married to you for 30 years and yet you are saying the “lost love”, someone who strung you along for a couple of years, has the key to solving your propensity to depression. Yeah, I’d be pretty miffed if I was her.
It also sounds like you may have a trait of not taking responsibility for yourself. You seem to be blaming those around you for how you feel or for what happens to you, as though you are someone without agency for your own life and someone to whom things just happen. It is as though you are not in the driving seat of your life, but in the back seat, unhappy that the driver isn’t taking you where you want to go. There’s almost a hint that the “lost love” who has had a great career, stole that from you.
Blaming other people for how you feel or what happened in your life is a great way to never confront your modus operandi – which I don’t expect has ever worked for you as well as it might, as you do sound as though you are stuck in that back seat.
At the moment, it is as though you are a ball being thrown from the “lost love” to your wife and back again, and you don’t appear sure who is going to catch you. This malarkey of telling your wife everything that happens between your “lost love” and you is a great way of trying to get her to not catch the ball – and then it won’t be your fault if she drops you. So, again, life would appear to just happen to you without you having to take responsibility for your actions or the consequences of them. I don’t see you as so innocent as you seem to be trying to appear.
The great thing about the passing years is that we learn how to gain more control of our lives in the present rather than continue to be ruled by our pasts. It’s time you learned this rather than being organised by that unrealistic, hurt, lovesick inner teenage boy who has been holding you prisoner for what sounds like the past 40 years. The only person who can release you from that “what if” prison is you, by leaving that boy where he belongs – in the past.
I know all this might sound rather too challenging, but I don’t want you stuck in the back seat, or being a ball tossed about by other people for the rest of your life. You can be in control and go for what you need and what you want by taking responsibility for yourself and the consequences of your actions.
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