Carrying a Torch for Somebody from the Past

Dear Neil:  Twenty-five years ago, I had a four-year relationship with a woman that ended badly.  But ever since then, I’ve had dreams of reconnecting with her.  So at the time of my recent divorce, I contacted her, told her of my desire for her, and invited her to get together again.  She said that she was in a happy relationship, that she wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize it, and would I please not contact her again.  But I can’t get her out of my mind, and I find myself thinking about her a lot.  I’m mentally comparing other women that I meet to the way she was.  I know this isn’t healthy for me, but I can’t seem to be able to let this go.  No one compares positively to the girlfriend from my past, but I can’t have her.  What would you advise?

Stuck In The Past in Las Vegas

Dear Stuck In The Past :  You are carrying a torch for the woman from your past because she represents something that you want.  This might be a quality she possessed (such as spontaneity, or being a free spirit, or great vulnerability, or being independent).  It could be her appearance that appealed to you (petite, slender, brunette, long hair, piercing eyes, etc).  It could be that you were attracted to a quality that your relationship together had (deep connection, a lot of compassion, extremely sensual or erotic.)  Or it could be a value system that you were so drawn to (open and honest, loyal, committed, present, similar interests, a good friendship).

Ask yourself what it is about the woman from your past that you find so appealing.  It’s those qualities that you’re looking for now, not the woman from your past.  Find a woman that offers you those qualities.  It’s a lot more fun pursuing someone you can actually catch than someone who is just a memory.  Staying attached to someone you can’t have keeps you unavailable for someone you could have. 

Dear Neil:  My educated daughter, in the course of a drama-filled 50 years, has managed to fit in three marriages and countless other liaisons.  Every relationship has had a pattern: sex, then a character makeover to fit the new man, then a messy break-up where she is always the victim and the relationship is occasionally abusive (although two of her partners have had emotional breakdowns that have left them shattered).  Now separated from husband No.3, she entered yet another relationship, but discarded him when it came to light he could not buy her a house. 

I dread Christmas, which always introduces new men, and I find myself placing boundaries on subject matter when she calls.  As an aside, her daughter is in recovery from sexual addiction.  I know today’s world is a challenge, but I am still bewildered.

Bewildered in New Zealand

Dear Bewildered:  Your grown daughter clearly comes from a different generation and has different standards of behavior from your own.  That is relatively commonplace.  You’ve raised your daughter to be her own person, and indeed she has become her own person, even if you disapprove.  

But it is OK to tell her that her behavior with men is causing you pain and anguish, and that you would prefer to not know so many details about her love life.  Then steer the conversation between the two of you to other matters.  For next Christmas, it doesn’t harm you to be appropriate and polite to her current man.  You don’t have to be heavily involved with him.  You could urge both your daughter and your granddaughter into therapy so they could learn more healthy ways of coping, of being happy and being effective and wise in their intimate relationships.  You might even offer to help your granddaughter if you can (or both of them) to defray the cost of therapy.

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