When First Love Is True Love: Re-Igniting The Old Flame

Dear Duana—
I fell hard for my first love. We met in 6th grade and dated for about a year and a half. Even after he moved, we tried to stay together. It didn’t work, and I had a hard time dating other guys. I’ve never really stopped having feelings for him.

Now, I’ve been seeing someone else for 2 ½ years, and we’re pretty serious, but I’m having doubts about whether I want to be with him anymore. There are problems in the relationship, problems I don’t think we’re going to move past. And also, I’m back in contact with my first love, and the old-flame feelings are returning.

So—am I just fantasizing about my first love during a tough time in the current relationship, or was that love real? Should I pursue it?


Dear Chelsea—

You’ve got two questions here: Whether to stay in the relationship you’re currently in, and whether re-igniting a romantic relationship with your first love is realistic. Only you know whether the love you feel and the respect and values you share with your current boyfriend justifies a serious commitment; only you know whether you’re happy. If so, quit communicating with your first love and focus all your energy on this one. But if the relationship feels wrong, please remind yourself that you’re not married until you’ve said “I Do” in front of witnesses. Which means you are still free to make the best decision for yourself. And you should!

As science would have it, the best decision could well be returning to your first love. In fact, Dr. Nancy Kalish, expert on reunited relationships and author of a research-based book, Lost & Found Lovers: Facts and fantasies of rekindled romances, has interviewed hundreds of lovers who re-established contact with a former flame. Although a few re-connections crash and burn, almost 80% of rekindled first loves—if single at the time of the re-kindling!— passionately burn for a lifetime of happiness.

So, Kalish’s research predicts that yes, your love with your first boyfriend is realistic, and yes, you could remain blissfully happy with him for a lifetime—IF you fit a certain profile.

What profile?

—Youth and inexperience: It appears that happy rekindlers were first loves, usually not later loves. And they were young—typically under age 17, and sometimes even children—when they first fell in love. About half had never slept with their beloved during the initial romance, mainly because so many of the first lovers were very young at the time, or grew up in an era/area of strong social pressures to abstain.
Although nobody knows why such youthful love can be so powerful, Kalish realizes this is not—as parents often and insultingly say—puppy love. It appears that this tender point of our development may lead some people into a form of emotional bonding that sets the ideal.  Or maybe some just get really lucky and meet a great mate early on. Or maybe the kids we grow up with tend to share a lot of aspects of our own background—money, religion, education, etc.—that add up to being enough alike to form a basis for lasting love.
Whatever the reason, young love can be very real love.


—Reason for the breakup: The number-one reason given by Kalish’s participants was parental disapproval, closely followed by physical separation; these two factors accounted for well over half of all break-ups among the now-happily reunited lovers. One woman wrote of her parentally-forced breakup: “We both had thirty years of unnecessary pain. I think if we could have been left alone then, we would have stayed together.” (Parents, take note. Puppy love, this isn’t, and the damage you do can be lasting.)
None –not one!—of the happy rekindlers broke up because they weren’t getting along, had different values, or had character flaws that would make the relationship unworkable. Says Kalish, ”This fact may explain why rekindled relationships have such a good chance of success. The rekindlers did not choose to go back to incompatible lovers.”  In fact, the divorce rate of rekindlers is under 2%—compared to over 50% in our general population. 

—Timing: Although Kalish only studied couples whose separation had lasted five years or more, the most successful renewed relationships were those with separations of 10 years or more. It’s unclear why the relationships that tended NOT to work out had shorter separations—but it may have something to do with the fact that most of us need to establish our own identities and lives to some extent before we can successfully commit to another person. People who re-connect after fewer years may still be so young that they may not be in a position to make the relationship’s day-to-day details work out.

—Importance of the lost lover: The lovers who reunited successfully saw this relationship as supremely special. In hindsight, they saw that the relationship was, in fact, irreplaceable. It tended to be the one to which all later relationships were (unfavorably) compared. And these lovers showed this appreciation of their relationship’s uniqueness in various ways, including having kept the old love-letters, photos, and other mementos from the lost relationship.

—Immediacy of the reconnection: Although successful rekindlers didn’t always resume their romance right away (typically because they were involved with someone else when they renewed contact with the old flame), they almost always knew, as soon as they spoke again, that the relationship really had been The One. And the intensity of the reconnection was felt even in the rare instances when it was not expressed. One of Kalish’s respondents who had reunited with her first love after 45 years wrote that “My son recently asked me how long it took, after we met again, before I knew that ‘this was it.’ I thought awhile and answered, ‘About ten minutes.’”



Chelsea, in short, although not every first love is The Love, it sounds to me like you and your first sweetheart just might fit the profile—with the possible exception of timing. If you do, the research would suggest that you and he have a great shot at being right for one another, and blissfully happy together.

Whatever choice you make—I wish you well.




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Do you have a question for Duana? Contact her at Duana@LoveScienceMedia.com


All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., 2009


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Reader Comments (6)

My boyfriend from the Summer of '64 contacted me a little over a year ago. We have enjoyed a lively correspondence ever since, discussing our lives, religion, the loves of our lives, our children & grandchildren. We have also enjoyed re-living old times, when we knew each other for a few short months. We are very comfortable with each other, and nothing more is involved than sharing our lives and thoughts. As I believe the theory of reincarnation has some validity, it seems obvious to me that we have been close before. There is a connection, but it is absolutely no threat to our relationships with my beloved husband or his beloved wife.

June 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Gaines

Carmen--welcome! I'm glad you and your former bf can be just friends. Not everyone fits the profile, of course. I have a couple former flames I keep in touch with my ownself! Glad it's working for you.

June 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Here's a good question? Would rekindling also would be affected by the status in life that the parties are in? Say "love was in the air" at 11 to 12 years of age. The young "puppy lovers", and I don't mean PETA members(lol), have no issues or bad habits and are playful non-violent healthy kids. Love could be amplified at this point. No move ahead 20 years. Both have reunited in a lunch meeting. What if one has been involved in physical fitness and the other is habitually hooked on cigarettes and alcohol. What if one has done jail time and the other is a respected Mayor of a city? In other words, one of the "lovers" is just not attractive or has major detrimental social issues. I know attractive is a relative term but you get what I mean? I would guess that both people would have had to been able to maintain basic attributes that allowed the romance to flourish. Kindness, youthfulness(more like health), fearlessness, tolerance, etc....

June 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel C

Thank you for confirming something I've suspected for a while. My husband and I dated when we were in high school, lost touch and got back together when we were in our 30s. It was supposed to be a platonic meeting of old friends but we fell in love immediately. Married now for 15 years with two kids and still in love. Keep up the interesting columns!

June 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura W

I am 42 and have recently rekindled with my boyfriend from when I was 13, after 27 years of no contact. He rung me out of the blue having tracked me down on the internet, we were both in different countries at the time and in long-term relationships/marriage. What innocently started as his call to see how my life had turned out, very quickly escalated to us falling in love again just by email and telephone communication. We reunited after 6 weeks and the intensity and the connection is so powerful we are both now inseparable. Amazingly we are both so alike in tastes, attributes, attitudes,and principles that it is remarkable that we have lived separate lives for most of our lives. Reading this post just helped reinforce for me just what a significant phenomena rekindling is!

July 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSara M

Sara, Thank you for sharing your story. You really underscored exactly what Kalish found out. Much happiness to you and your sweetheart.

July 14, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.
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