Tell Me About It: I miss my younger lover – should I try to win him back?
It’s years since we broke up, but should I take the risk and contact him again?
Q When I read your column about the young man torn between his fiancee and his older lover [December 17th], it was like reading my own story.
Like the older woman mentioned in the letter, I had a much younger lover but worried about what others might think, thought his age was too close to my own children’s, and feared he would leave me for a younger woman when he wanted children. In hindsight this was a huge mistake. The young man who wrote that letter seems truly in love with the older woman, so he should do everything to keep her.
It is to my great regret that I did not take my younger lover seriously enough. I too feared reprisals from my ex-husband (who left me for a younger woman). My lover was then early-30s and I was mid-40s.
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- Tell Me About It: I miss my younger lover – should I try to win him back?
We had fantastic sex – the best of my life – but I had to compartmentalise it from the rest of my existence. We spent hours being intimate, totally in love in our perfect little nest away from the stresses of life. We had none of the hassle of an ordinary relationship.
If I’m honest, I wanted it to go on like that forever without complicating it. I was tired of the emotional hassle of needy men who bled me dry, then left. I adored him, but when he wanted to take things further, meet my children and spend time at my home, I couldn’t take the risk.
He tired of waiting and one day he surprised me by breaking it off quite coldly. I cried secretly for months, thought back to how he told me he loved me many times. I didn’t want to humiliate myself by pursuing him. Years later, I’m still sorry. No one could match my younger lover. I’ve heard that he has had girlfriends, but is still single. I fear I lost my chance at happiness, and now, as I’m about to turn 50, I want to risk it: should I contact him and try again?
A In the natural process of grieving, we dwell on what-ifs – what if I had taken my toy boy more seriously, what if I hadn’t cared about being judged by my ex, and so on. Your letter isn’t really about your age-gap relationship. It’s about grieving and the process of letting go of old relationships.
“Part of letting go is examining what you did wrong, but thinking about somebody doesn’t mean you are destined to be together. You can think about them without reopening that scenario,” says Andrew G Marshall, a psychotherapist and author.
We will do anything to avoid the torturous emotional process of grieving, including fantasising about getting a relationship back. When you embarked on your affair with the younger man, there might have been an element of you avoiding grieving the loss of your husband. There might also have been, Marshall suggests, a classic element of competition when, like your ex, you chose someone younger.
“Trying to forget by throwing yourself into new people is actually no way to forget, because you are continuing to compare the person you are grieving with the person you are with. You are blanking out the pain on a superficial level, but on a deeper level you are reinforcing it,” says Marshall.
It is human to want to avoid the heavy lifting of grieving, so we immerse ourselves in diversions, such as sex, alcohol and work. It’s even possible to use grief to avoid grief: by focusing on the loss of your younger lover, you might be avoiding your deeper grief at the loss of your husband and, with your 50th birthday approaching, the loss of youth and fertility.
“The problem with leaping into another relationship so soon is that it all gets bundled together,” says Marshall. “We may opt to have no feelings at all, which is barely human, or we may throw ourselves into alcohol, sex and affairs to put off the evil day when we truly must grieve.”
Let go of this younger man in your head. If you and he couldn’t communicate effectively then, you won’t make it work now. I could write another column on what works and what doesn’t between older women and younger men, but for you this isn’t the real issue. Heal and move on.
Further reading: Heal and Move On: Seven Steps to Recovering from a Break-Up by Andrew G Marshall (Bloomsbury)
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