40 Years after Our Fling, Why Can’t I Forget about Her?

Why do I still wake up every day with her in my head? I know that I am not a member of the cool hair club, witty, or handsome. I had a wonderful experience in high school with a great girl. I stupidly had to be patriotic and joined the military. She dumped me six weeks in. She fell in love with a great guy who did not leave her alone like I did. They built a life together that is everything I have ever wanted. I have tried everything I can think of to remove her from my thoughts. Now, 40 years later, I am coming apart at the seams and believe that I must deserve this crap somehow. I am sure that I will get all of the "you're not alone" comments, but the truth is, yes, I am. I have been married to a woman for 30 years and she doesn't love me, but she can't survive without my help. She broke my heart with two different affairs, proving that I suck. I have two children who mostly just need the ATM. Every day of my life, I wake up with my high school sweetheart on my mind for some reason. She was the first to make me know that I am not worth waiting for to her. Never mind, I know who I am to the world. I guess somewhere deep inside, I just want her back or I just want to feel that way again. —Looking Back
Dear Looking Back,

That girl in your head—she was your first love, perhaps? And your first heartache too? You still have feelings for her, it seems, and I think that while she may have many wonderful features, she built a life with someone else, not you. You don’t know what her life is from the inside, so it’s easy to make it seem ideal. It may or may not be.

Also, she dumped you six weeks after you joined the military. First off, she might have dumped you anyway—you first got together in high school, a time when relationships can be flimsy and fleeting. It’s part of growing up.

Why do you wake up every day with her in your head? I’m guessing it’s not her so much as it is you and her together, the way you were 40 years ago—young, hopeful, naive, the world opening before you. You shared the exciting spirit of beginnings, but I wonder how long that would have lasted even if you hadn’t joined the military.

The world seems closed to you now. You say no one loves you or knows you deep down. Your wife had two affairs, and you have been having a kind of fantasy mind affair with that girl, the ineffable first-time perfect girl. She stands between you and your life. You are holding her in between yourself and your life. What you had together for a short time 40 years ago stands between you and your real life, and it is taking the place of your real life. It’s time for you to dump her and live now. There’s no do-over.

Your two kids, you seem to suggest, are teenagers or young adults, and only interested in your money, not in you. Perhaps that’s true, I don’t know. I’m not sure you know, either, since you live with a curtain that blocks the reality of yourself in your life in this moment.

Why do people torture themselves with visions of a perfect past, a wonderful experience, that doesn’t exist? Why do you? Are you afraid of your life now, of looking at who and where you are now? Is it painful?

Perhaps you’re unhappy because where you are now is not where you would like to be. You can’t go back 40 years, obviously, but you can look ahead to the future and see what kind of life you would like to craft for yourself, what you need to do to make it real, to build a life for yourself—no matter your age—that is rooted in the present so it can be satisfying and genuine.

How can you do that? You can look deep inside yourself. You can go to therapy, or to group therapy, and dig hard and come alive.

I wish you luck, love, and satisfaction.

All my best,

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Cleo

    June 13th, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    Could you please explain to me why your wife having an affair means that you suck?

    That means she sucks, not you

  • Christian

    June 14th, 2014 at 5:31 AM

    Why do you remain so fixated on a time on your life that was so long ago? She could be a terrible person now but you have built her up into your mind that she is this ideal woman and that nothing else will ever compare. Maybe that is what happened in your marriage, that you held your wife up against this image of a “perfect” woman that you had and she knew that no matter what she ever did that she could never live up to that. I am sorry that at this point in your life you have gone through so much pain, but I think that now is the time, today is the day, to begin letting some of that go a little bit at a time and moving on so that you can make the most of the rest of your life, You owe that to yourself and your family.

  • Megan D

    June 16th, 2014 at 4:10 PM

    We always live with the what ifs, but after all this time it would be better to think about the ways that you can improve the here and now instead of remaining so fixed on something that in all likelihood wasn’t meant to be in the first place. The present probably feels so crappy becasue you have this idealized version of the past that you always think that nothing can measure up to, and it can’t because that isn’t real.

  • britt

    June 17th, 2014 at 4:26 AM

    I think that you are living in the past and if you are ever to experience any happiness then you need to start living in the present. That was probably a big problem in your marriage from the start.

  • Callie

    June 18th, 2014 at 4:23 AM

    Living in the past can be a terrible thing but there is a way out of this for you. You can seek counseling, because I think that you have many issues form your past that still need to be resolved. Until you are willing to let go and move on past a lot of that then there is never going to be anything in the here and now that looks that good to you.

  • Maji

    January 29th, 2015 at 9:58 PM

    Its depends on how you feel.If you feel great with her, keeps her is the best option. You have let her go but not the love you have for her.I am also experience same thing @ present

  • Waqar K

    April 9th, 2015 at 8:28 PM

    I also have the same experience…my wife of one year, she left me 7 years ago, and I see myself wake up in the middle of the night to google her name…I recently came up with one of her picture on google with her current husband…but it seem as I can’t get over her…that love I can’t find any place else…it’s killing every day every night and all the time…don’t know what to do…I wished I could just die soon, because this pain is killing me.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    April 16th, 2015 at 6:24 PM

    Waqar, seven years is a long time. I am sorry you are suffering. I offer you the alternative of seeking treatment with a psychotherapist to help you with you pain.
    Take care,

  • Cruise

    May 16th, 2015 at 5:49 PM

    I, too, am having the same issue…. In 2012, may 25, I asked my love to be mine, she accepted. Not an hour later, she became my betrothed with: “Yes! A thousand times, yes!”. At the time I was sixteen and she fourteen, we had a 100% perfect relationship until she was sixteen….she left me a little after she became sixteen. I am nineteen now and neartly three years laater, i wake up with her in my heart….i tried to kill myself multiple times and nearly succeeded. But I just realize that, even with my current girlfriend over over one year, I am still completely lonely. I love her and with, to this day, die for her… But she doesn’t love me….

  • looking back

    December 4th, 2015 at 8:20 AM

    I think that I am not really fixated on her but on what it felt like. I should have written that I think I did everything right. I did move and did put her out of my mind for more that 35 years. On the surface at at least I know that I did. Most of the things I wrote about above are fairly new thoughts for me and I see from re reading it how it may have looked like I have been stuck in the place for the whole time. I don’t think so. However, I do admit to struggling with where I am now. Dr Somerstein is of course correct about that ” she dumped me and likely would have anyway” She wasn’t my first love but she was the only connect. It is not from trying. I try to connect all the time and do in small ways with most. Nothing deep and trusting though. I have never found that person that will connect with me intimately. (not talking sex even though that is part of it I guess) I admit to the fact that all I have really met are “Takers” and Givers for me. You know there was nothing perfect with my past at all however my perception is that my happiness, confidence, and over well being were way higher that today.
    I am so disconnected from my wife of 30 years that I do not think that I can rebuild any trust with her. I don’t want to think that way but since her brain surgery for a tumor, we are not at all the same couple. She did have two affairs as mentioned above, she only knows that I know about one of them. She can’t change what she did by letting someone in to that place that she was supposed to reserve for me. I struggle with thought that if I had been more for her that would not have happen to me or her for that matter. People always say that if you are right for each other that won’t happen and I know lots and lots of couples that I think that has never happened to. So, I tend to grade or evaluate it as either mine or her weakness. I don’t care about which one or if it was both of us because I don’t see how that matter to the facts. They are that she made decision, she acted on that decision, she got used by that guy, I got ridiculed and pitted in my community. This is why I think I suck, which is a strong word and not entirely accurate yet expresses my feelings on it. I know that I am a good guy, I know that I have value. I don’t think that it is at all uncommon for someone to need to want external validation of these things. I am sure that all can see form the way t hat I write, I have some difficulty in social environments. I recognize that and I tend to just pull back as I hate to embarrass myself, which happens frequently. That person 40 years ago new me pretty well in the crowd for three years. however when we were forced to share a table and all of the projects that went along with them for a semester in school, we shared personal stuff too. She did not suddenly fall in love with me or I her. She has boyfriends, all though they were not at all right for her. The semester ended and sometime during the Christmas holiday , her best friend, also someone i cared about. Told me to just know on this door one day and the person that answered it would be the one for me. I know it is silly but that is how it happened.
    Being in the military in the 70’s is not at like today. We were always warned about going off base because the public did not like us back then. even though the job is not different than to day. We were not heroes. I was called everything but that. You may not know it because there was no publicized war going on, there was plenty of harms way. Hell I got shot. So it was very hard to find someone if you didn’t already have someone. Many of us had no place to really call home. They didn’t tell us that everyone would blow us off. Hence the common belief that recruiters are lairs. After I finished my commitment I went another 9 years before anyone showed an interest. I am thinking now that maybe I settled for way less. My wife was never very deep and even less after her surgery. I might have moved on if she had some way to take care of herself. She has never been able to hold a job since then and doesn’t want to anyway.
    I took Dr. Somerstein’s advice and am in therapy. Of course the focus of that has been to get me a better self image so far. WE are considering EMDR therapy but have not moved that way yet. I do still think about Meg every day when I wake up and every day before sleep. But it isn’t really her I think about because I don’t know her any more. I think about how it felt to have her look at me the way she did, trust me to tell me her inner most thoughts, how she wanted to know mine, and how she would kiss me so intensely. I know that last part is shallow but it is real to me. Maybe that was because we were young and no one does that anymore. I do hear about sexless marriages with people my age all the time.

    I am sure that mostly I am just being a baby about things and need to understand this is what I have and to get happy with it. But I do long to be able to reach out and feel someone there for me in both and intellectual and yes sexual way.

  • Looking back too

    July 21st, 2016 at 9:59 AM

    Hi looking back,
    I think I know how you feel. It´s “only” been 23 years ago, but I basically have a similar storry. I was crazy in love, we spent 2 years together, then he had to leave. It would just be too much to write the whole Story down but however, I could never forget about him and every couple years I would try to find him in the WWW, asking myself what he might be doing and if he ever thinks about me. As years went by this feeling got stronger, I became sad because I couldn´t find him – we are living on different continents and I didn´t have no Information but his Name.
    I became so sad and couldn´t understand why I feel this way – so very intense. Then after almost 25 years I found him – I was so happy. He was too and wanted to call me up right away to talk to me and he told me how he was just talking about me the other day. Since then I know that the thoughts of him I had, theese intence Feelings were more than just feelings and thoughts this is a Connection from Soul to Soul! Call me crazy if you like but I believe so.
    Maybe you are just a very sensitive Person that feels.

  • Lynn

    December 5th, 2015 at 6:50 AM

    Dear Looking Back,
    Thanks so much for writing again and telling me how you are doing. I am glad to hear that you are in therapy, and can see how much your self-knowledge and understanding has grown. I do not in any way think you “are being a baby about things.” I think you are being a strong man, and I am grateful that you cared enough to write this letter.
    Take care,

  • Peter

    May 18th, 2017 at 5:05 AM

    Everybody will give you logical answers but none of these will hold a candle to love you still feel, the love that moved your soul and the lonesome sorry you will feel for the rest of your days because only you know what could of, should of been 🚶🏻

  • Fernando

    July 30th, 2017 at 9:38 AM

    it got almost 18 years…back then I was 24 and she was 21. still, she is haunting in my memory. now I’m 43, I can’t forget her, I have written every single thing which we talked with date wise. so when I can’t hold this on, I just read all those and make my mind up! this thing will be going on and on until I die! I miss my love, so badly. but I can’t bother her by calling. she is having 2 daughters and she is happy. I go to FB and see how she is getting old! I’m really sad! I never talked her since then. I’m pretty sure, she doesn’t know this!

  • Janus

    October 8th, 2019 at 3:39 PM

    Special people in our lives are exactly that, special, the reason or reasons may vary, in this case a romantic relationship you can not forget. They may be a combination of reasons. 1. You never found another person that made you feel the way she did…….
    2. failures in your life have increase your believe that you miss happiness by loosing her…….3 This girl, now a woman may have some traits and characteristics that you really like in a woman, something that you did not realize when you where younger……4. Your current emotional situation is far from being good, your life is empty…….5. The life she pursuit, she finding a person and being apparently happy makes you wonder if you could have being the person she is with now, in other words, you are missing in that picture…….5. you probably really got to like this girl and probably even really fell in love with her.

  • William

    August 29th, 2022 at 11:47 PM

    Recently, I came across an old shoe box full of cards, notes, letters, etc. from an old girlfriend during college nearly 40 years ago! This entire shoebox is full of everything she wrote to me during our relationship of 18 months or so. This girlfriend at the time really loved me deeply and I loved her too as well. As I read all the content material it was clearly that she had true feelings for me and she would have accepted a marriage proposal if I had asked her. We met and were attending a 2-year vocational college at the time. She completed her 2-year Associates degree (AAS) program and started a new job in the same community. After completing my 2-year Associates degree (AAS) program, I decided to pursue my bachelor’s degree at a 4-year college in the same city and I felt that I needed to pursue this new academic goal and felt that the relationship would not hold until I would be completed with my degree program (5-years later). I remember it was an awful breakup and I really broke her heart. Just by reading the letters today (nearly 40 years later) is enough to tear me to pieces. It was not a good time for me at this stage of my academic life, but somehow, I moved forward with my collegiate career and completed my 4-year degree program (5 years later). She moved away back to her hometown the year we broke up, started a new life, and 2 years later she married a gentleman whom she is still married to this day after 34 years.
    After coming across this old shoebox full of all these letters, notes, cards, etc. I have kepted for nearly 4 decades has me puzzled. Today, it breaks my heart breaking up with this girl realizing how much I hurt this person at the time. I did not realize it at the time, how this must have affected her.
    My question for anyone is: Do I write her a letter and tell her how I feel after reading all her letters, notes, cards, etc.?
    Or should I just keep this to myself? I believe it would open up some mixed emotional feelings if I did write a letter. What does anyone think?
    I look forward on hearing what anyone has to say about my story or what I should do?
    Thank you, I appreciate all comments or suggestions

  • Larry

    November 15th, 2022 at 5:57 PM

    In the real world my affair was when I was 23 and she was 20 and it lasted six months. I never stopped thinking about her. Then she suddenly got back in touch after 35 years. I soon found that I was just as crazy about her now as then and finally stopped writing because she was married and not available. All the rationalizations in the world, I still want to be with her and nothing will change that

  • KEN

    March 14th, 2023 at 12:20 PM

    Well I can understand what all are saying here. I have never forgotten the first girl I loved when I was only 16 and ready to leave high school I am from the United Kingdom. We only dated for a short time but it felt like unbelievable heaven, when it fell apart it was devastating and the deepest sorrow one could ever experience. For years I did not bother to look at other girls coz I still loved this girl so much that nothing and no one could hold a candle to her. That was far back in 1969, thats right its way way back all those years ago, I eventually did get married to someone else and I am now nearly 70. I can tell you that these unending feelings never really go away they just for a while go back into your distant memory, If you have really loved someone so very much even from a young age like I was at the time then sometimes those memories surface and it can be a really emotional experience and full of sorrow and regret. We have never met in more than 50 years and now that I am in my senior years I have no wish that we would meet because to see each other as we are in our old age would ruin the lovely image I have of her in my mind as a beautiful young girl. I want to treasure the memory and the image I have now that is so crisp and clear its like it was only yesterday. I had a serious brain hemorage back in 2017 and I had a heart attack last may 2022, I know I will not be here for many more years but I hope that her soul will feel the deepest love that my soul felt for her that lasted all my life. She was a human being on this earth that I have loved so much all my life.
    Better to hold that in your heart and keep quiet rather that disturb other peoples lives. The world is so bad at this time, just love them and remember them to the end like I will.

  • Sheila

    May 4th, 2023 at 4:40 AM

    I stumbled across this website and read your story. I know your pain. The last time I saw the guy I care about was in 1975. he took pictures of me one morning at school and I never saw him again. I heard he went in the military.
    Does she know how you feel? She may miss you just as much.

  • KEN

    May 6th, 2023 at 1:57 PM

    Hi Sheila
    I read your comment and it appears you have gone way back nearly 50 years also and never forgotten the special love for a boy from school, may I ask if you dated the boy that took your picture.
    Well, after reading the comment you made, I think its very possible that she does know that I really loved her at such a young age coz I met her sister some 30 years ago and also her father. I told them of the most dreadful accident I had at sea in 1976 which was in all the news papers. I was nearly killed at the age of 22 in the engine room of the QE2 cruise liner. they asked for my fone number so I gave it to them. I did not mention her but they remembered me. I learned that she had married a boy who worked for one of the crown estates and served time as a butler. he worked for an earl and countess but I cannot write that here. I now know that they have lived on the estate for at least 50 years and now retired and will live out their lives on the estate. It appears she has had a really great and full life and probably met and served members of the royal family. as a retired woman and because of the life she has led and social life, I am sure she will not be the same person I knew from so long ago. I just dont want to interfere or upset and hurt her life its been so long.
    She never did make contact but some months after I met her sister I had already forgotten the meeting, then my fone was ringing and I answered it, there was a total silence but I knew someone was on the end of the line and I kept asking but they would not answer, this happend a few times over some weeks then it faded out, I had totally forgotten everything and wondered who it could possibly be.
    I guess I will never know. I remember how it all began when she went to one school and I went to another and we passed on the street every morning and again after school, I know she could feel me looking at her and it went on for months. I got so desperate and promised myself every morning today is the day I am going to smile and say HI, as she got closer and closer to me I just could not say a word I just froze up and missed the boat again and again. Eventually I new another boy who had a girlfriend at her school and she new her. She intervened and told her about me and we met. the rest is too long to tell and It will make me sad. I grew up through the 50s and 60s and I remember a 50s song by a group called the Cascades the song was called Shy girl and you can find it on youtube. The words say it all and it spells out just the way I felt each day I passed her on the street.
    The memory I have now is precious to me as the image is of a young girl and not an old woman that I dont know anymore, the young girl is gone forever but remains in my heart until death. She was that shy girl in that song. If she comes into my mind it is so sharp and clear I can see every little microscopic hair on her pretty face and her voice I can still recall.. I remember she told me she liked jimmy ruffin and co-incidentally as I read your response today It will be her birthday tomorrow and she will be 68 years old.
    Dont be afraid to love like that Sheila, just leave them be but cherish every tiny memory and never forget how much you have really loved. I will love my pretty shy girl to the grave. play it on youtube and you will know what I mean
    Your messages are always welcome.

  • Brian

    October 10th, 2023 at 5:02 PM

    I have a very similar story although it was I that left her after 3 years together which was 41 years ago and what I learned over those years is this, if you truly love someone no matter what happens or how many years pass you will always love them. She was the first girl to ever love me, she was the first girl I ever loved, she was my first sexual experience, the first person that was truly special to me and the first person I ever shared a piece of my heart with. I have also learned that when it’s your first everything that no matter how much time passes, no matter how many relationships you have that first one never leaves you.

  • Lois

    October 17th, 2023 at 6:18 AM

    I am only 26 but after reading this article I really hope not the same will happen to me. I dated a woman over half a year ago for a short period of time. We were texting for about 3 months prior to seeing her in person for only about 1 month. Then she left me. It was only a brief period of dating, but she did not leave my head eversince. Everyday I am thinking of her. She was perfect, the woman I was waiting for all this time. I hope this will not be forever and I can date other people.

  • John

    November 10th, 2023 at 8:41 AM

    The reality is that the person you were 40 years ago, or however many years ago it was, will always love the person they were 40 years ago. But that was 40 years ago! You are not the same people today. You are different. You have grown. You have experienced different things. Since you are both different people today, it would be highly unlikely that you would have the same feelings as before. Sad to say. Just enjoy the memories!

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