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Secrets of Past Lives

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I have a box in my garage labeled “Past Lives”. In it are beribboned tufts of my horses’ manes, old high school dance photos and programs, a few dried corsages, a pile of yellowed letters, some notebooks with adolescent poems written in pink ink, old passports. And a photo of him.

Today is his birthday. You know – him, the One. If you’re very lucky, you’re married to him. But for most of us, he’s a lost love. Often, he’s a secret we hold onto deep in our hearts. And on certain days of the year, it’s an ache that can’t be dulled.

Sometimes he’s called The One That Got Away. But how did that happen? Why did that happen? I have very few regrets about my life. I just don’t go there; what’s the point? But if I did, I would regret leaving him. I would mourn what is lost. I only allow such painful reminiscing on certain infrequent days. Today is one of those days.

Real love is rare. But when you’re young and inexperienced, how do you know that what you feel is the real thing? How do you know without more “loves” to lay next to it, to compare? For me, finally, it was simply too big. The connection was too strong, too deep, too full of bright, eternal promise for a teenage girl to absorb. It was love that dazzles, the kind of love that without effort, repels every attempt at dissolution. It was Romeo and Juliet love – young, fresh, impetuous, irresistible. The kind of love that’s hard to trust because it’s so compelling. It overwhelms every other sense, including good sense. It’s love that takes your breath away and the ensuing sense of suffocation can be too frightening for one so new to real love.

So I left him. I dated other guys over the next few years, even loved some of them. But all the time, he was there in my heart, waiting. When I was a senior at BYU, with no idea at all about what to do next, I decided to marry the one I currently loved. I felt the ratification of heaven. My choice was good; it made sense. I really did love him. I would go forward and create a good, sensible life with this good, reliable man. Even then, as I planned a wedding, I was vaguely aware that he was still there, buried deep in my heart, my one true love. I paid no attention. It was far too risky to pay attention to my heart’s deep desire.

I did have a good life with the good man I married. It lasted a long time, but now it’s over. And all that long time, I felt the Other hiding out in the deep recesses of my soul. He showed up in dreams. He made his way into poems, without intention on my part. Certain song lyrics would draw instant tears to my eyes and heart, like this song by the Moody Blues:

I know you’re out there somewhere
Somewhere, somewhere
I know you’re out there somewhere
Somewhere you can hear my voice

I know I’ll find you somehow
Somehow, somehow
I know I’ll find you somehow
And somehow I’ll return again to you.

It was completely exasperating, the way he would pop up in my life at random, infrequent, inconvenient times. But whatever I tried, in a sincere effort to banish him from my heart, failed. He refused to leave.

I really don’t know what to do with him, this lost true love that won’t go away. Right now, he remains secretly hidden, even from me. I’ve given up trying to exile him. I’ve accepted that he will always be in my heart. I have no romantic fantasies, no grand dreams of reunion. At least, that’s true in my head. But I can’t seem to control my heart.

This is the raw secret of my soul. I am unwilling to post this with my name. But I have a recurring suspicion that others harbor secrets like this, women and men both. Maybe your secret isn’t about your true love lost, but I’ll bet you have one or two. If you’re brave today, tell us your secret. Comment anonymously if you prefer. I believe that in sharing our deepest hearts, we find true community. There is no judgment here. Only an invitation to honest self reflection and daring sharing.

15 thoughts on “Secrets of Past Lives”

  1. I'll need to do some soul-diving to find a regret or haunt that isn't publicly known. I just wanted to first say that I like your box label, "past lives," much better than my label, "sentimental junk about me." I can just see a child opening the box in hopefully a long time from now and thinking, "Great. All sentimental to here, yet valueless and meaningless to anyone else."

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  2. I have a similar 'lost love'. Before I married my husband, I had a moment where I realized if I married him, I was ruling out this other guy. Other Guy was on a mission so who knows what would have happened. He still pops up in my dreams on a regular basis–we marry and then I remember that I am already married. Or my husband dies and I go searching out Other Guy.

    But those are dreams and thoughts of what could have been. In reality, my husband and I have built a really beautiful life. And Other Guy married and has children and seems to be living a lovely life as well.

    I do think in an alternate world, I could have married Other Guy and had a really wonderful life. But I made a choice and created my current world. I don't regret the choice, but it is interested to wonder how life might be different. Kind of a "Sliding Doors" idea.

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  3. Thank you….plagued by this as well…even though I wouldn't change the path my life has taken. I haven't known what to think about it.

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  4. Of course he seems like the one. You never married him. You never had to wake up with him day in and day out and see all the good, the bad, and the ugly. To me this is a dangerous sentiment to carry, even secretly buried in your heart, because no present love will live up to the perfection that one lost love may – or may not – have been.

    I have past true loves. Deep, passionate loves. But these loves that were not right for me, and I did not end up with them for a reason. I am so glad I had these past experiences. They were beautiful, painful, and wonderful. But to be truly happy in life we must let go of the past, not romanticize it, not make it more than it was, and then truly, honestly embrace the present.

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  5. Amen to what A said. Dwelling on the one who got away can equate an emotional affair if we're not careful. I speak from personal experience and not judgment.

    I'm a romantic person at heart and love great love stories. My love story is normal and boring, but it is also solid and real. Fantasies about my past used to plague me and I still need to keep them in check. If not for me, for my husband. If not for him, for our marriage.

    As you are no longer married (I inferred correctly?), fantasies wouldn't be equated with an affair, but they can be just as damaging. They could lead to missing out on what is real and what is actually possible.

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  6. I was plagued by it. Then I remember their faults and I feel good about my decision. I'd rather have the faults of my husband around me than the faults of those others. 🙂

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  7. Thank you A and C. I think this attitude is some what more prevalent amongst women than men. My pride says if my wife was harboring a lost love or infatuation, I would cut her loose and let her move on. President Kimball asked spouses to let go of prior relationships when we marry, to always be proactive in our relationships. As Tim McGraw says in Red Red Rag Top "there ain't no such thing as what might have been."

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  8. I struggled with this for a long time. I kept in touch with a very dear "friend" all through his mission, and then through part of mine . . . until he showed up in my mission one day face to face. Awkward. When I got home, he tried to get in touch. But I had already met my now husband. I was haunted by what might have been. And too lacking courage to reach out and find out before getting too serious with my now husband. I felt badly about not responding to his overtures. He truly was a dear friend with potential. I hoped I had not hurt him. And when times were tough in my current marriage, there was always that nagging question . . . what if? But I finally reached a point (gradually after years of prayer . . . life has no quick fixes) when I began to understand the power of the Atonement. If he WAS sorrowing because of my neglect, the Atonement is powerful enough to mend that. I truly believe that now. And my own marriage–it is a joyful beautiful thing that was blessed by the Spirit from the beginning and I am so grateful for that. And I find it much easier to remember as the years pass.

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  9. I think these sentiments of nostalgia for young romance are common.

    I have two friends who always remembered "the One" from high school and then, years later, after marrying someone else, dreamily remembered him as perfectly wonderful while they were carrying on their normal good lives with their children, and so sought him out.
    It created massive havoc in a lot of different lives.

    I learned what I needed to learn. I don't keep photos or memorabilia from old flames or follow them on facebook. I don't escape to the idealized past or imaginings of "what if" to compare those to the real present that needs my full attention to make it all it can be. I know myself and my penchant for romantic fantasy and nostalgia and how, though lovely to be swept away in, that penchant has real potential to become a place to retreat from what is most important to me.

    Maybe others feel differently, but I know that for me, I keep that door closed. I don't go there. My experience is that I am more open to God and life has more hope and purpose when I work with what IS rather than what was.

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  10. I think it's also important to note that marriage does make people happy, but the most famous study on marriage shows that the happiness boost only lasts for an average of two years. We also know that passionate love—the love that media and movies and literature tell us that we should all be experiencing—tends to dissipate over time. If love survives, it tends to turn into what’s called “companionate love,” which is really more about deep friendship and loyalty. But because our culture holds passionate love up as an ideal, we think that we have lost and regressed when our relationships aren’t as exciting to us a few years later than they were at the beginning. The same thing goes our memories of previous relationships. If we stopped those relationships when they were at the passionate level, then they are forever in our minds at that early stage level and we nostalgically remember them through the romantic haze that accompanies that phase of any romantic relationship.

    We never lived through the later stages of that relationship long term, experiencing them as they would have moved to the deeply seated companionate love that makes a marriage rock solid. So we only see and remember that romantic heady early stage that it was.

    That romantic heady experience is wonderfully delicious and passionate and is what our media culture depicts as the ideal. So it's easy to feel like the old love relationship that was ended before the it hit the next stage of maturity (usually about 2 years) would have always been that passionate and therefore is more valuable or desirable than the one we have created long term with someone else.

    Snapshots of baby boys are always more adorable, cuddly and warm fuzzy than snapshots of 13 year old boys. But all baby boys, if they are lucky, grow up to and through adulthood. As much as we miss that cuddly baby stage none of us thinks it would be good for them to always remain that way.

    Snapshot memories of old romances are the same. Warm, fuzzy and cuddly, passionate and heady. They are like baby boys who never grew up. As long as we know that those are snapshots, and not the real thing, we're probably okay. But to long for and pine for the boy to return to babyhood so that you can feel those feelings again, is not such a good idea for you or for the boy.

    It sounds like you are at a place where you have become aware of the effect of this secret in your life and are analyzing it. That's good. I wish you well.

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  11. I have the opposite problem. I had to break the heart of a man who was very kind, but fragile and needy. I would have never worked. I have always regretted how I broke up with him. I know I broke his heart and that I regret and wish I could redo it in a more sensitive way. I do not want to be contacted by him, however. One big reason I don't do Facebook is because I don't want to have to decline a friend request. I hope this guy is OK and has a wonderful life with a wonderful woman. I wouldn't mind hearing how he is doing, but I do not want him in anyway involved with my husband and children. When I think back on this person I think, "Great guy, but what a relief I didn't get further involved."

    I really don't fantasize about other past male friends. Perhaps I could have been happy with some of them, but they were not interested–that is a pretty big turn-off.

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  12. I really liked this article for the honest, open issue it raises and the comments, particularly MB's. My experience is that I DID marry that guy. And we have had a very happy 20 years together. But it is what MB said. We have moved in and out of phases and I have come to realize that most of the time (barring extreme selfish behaviors that one or both partners won't quit) marriage is what you make of it–over time it can be really good but you do move past the early romantic stage. (Not that there is not romance, but it is different.) SO many times I have been grateful that I married THIS man, if only so that when things are hard or blaise or I wonder what on earth possessed me to pick him, I would know that there was no one else I ever preferred. I am married to the one I would be wondering about. I think if I had married someone else I would eventually have to just kill the wonderings and notions–to cast them off, like pruning for the good of the current relationship. It would have to be a conscious choice–probably a painful one, but pruning is like that. One thing I know is that just because you DO marry THE ONE does not guarantee you endless bliss–well, not without a lot of work. 🙂

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  13. In our family there was an issue with this. The wife held on to the past love of a missionary she sent out, but then married while he was gone. She held on to the point where it was a dividing line in their marriage. She kept all of his letters, befriended his wife, and thought about it all too frequently. She is my reminder of why I move on from these thoughts, especially because of more personal things that happened that greatly damaged familial structure on all levels.

    It's occasionally fun to think back and imagine what it would be like, what our disagreements would be about, what kind of things we would do together, that sort of thing. But the I think about the reasons I married who I did – he works hard, he doesn't purposely try to bring me down, I'm not manipulated to do what he wants (beyond basic immature tendencies we both work hard on). Also, big one, he gets along with my family, which none of the others really would have.

    I love what you said, Ana. It takes a lot of hard work no matter who you marry. And like you said, MB, we remember the height of the fancy and tend to gloss over the things that weren't okay.

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  14. A few years ago, I went to my 20th high school reunion. I hadn't been to any previously; I wasn't ready then. But the 20th, I went and had a great time. I remember looking around, thinking, "Dodged bullet? Or missed opportunity?" Every one of them was a dodged bullet and I was so grateful to come home to my husband (he flat out refused to go with me, so I went with friends).

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