I was a teenaged bride (really). I began dating a tall, open-hearted 16-year-old guy when I was 14. I had a few middle school boyfriends before him, as well as a crush on a Jesus lookalike named Joe (which ended before it began when I fell headfirst into his locker while trying to coolly walk by) but never a true “past love.” We married when I was 18 and he was 20. Depending on how you look at it, either we missed out on all the fun of falling in love with other people or we were spared the emotional damage of falling in love with other people.
Everyone else I know has been in relationships that ended, often badly. Many of them in marriages that ended, also badly. When they talk about these former partners they tend to emphasize the negative. Surely this is a necessary part of the healing process, helping them to recognize where they were wounded as well as where they may have done some wounding. But sometimes, from my very limited experience in this area, I wonder why pain and anger seem to weigh down the rest of their memories— the funny ones, tender ones, and ordinary ones—memories that are an integral part of their earlier years. In truth, every fully lived moment goes into making a person who she or he is today.
Until I talked to Kate Harper and Leon Marasco, authors of If Only I Could Tell You..: Where Past Loves and Current Intimacy Meet, I hadn’t given much thought to past loves. They told me when they fell in love they learned to share the stories of their hearts’ travels as well as the feelings those stories still evoked. Doing so brought their relationship to profoundly deeper levels of intimacy and acceptance. They didn’t have to close off or reframe any part of their emotional lives. For example, Kate only heard a certain song the time her former partner Ted tenderly sang it to her. One day while she and Leon were sitting in a café, that song came on. Her eyes filled with tears, tears she didn’t have to pretend weren’t there. Leon already knew about Ted and how much that song meant to her. He reached across the table to hold her hand and they sat together sharing those feelings safely within their own cherished relationship.
They acknowledge that there are reasons to avoid talking about memories, but find even more reasons for speaking openly. As they write,
We are forever changed through what we have felt and experienced within an intimate relationship. That in itself is worth knowing. In the light remaining from each previous love, we can better see our inner world, see who we are. No matter how the romance ended, it began in hopes and dreams and that mysterious spark, not all of it physical, that brings lovers together. All of this is true whether we find a new love or remain alone.
And why does it matter if we recognize this? It matters in that we are creatures who thrive on the natural flow of what sustains us, nourishes us, strengthens us. Past loves—the special and profound energy fields they still engender—are one source of our lifeblood.
Their book includes interviews with 28 men and women, each talking frankly about how memories of former loves echo in their current lives. They also write about what is important to consider before sharing, as well as ways to think about when, how, and why that sharing might take place.
I have no memories of past loves to share, beyond those first self-doubting and all too often klutzy moments shared with middle school boyfriends equally new to romance. So I ask you to help me out of this ignorance. Do you hide the tender, funny, ordinary memories shared with your past loves?