During my sophomore year of college, I met a young lady. She was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. One day, I built up the courage to ask her out and, to my amazement, she said yes. I was completely smitten. But after only a few weeks of seeing each other, she drifted away. One night shortly thereafter, I saw her at a party with another guy. I was devastated. Several months later, she called me out of the blue. I was out of town with friends, but I gave serious thought to driving drunk back to campus because I was so excited to hear from her. Better judgment prevailed and told her I’d call her when I returned the following week. But when the following week rolled around, I couldn’t get a hold of her. We never spoke again. You know how they say “time heals all wounds.” Well, I’m in my 30s now and this wound is still bleeding. What’s more, it’s been exacerbated of late because it recently came to my attention that she’s engaged to be married at the end of this month.
Now for the real kicker. I’ve been married for eight years myself and my wife is absolutely perfect. She’s smart and funny and beautiful. We’ve built a wonderful life together. We own a successful business. We travel all over the world. We have a nice house. We do fun things. She’s an astoundingly understanding and compassionate person. In fact, if I explained all of this to her, she would probably sit down and do her best to help me figure it out. Unfortunately, I can’t do that because I know how much it would hurt her. I understand that what I’m feeling isn’t love. Love is what I have with my wife. A mutual respect and admiration resulting from years of shared experience.
This is an obsession. It’s unhealthy. It’s childish. It’s wrong. Nothing good can possibly come from it. But no matter how many times I tell myself these things, I still can’t change the way I feel. I feel like I’m suffocating. I feel like a small piece of my heart is being ripped out. I had plenty of other girlfriends before my wife, but I’ve never felt this way about any of them. I’ve tried everything I can think of to fix this. I made a list of all the good things in my life and thought very deeply about how those things would disappear if I lost my wife. I’ve made a concerted effort to enhance our sex life. I started exercising more and drinking less. I’ve improved my diet. I’ve taken up hobbies. I’ve even practiced meditation. Nothing seems to ease my pain. I’ve never spoken a word of this to anyone. It’s festered inside me for over a decade. I fear that there’s something very wrong with me. What can I do? Much respect and appreciation.
-Romantic Obsession from the Past
Dear From the Past,
Forbidden fruit is enticing. An unrequited love is romantic. Being bit by love is thrilling. Sometimes, we meet someone who has something inexplicable about them that makes it hard for us to let them go. Being obsessed with someone is time-consuming and I know you’re ready to let it go.
You’ve elevated this person to an unhealthy level. You recognize this is true. I’m not telling you anything you do not know, but you have to stop thinking about this woman as a missed opportunity. She didn’t dig you. That’s why she blew you off in college and that’s why she is marrying someone else. See her for what she is.
You have to stop thinking about this woman as a missed opportunity.
Obsessive behavior tends to correlate with wanting to fill a certain sense of emptiness or loneliness that is keeping you down. Our minds somehow make us believe that this person will somehow fill that void. Because you have realized this is an obsession, implemented healthy life changes and are actively looking to move forward from this, I would seek psychological help. Give yourself the opportunity to talk this out with someone who can help provide solutions. You have an opportunity of getting over your obsession and be free of unnecessary torment by discovering solutions to help you move forward and help close your bleeding wound.
Dear From the Past,
Allow me to repeat your words back to you: “It’s unhealthy. It’s childish. It’s wrong. Nothing good can possibly come from it.” What more do you need to hear? Is it different if those words are coming from me? For what it’s worth, I completely agree with you that this is unhealthy and childish. A fleeting thought about the ex-girlfriend that got away is very normal; a bleeding obsession about an ex-girlfriend that you dated for less than a month is absurd.
In your question, it sounds like you are focusing on your feelings. Your feelings tell you that you are suffocating and having your heart ripped out. But sometimes when we are making really important decisions about life and love we have to listen to more than our feelings. Our feelings are fleeting and can lead us astray. Are you able to choose your rationality about your marriage and your wife over your feelings about a college fling? Only you can decide.
Our feelings are fleeting and can lead us astray.
If you are still desperately trying to leave this obsession in the past and can’t bring yourself to do it on your own, then it’s time to get some help. One way to do that is to get honest with other people in your life. If your wife is gracious enough to hear about your struggle and help you to work through this, then do it. If you aren’t quite ready to admit this to your wife, start with a friend that you trust. If you can’t bring yourself to get honest with a friend, find a therapist. These people may not be able to take away the obsession, but they sure can give you a reality check about how bad of an idea this is.