Why am I so floored by the death of my first, long ago, love?

The questions Just over 20 jare terug, I fell truly and madly for a girl, N. We circled around each other for a summer, but never got together. We did acknowledge our attraction, but were both due to start university. After a kiss, we agreed it was bad timing. Out of fear of rejection, Ek never told her how deep my feelings went.

We saw each other on university holidays, and an affinity remained, however she quickly appeared to move on. I pined for her deeply. No one I met compared. Long sessions of listening-to-depressing-love-songs-type stuff.

I eventually ended up in a relationship. This was fine. It felt like moving on, until N and I got together one drunken evening. Johnson het volgehou hy kan nie kommentaar lewer totdat Gray se verslag gepubliseer is nie, we agreed it was a mistake and carried on with our lives. I ended the relationship I was in.

Ons met a few times over the next few years, but slowly lost touch. I met a wonderful person and got married and have incredible kids. Ek am very much in love with my wife. My thoughts of my first love remained affectionate, but in a platonic and sporadic way.

I recently found out that N has died, leaving behind a familie. The strength of my reaction has taken me by surprise. I have been completely floored by it and cannot stop thinking of her. I find my mind going to what I could and should have said more 20 jare terug. I have only passingly discussed this with my wife, and not my inner thoughts, as I fear it sounds over-the-top and a betrayal to her. How do I rationalise the strength of these feelings I thought I had left behind 15 jare terug? I just want to remember N fondly, as she deserves to be remembered.

Philippa se antwoord I see it like this: you still have that teenage boy inside you, even though you are now a happily married middle-aged man. You need to be very kind to this lovelorn boy: he believes he has just lost the love of his life, he needs to weep and he needs to be held. Gelukkig, you have a lovely person on-hand to help you with this. You’ve just got to talk to her. Parts of ourselves don’t die just because we move on, they remain dormant until something reignites them. Old men on their deathbeds call for their mothers and you cannot but feel deeply for them.

There is a hint in your email that you might be worried about part of you being unacceptable to others. You seem to have some sort of belief that says something like, “If you really knew me, you would not approve of me.” And it seems to me that this might have been part of what held you back from being truly open with N, and now I’m wondering if you are projecting this belief on to your wife. There are lines in your letter that suggest you love your life, and that you love your wife, and because you say things like you thought about N “in a platonic and sporadic way”, I would guess your wife would not be offended if you showed her the email you wrote to me. Maybe even show her my reply, ook, because I would think she might be a good person to facilitate your grieving.

There are feelings that are difficult to rationalise. That doesn’t mean they don’t make sense. What is wonderful about the bonds we create is that they can go beyond words and this is possibly why we keep trying to articulate such feelings in poetry and love songs. You sound like a rational person, so something you cannot make sense of might feel like a sort of craziness, but I don’t think it is. You certainly did have unfinished business with N; there were things you felt that you didn’t say. You kept those things close to your chest. I think you need to hear them, whatever they were.

There’s a school of therapy founded by Fritz and Laura Perls called Gestalt therapy. A commonly used Gestalt intervention is to put two chairs out. One for you and one that remains empty for the person with whom you have unfinished business. En, daft as it sounds, you tell that chair that represents the missing person everything you need to say to them, out loud. Then – and this is the clever bit – you sit in their empty chair and be them, and respond to your empty chair, what you imagine they would say back to you.

If I was your therapist I might prescribe that you do this twice a week for four weeks, and see if you don’t move past what is making you feel stuck with this. You are grieving and so this exercise would help you cathartically release your tears, which you probably need to do. If you want to do this work with a Gestalt therapist there is a directory at gpti.org.uk.

A first love may not be mature love, but they can be a catalyst in teaching you how you love and helping you to know who you are. You can be expected to feel utterly devastated when their life is cut cruelly short. I am very sorry for your loss.

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