Sex & Relationships

Playing with fire

Is rekindling an old flame hot stuff or is it a good way to get burned? Read four women's stories and decide for yourself

We all think of old boyfriends from time to time. But what about the ones we can’t get out of our minds, whose names we can’t think of without wondering, What if? Taking a second chance on an old flame sounds like a scary leap – and it is. Only about half of all people who seek out lost loves – usually for the wrong reasons – really belong with them, says Nancy Kalish, a California-based developmental psychology professor and author of Lost & Found Lovers: Facts and Fantasies of Rekindled Romances (William Morrow). But for those couples who reunite for the right reasons (see Should you make the call?), the research is promising. Almost three-quarters of reunions between these lost loves succeed – not bad when you consider that half of all marriages fail.

Meet four women who gave love a second chance. One woman had to get past her shallowness to reunite with her high-school crush. Another finally realized that the one who got away actually didn’t deserve to be around. Regardless of the outcome, each woman took an exhilarating risk and learned that connecting with an old flame can teach us a lot about ourselves.

When Amanda, a preppy with hopes of moving to New York to become a photographer, met punk rocker Cory in the fall of 1994, she wasn’t sure what to think. Inter-clique dating was quietly discouraged at their high school – and even if she was willing to break the rules, she still had to answer to her parents.

Something compelled Amanda to discreetly get to know Cory anyway. “He was very funny,” she says. “I felt really comfortable just hanging out with him.” Amanda liked that Cory was so self-assured, but she knew that he wasn’t the kind of guy her parents had in mind for her. “The first time my parents met Cory, he had purple hair,” she says.

The opinions of other people weighed heavily. Amanda led Cory on at first but backed out at the last minute. “I thought he hated me for that,” she says. Amanda went away to university and lost touch with Cory, but she compared all her boyfriends to him. “I would always think, Well, God, how can I like someone from Grade 10 so much? But I was myself with Cory.”

Four years after Amanda and Cory first met, she moved back to her old neighbourhood. After learning that Cory still lived nearby, she left a note on his car windshield with her phone number, mentioning that she was back. Cory called right away. They caught up over drinks and discovered they shared a strong connection.

She wasn’t sure how her parents would react to her dating Cory, but they supported her decision. After being together for almost five years, Amanda and Cory bought a house together. While Amanda used to think success could only come from bettering herself, she now relishes the freedom to be happy as herself – no matter what anyone else thinks.

Elaine Yim and Ted Spencer first met at a pub popular with university students. He invited her to play pool and she was instantly smitten. “He was really, really cute,” says Elaine. “I thought, This is the kind of guy I could really be with.” Their first date lasted nine hours and ended with an invitation for the following night.

Afraid of appearing too eager, Elaine demurred. If she was fooling Ted, she wasn’t fooling herself – she was falling for him fast. But Ted, who had ended a seven-year relationship at the ripe age of 23, wasn’t interested in looking any further ahead than his trip to Europe – which he insisted he would do solo. Despite enjoying five months of laughter, fun and intimacy, they broke up in October 1997. Elaine was crushed.

Two years had passed before Ted e-mailed Elaine to suggest they meet. She was excited, and after they met up once, Elaine fell for him all over again. “I thought, This is awesome: we’re getting back together.” Five days later, when she hadn’t heard from Ted and phoned, he said he still wasn’t ready. “I felt humiliated,” recalls Elaine. She told him to never call again, but Ted phoned again almost two years later. “By then I was seeing someone else and I had honestly gotten over Ted,” she says. Elaine did, however, care enough to see him again.

Within a few hours of meeting for coffee, she knew her feelings for him were stronger than ever. It seemed insane, even to her, but she wanted to try again. “Call it naive, but I believed it was right,” she says. She broke up with her boyfriend and two weeks later Ted told Elaine he was in love with her. They were married last September and look forward to starting a family.

Seaneen Sharples and Vince Wasch worked at a heritage park in the summer of 1994. She played the housemaid, he played the farmhand – and they quickly assumed the roles of girlfriend and boyfriend as well. “We lived within walking distance, so we saw each other every day,” says Seaneen.

Before long they were in love, but there was one hitch: Vince was a staunch Roman Catholic and felt he should marry a practising Catholic. Seaneen was born Catholic but didn’t practise. At first, the difference didn’t seem like a huge obstacle. But, over time, Vince felt they could not overcome their differences in faith and that there was no future for them.

Their breakup in January 1995 left Seaneen reeling. “It took my belief that there was someone out there for me – for everyone – out from under my feet,” she says. It was months before the sting had lessened, but by fall, Seaneen had settled for friendship. Then, one evening, Vince told her he’d made a mistake – the way he felt about her was more powerful than anything and he wanted to be with her. “I was scared,” she says. “I didn’t know what would happen, but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.”

Seaneen and Vince created a plan to live with their different approaches to religion. Seaneen’s involvement in church was up to her, but it was important to Vince that their children be raised Catholic. She agreed – if they also taught them about other faiths.
Though the breakup shook Seaneen’s faith in true love, she now has living proof of the power of faith and flexibility. They were married in October 1999 and look forward to teaching their young son, Calvin, about all religions and the power of love.

Jayne Hoogenberk befriended David (not his real name) in their teens, and by the time they hit their mid-20s, their friendship had blossomed into an on-again, off-again romance. Their work kept them in different cities, and while the relationship was supposedly casual, Jayne didn’t see it that way. “I cared about this guy,” she says. “Really deep down.”

Jayne never knew when David would show up in her life, but when he did, he was a larger-than-life romantic. One time he took her to Loveland Pass summit in Colorado because he wanted to kiss her at the top of the world.

At their last meeting, David said if they were both single by age 30, they should get married. But 30 came and went, and David never called.

Jayne moved on, married and had two daughters, but she never forgot David. And so, a year after separating from her husband, she contacted David through their school’s alumni association and another long-distance romance began in March 2002.

David hadn’t forgotten how to charm. When he said he was getting a taxi, he would show up in a limo. When they were apart, he would send long-stemmed roses. “His nickname for me was Princess,” she says, “and that’s exactly what he made me feel like.” But Jayne had a job and two kids and wanted a real commitment from him. While David had hinted at marriage, he hadn’t proposed.

When Jayne’s divorce came through in the fall of 2003, the fairy tale took a sudden plot twist. “All of a sudden, it was difficult to get hold of him,” she says. David told her that he was busy with work, but Jayne had learned her limits. “I felt like an idiot with all this he-loves-me, he-loves-me-not stuff,” she says. With the support and advice of friends, Jayne decided that confronting David was better than hanging on indefinitely.

When she asked David what was going on, he confirmed her worst fears. He admitted he was worried about uprooting her girls and told her that he wanted children of his own. “At first, I couldn’t deal with it,” she says. “I was a wreck.” More long talks with her girlfriends helped Jayne see that she was mostly angry at his dishonesty.

As much as it hurt, Jayne is glad she found out the real story sooner rather than later. Otherwise, she says, “I would have always thought he was the one who got away.”