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What it Was Like to Find and Date My First Lover After Divorce

We had lots of passion while it lasted.

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illustration of couple kissing surrounded by two wedding ring bands
Peter Gamlen
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When I was 12, I fell for a family friend, someone we considered a cousin, which at the time seemed like a safe thing to do. He was 15, making him a desirable older man to my inexperienced eyes. He had a crush on my sister, as she was the same age, and seemed more his type. He lived hundreds of miles away, so access to this older guy was limited to family gatherings and our summer vacations at the Jersey Shore. Besides, he liked my sister.

And then, the Thanksgiving of my freshman year in college, when all the cousins got together, sparks began to fly. The chemistry we had could not be replicated even at the most prestigious science lab. My heart cracked open after just one kiss, and it lasted for years. My sister married someone else when I was still in college, and of course, my heartthrob was at the wedding. I couldn’t look his way without electricity coiling through my body. After a night of drinking and dancing, I wound up at his place, and gave away my virginity in his single, childhood bed. His parents, who I’d always called aunt and uncle, were upstairs sleeping.​We hooked up a number of times after that, then drifted apart, thousands of miles away from each other, but always kept in touch. He still came to our family gatherings and was the first one I asked about during phone chats with cousins, as he never strayed far from my mind.

In the meantime, I married his brother’s best friend. We had a daughter together, but due to issues around our misuse of alcohol to solve our intimacy problems, our marriage ended after I got sober. We tried counseling but, in the end, too much damage had been done.

Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks, psychologists who wrote the book Conscious Loving, might describe our marriage’s end as “unconscious coupling” when, as they observed, “both parties engage in blame and bitter recrimination throughout much of the process.” Sadly, we were guilty of this, partially due to the unhealthy role models we had as parents.

Now fast-forward to another family get-together, a number of years down the road, on the heels of my divorce and recovery. My first lover was there, the cousin-like friend, divorced and sober too. I felt the old flame reigniting but wasn’t sure how to proceed. My heart said charge, while my newly sober psyche told me to slow down. But we both felt the attraction and were raring to go. We wasted little time setting dates to hook up.        

In a 2015 broadcast, Tracy Smith of CBS Sunday Morning asked anthropologist Helen Fisher, the best-selling author of Anatomy of Love, “What makes lost love such a powerful force?” This is Fisher’s response: “First of all, you never forget the person. And if the timing is right and they come back, you can trigger that brain circuitry for romantic love almost instantly and be back in love again.”       

I met him at hotels, midway from where we both lived, which added to the excitement of our long-distance affair. Initially, my stomach churned at the thought of being intimate with him, as he was once again my first lover, this time since I’d gotten sober and divorced.

And, though it had been years since we’d been together, sex with him felt familiar and true. He was as gentle with me as he was on that first night, many years before, though the lovemaking was far better. Not only because we were older, but we weren’t drinking.

Our physical intimacy was more deliberate and intense. I’d never been so in the moment as I was with him. When we got together, we were like teens who couldn’t get enough of each other. We laughed and played and even fought like the selves we once were. Which always led to more lovemaking.           

In an interview with couples and sex therapist Nikki Nolet, she reinforced to me that old lovers who return can indeed be a comfort zone. As she put it: “It makes sense that women might turn to old lovers upon divorce due to comfort and feeling safe in a relationship that seems familiar.”

Safety is a primary factor that inherently provides the security that women are seeking in their relationships, Nolet added.

Which is what I had with him.        

We also shared our deepest secrets, things we’d never tell the cousins. I always felt I could be my true self with him. And having each other lightened the stress of our single-parent lives. He was my muse, inspiring the release of poems from my fingertips faster than I could get them down. Though he lived far from my Massachusetts home, we worked it out, continuing our romance for six passionate years.

But when this man, who I believed was my soulmate, started drinking again, I knew I couldn’t let it go any further. I value my sobriety too much. I was 52, and it took me a long time to get over this passion-filled relationship and, in the end, to finally let him go. I knew the last time I saw him, four years ago at a family reunion, that I finally had. 

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