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February 10, 2003

If lost loves meet again, it’s for keeps

When it comes to old flames, the Hollywood ending is a smokescreen, says Nancy Kalish. The CSUS psychology professor has been studying relationships between lost loves for nearly a decade and says movies like Castaway and Casablanca - where reunited couples resist the urge to rekindle their relationships don't tell the true story.

Photo: Dr. Nancy Kalish"Movies rarely get it right. Real life is happier than Hollywood," she says.

Kalish will present her research before the Western Psychological Association Convention in Vancouver in May.

The "Lost Love Project" began after Kalish tried to re-establish her own relationship with a lost love. She was quite surprised to find that no one else was doing research on the topic. An Associated Press article on her work, along with an appearance on the show "20/20," led to interview requests from all over the world and the subsequent publicity brought contacts from more than 1,000 people who had met up with lost loves.

The result was a book, Lost and Found Lovers: Facts and Fantasies of Rekindled Romances, which features her research findings as well as stories about the couples' experiences. Though its now out of print, it is available at Kalish's website,

Kalish found that rekindled romances are amazingly successful. Seventy-two percent of the couples in her study ended up staying together. "It's not a fantasy," she says.

The couples in the study represented a wide range of ages - 18 to 84 - with an average age of 35 who had spent at least five years apart. Usually the initial breakup was situational - the parents disapproved, one party moved out of town or one of them had either gone off to war or had left a war-torn country.

Kalish first began gathering data in 1993. She found what brought some reunited couples together was a visit to the hometown. In many cases it was a turning point in their lives such as a divorce, widowhood or a serious illness.

The cliché of the high school reunion sparking passion was found to be the cause in only 6 percent of the cases. "They don't wait for the reunion. They pick up the phone and call," Kalish says.

But now, it would more likely be through the Internet, which for Kalish is cause for concern. "People shouldn't treat this type of contact lightly - 80 percent of the people I hear from online are in an extramarital relationship with a lost love," she says. "Before the Internet, contacting a lost love was much more purposeful. With the Internet it's much more casual because it is so easy," she says. "Someone who is bored at work might do a search for a lost love's name, write 'Hi, how are you?' and have it lead to an affair.

"They aren't necessarily looking for trouble going in. Most are just curious and want to say hello and catch up. It ends up steamrolling over them. Internet contact is so casual that they don't expect there will be an emotional reaction when they actually hear the person's voice."

And even if the couple gets back together, and stays together, there is a price to pay, she says. They discover reuniting has plusses and minuses, such as the guilt they feel for breaking up a marriage.

Kalish has bad news for those therapists who dismiss the power of a lost love relationship as a fantasy. "They don't understand - it's a different kind of romance. All the rules are thrown out the window," she says.

"It happens very fast but they're not making up their feelings. This person preceded that marriage. There's a lot of angst - over leaving the marriage and possibly hurting their children."

A perfect example, she says is Prince Charles and Lady Camilla Parker Bowles. "They were in love and they were kept apart. It's not a matter of how attractive they are - it's first love."


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