Auld Lang Syne - Should Nostalgic in New Orleans reconnect with her old boyfriend?

December 28, 2017
Auld Lang Syne - Should Nostalgic in New Orleans reconnect with her old boyfriend?
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Dear Erica,

I’ve been invited to a New Years party where I’ll be forced to see my old boyfriend.  It was a pretty painful breakup but now, many years later, I am very happily married and I’ve heard that he is also married now.  I’ll be honest and say that I could miss the dinner easily, but I’m tempted to see my old boyfriend for curiosity’s sake.  What do you think?

Nostalgic in New Orleans,

Dear Nostalgic in New Orleans,

There is nothing more painful than being reunited with an ex-lover who you once loved but have parted from, whether out of practical or personal reasons. Jane Austen deals with this issue in her novel, Persuasion. When Anne Elliot meets her old lover, Captain Wentworth ten years after they had broken up, at a dinner party, she finds the experience excruciating.  Austen writes,

“They had no conversation together, no intercourse but what the commonest civility required. Once so much to each other! Now nothing! Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.”

Now, in Persuasion, Anne and Captain Wentworth were still single and so the pain they felt at meeting again was worth the anguish because they are free and able to marry once they recognize they should be together.

But in your case, things are quite different because you are happily married and you think your ex-boyfriend is also in a committed relationship.  I would say that you are better off doing what Newland Archer does in Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence.  Forced to give up his great love, Madame Olenska as a young man, “he had been living with his youthful memory of her”.  At the end of the novel, fate intervenes and he is given the chance to see her again on a trip to Paris.  But he soon recognizes that seeing her again, when “more than a lifetime divided them” would not bring him any joy.  Sitting in a bench below her Parisian apartment, he refuses to go up to see her even as his son goes up.  "It's more real to me here than if I went up," he says to himself.

In many ways, the memory of Madame Olenska is more potent than the real thing, and he recognizes that seeing her many years later will only open up all wounds.  As you are happily married, I would suggest you think about what you will gain from seeing your old lover.  Sometimes, the past is best left in the past.

Best,

Erica