Triumphant stories about tenacious love winning out over daunting obstacles are a staple of romance novels and the gossamer of take-me-away dreams. But for some people, the stories actually come true. Researchers have dubbed the phenomenon "lost-and-found love."
Leslie Vreeland’s story is typical: In 1980, while home in Denver on a break from Smith College, Vreeland fell in love with Eric Ming.
But Vreeland, now 40, aspired to a writing career in Manhattan. And Ming’s dream was to climb the Rockies. The geographic distance resulted in an emotional one. After three years, they broke up.
He married quickly, but divorced three years later. Vreeland fell in love with someone else. Then one day she read a story about lost loves, and saved it. Hours later, a stirring letter from Ming arrived in her mailbox: He still missed her and measured all love against his for her. Still involved, she said no thanks.
Later, after she and her boyfriend split up, Vreeland exchanged e-mail addresses with Ming. After emotional exchanges in cyberspace, they met last March in Seattle. He greeted her with an armload of red tulips. The rest is romance history.
"I always felt like he was my soul mate," says Vreeland, who will move from New York to Salt Lake City to be with Ming. "The years have burnished him. They made all the things he was before that I loved even more so now . . . his wit, sensitivity and kindness. He also has become a deeper person. He has weathered loss."
First loves who are reunited after being separated for a number of years often describe their relationships as fated.
"Certainly my couples feel that way," says Nancy Kalish, a research psychologist at Cal State University at Sacramento, who wrote "Lost and Found Lovers" (William Morrow Inc. 1997) after interviewing more than 1,000 couples on the subject. "Many feel like they were meant to be together . . . that they will be together forever and never be separated, not even in death. What kept them apart was often situational; parents wouldn’t allow or they moved away."
In 1964, an 18-year-old UCLA student met the man she assumed would become her husband. He was 20, just out of the Army. "We fell absolutely in love," she says. They were together for three years. But due to a variety of pressures, they separated. He married, had two children and divorced after 15 years.
She remained single, became a movie producer with a full emotional life. Then, eight years ago, he contacted her.
"For me, there had been only him," she says. "I had decided to go to therapy to get rid of the ghost, but when he walked through the door, I knew that I never had been out of love."
They’ve been together ever since.
Rekindled loves are potent, say people who study them. "An old longing adds intensity to the relationship in a positive way," says Martin Johnson, a Sacramento psychiatrist. "We all have missed opportunities in life. Here is a second chance to regain what was lost. There is a mix of familiarity that gives comfort, and a newness because you have come back together."
While time spent apart seasoned them, says Vreeland, the lost years intensified their appreciation for each other.
"I recently got a letter from him saying: ‘I am conscious of having lost you . . . and it makes me focus on every day and cherish every moment.’ "
Adds Vreeland, "You regret the loss of years. I wish I had 60 years with him instead of 40."
* For more information, Nancy Kalish’s Web site is http://www.lostlovers.com.
* Birds & Bees is a weekly column on relationships and sexuality. Kathleen Kelleher can be reached via e-mail at