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Relationships: The Rekindled Romance

The old-time actress Mae West once said, “All discarded lovers should get a second chance, but with somebody else.”

Fortunately, not everyone is quite so cynical. When it comes to matters of the heart, “do-overs” are definitely allowed. Old romances have a way of rekindling like the embers from last night’s fire: with a little nurturing, a spark can ignite into a roaring blaze.

In the age of Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites, it’s easy to track down a long-ago lover. Or perhaps you’ve reconnected through a chance meeting or an email out of the blue. Some of these romantic reunions work out well—others burn out with more heartache than the first time around.

If you are pondering the possibility of a relationship once again with a former partner, here are steps to maximize your chances of success:

Be realistic about the past.
Someone once said that nostalgia is a “device that removes the ruts and potholes from memory lane.” It works especially well when your motive is the hope of romance in the present with someone from your past. Those annoying traits in your partner can magically transform into “endearing idiosyncrasies.” Nasty conflicts are forgotten amidst fond memories of cuddling and canoodling. And what led to a break-up in the first place? It seems so trivial now.

You may be right, of course. Perhaps time has made you more tolerant. But as you revive an old relationship, it is wise to remember there was indeed a reason you parted ways initially. Maybe it was a silly reason that you regret. But maybe you were deeply incompatible in ways that haven’t changed, no matter how much time has passed and how much you want it to be otherwise. Don’t be afraid to root out the truth. Approach the future by looking at the past with a clear head and open eyes, not through the fog of selective memory and wishful thinking.

Start from scratch.
When an old relationship has become new again, it is tempting to just pick up where you left off. Why “date” again when you have already covered that ground? Why bother getting to know someone you’ve known in the past? Why not just fast forward through the preliminaries? The answer is simple: People change. You are different. Your partner is different. The life you shared before is like a river that never stands still and never permits you to relive the same moment twice. And a good thing, too, since something in those past moments caused you to go your separate ways.

If you assume nothing about your new relationship and build it from the ground up, you are less likely to fall victim to misleading nostalgia—and more able to see fresh reasons to be together again.

Leave outdated baggage behind.
It may be that you and your “new old” partner need to have candid conversations to resolve leftover issues and clean the slate. Once you’re satisfied that lingering problems have been addressed, leave the past in the past. When disagreements arise, it may be tempting to dredge up ancient grievances. But it is unfair and unproductive to hold someone accountable for words or deeds that are long gone. Furthermore, rehashing previous chapters in your life together prevents you from writing captivating new ones. In conflict, limit yourself to today’s battles.

If the road to future romance has led you back to someone from the past, congratulations! Just stay focused on the here and now, so that history doesn’t repeat itself.