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Am I deluded to believe I could have a future with a man I dated 15 years ago?

Ask Roe: My rational mind finds it difficult to understand why I cannot, or will not, forget about him

Dear Roe,

Two years ago, I contacted my first boyfriend to tell him that I was in still in love with him. We were boyfriends for two years in our early 20s, and we are now in our late 30s and in long-term relationships. He moved abroad 15 years ago, and we had been in touch a few times. To my surprise, he responded telling me that he was still in love with me but that distance would make any reunion difficult. We subsequently met a few times for dinner, behaving like boyfriends, but agreeing to leave our future together as an open question.

Six months ago, he went silent and, after some unanswered messages, I decided not to reach out again to spare myself the embarrassment. I am convinced he is the only one for me. I am getting into better shape and really pushing my career forward so that I will have more to offer if he does get in touch. My rational mind finds it difficult to understand why I cannot, or will not, move on from this even when there’s a significant risk that it has no future. Am I deluding myself? 

You and this man met at an incredibly formative time in your lives – you were in your early 20s, for many people a time of exploration and independence and excitement and possibility, with your future stretched out in front of you. Being together for two years at that time is a serious commitment, and so I have no doubt that this person was both incredibly important to you and that you knew each other well. It’s completely understandable that you would hold on to fond memories of him and that relationship, particularly if it didn’t end badly.


When you both uttered 'I am still in love with you', what both of you meant was 'I am still in love with 22-year-old you – and how you made 22-year-old me feel'.

However, 15 years is a long time, and there is a huge amount of personal evolution between your early 20s and late 30s. And what concerns me is not that you two wanted to reconnect, but that despite the fact that you had only been in touch a handful of times over 15 years, both of you had the same response of “I am still in love with you”.

In love with who? When you reconnected again, you didn’t know each other as you are now; men in their late 30s with 15 years of life experiences and other relationships and emotional evolution behind you. So when you both uttered “I am still in love with you”, what both of you meant was “I am still in love with 22-year-old you – and how you made 22-year-old me feel.”

You were in love with old versions of each other, and of yourselves. Instead of saying, “That relationship was so important to me and I think of you often, so let’s meet again now as we are, and see if the spark is still there”, you clung on to the old versions of yourselves, and the old emotions that surrounded that relationship. You assumed each other were the exact same, and professed love for that version of each other.

That’s a very limited way to enter into a possible connection or relationship. It puts a huge amount of pressure on both of you to live up to both a memory of yourselves, and to recreate the exact same love you had for each other 15 years ago. There’s no allowance for growth or change; no expressed desire to relearn about each other. That’s not love. That’s projection, and it’s hugely limiting – who wants to be held up not just to an ideal, but an idealised version of themselves 15 years ago, instead of who they are now? Instead of creating something new together, and hopefully loving each other as much as you did; you both implicitly demanded that you love each other in the exact same way you did. That’s not healthy; that’s stifling.

Bearing this in mind, I don’t think it’s a surprise that both of you were (or are) in long-term relationships when you reconnected. You don’t say whether these relationships are monogamous or not, so perhaps your reconnection didn’t involve any cheating. But long-term relationships have a way of cementing our identities and what our future looks like. And for many people who cheat on their partners, the infidelity is less about being unsatisfied with their partner as a person, and more feeling unsatisfied with themselves.

Cheating often allows people to explore a different side of their personality and emotions. I wonder how much of this reconnection was to do with you trying to reconnect not with this man, but reconnecting with how you felt in your early 20s, and what feels missing in your life now.

That’s vital to think about because right now, everything you’re doing is centred on this man, instead of your own personal fulfilment. You say nothing about your long-term relationship and how that is or was. You’re working out and pushing your career forward – but for him, not for you. You note that there’s a significant risk that you have no future with this man, but my concern is that you are unable to envision either a future or present version of yourself that doesn’t exist solely in relation to him.

And let’s be clear: he has not earned this power in your life. You met for dinner a few times, and he has since ignored you for six months. That’s not “behaving like boyfriends”. That’s behaving like someone with very little emotional maturity or empathy, who didn’t respect or care for you enough to even bother explaining that your arrangement wasn’t working for him.

You need to forget this man

You are ignoring the fact that this man has done something horrible and dehumanising to you, by saying he loves you one day, then completely ignoring you the next. This is precisely the danger with loving a past version of someone – it makes you ignore who they are now, and how they treat you. He has not treated you well. He is not speaking to you. He is not interested in a future with you. And yet you are “convinced he is the only one for me”.

Why do you think you don’t deserve better than a few dinners and then being treated as utterly disposable? Why is unstable communication, no respect, and a lack of commitment the height of your romantic imagination? What realities are you overlooking in order to create the fantasy of a life with him that you are so desperately holding on to?

You need to forget this man. Not only because he has not treated you well and has expressed no interest in a future with you, but because holding onto the idea of him is hugely limiting your perception of and experience of your own life. What makes you happy? What motivates you? What do you want from a relationship? How can your life as an individual be more fulfilling?

You can find these answers yourself. You do not need this man to create a fulfilling life for yourself. That’s the delusion you need to leave behind. I promise, a better reality is waiting.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at