The Territory of Old Flames:
Even if you never see the person again, a significant former love remains with you. That woman or man is woven into the tapestry of your life -- maybe as a subtle shading here and there, maybe as a vibrant pattern smack in the middle. Without those threads, the weaving would be something else. You would be someone else. But when it comes to the question of sharing the rich texture of that tapestry with a partner, most people will come up with some form of "Yes, it might add to our intimacy, but..." and find a reason to say as little as possible. In this short chapter, we will look at some of the more common reasons. [We include in this excerpt only those reasons for saying little. The complete chapter contains a perspective that brings balance to these concerns.]
Yes...but my partner and I talked about "that past love stuff" when we first got together.
Yes...but isn't it best to live in the present, put your past behind you, move on?
Yes...but isn't it best to keep some part of yourself a mystery if you want your partner to stay interested?
Yes...but there is no reason for bringing this stuff up unless it is relevant to the conversation my partner and I are having.
Yes...but some of my memories are too special, too sacred to share with my partner. I want to keep them for myself. I don't want to diminish the memory. It's mine, a special treasure.
Yes...but isn't it more important to talk about how the previous relationship didn't work, so you can learn from your mistakes?
Yes...but I don't want to take the risk of having anyone make judgments of that part of my life.
Yes...but don't I have a responsibility for helping my partner understand that a former did not treat her/him very well?
Yes...but I don't have any feelings that I want to remember. That person hurt me a lot. How could I possibly still care after all I've been through? And wouldn't it seem odd if I did?
Yes...but my partner and I have a good relationship already. I don't want to rock the boat. If I bring this sort of stuff up, it could get us into a really difficult scene.
Yes...but if I get too close to someone and begin to care a great deal, I will just feel the loss much more if we break up.
So -- what is really going on here? Well, it's an old conflict, the one between our fears of and our need for closeness. Our fears tell us to protect ourselves, and needs for closeness tell us to open, reach out, let in. It's not unreasonable, then, that these two mutually exclusive beckonings would create tension.