Dousing Old Flames

By Annie Lane

April 28, 2020 4 min read

Dear Annie: In 1966, "Linda" and I met at church one night. I was "head over heels" in love with her immediately, and I believed then that she was, too. We were in our early 20s. I was in officer candidate school at the time. I gave her an engagement ring after we dated for a few months. I thought all was well. But a month or so later, she returned it. I think her mother nixed the wedding plans. I always suspected I wasn't a strong enough Baptist for her family.

Even though the engagement was off, we continued to see each other. I had a permanent change of station to Vietnam. While I was there, she sent me a "Dear John" letter, saying that she'd always love me as a person but she'd met someone else and they were engaged. I was devastated.

When I returned from Vietnam, I ended up meeting my wife. We started a family. Fifteen years later, after my father died, I got a condolence phone call from Linda, and we've kept up a correspondence ever since then, with phone calls and emails. To this day, I answer her emails, even though I sometimes wait a month or two to write back.

My dilemma is that I believe it wrong to be exchanging mail with an old flame. My wife is aware that we keep in touch and that we used to be an item, but she dismisses it as no threat. She thinks it's common enough to catch up now and then with old romantic partners, especially when a few decades have gone by. Still, I erase Linda's emails every time, as though I've something to hide.

One part of me says: "Wake up! She threw you under the bus. Get over it like millions of others." The other part hangs on to the illusion of love, of being in love — which is a sweet memory, don't you think? Hardly a day goes by that certain things don't remind me of this past. And she has said the same. Sometimes, it is anger and resentment of being rejected and feeling that I wasn't good enough, and other times it is of that broken-hearted feeling of how much I loved her.

I get along just fine with my current wife, but the memories of the past passion from 50 years ago are always lingering under the surface. I wish Linda would end it and set me free. Or I wish I could end it. Annie, what would you do? — Burning Desire

Dear Burning: I think you already know what I'm going to say. But if a kick in the pants is what you're looking for, I'm happy to provide it. So here goes.

Cut it out. No more emails, no more phone calls. Exes can be friends when both parties have moved on. That is clearly not the case here. To continue this emotional affair is to risk your 40-year marriage — and for what? The "illusion of love," as you put it. That is all that Linda ever offered. Redirect your attention to bringing some passion back into your marriage. That is the real deal.

"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]

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