So, my question in full is this:
Does each subsequent love essentially cover or "trump" the previous one, so to speak? OR, are some loves simply stronger, more powerful or more unforgettable then others, regardless of whom we go on to love afterward?
This is a topic I have been curious about and I have come to the conclusion that I wholeheartedly believe its the second one. There are some loves that are just more powerful, more memorable or that remain in our minds and hearts more so then others.
Why did I come to this particular conclusion? I have tangible evidence of this being a frequent occurrence throughout human life, as well as statistical, logical and my own personal theoretic evidence on this topic to back up my answer.
And as a side note worth mentioning, I asked a number of people to whom I am close their opinion on this same question. And the vast majority answered that they believed it was the second one as well.
Here are my reasons for believing that some loves are just more powerful then others. And the factors that determine whether or not someone will have a past love like this or not:
1. Whether or not we have a powerful love whom we cannot fully forget, tucked away in the back of our hearts, depends partially on you personally.
Are you someone who lets go easily? Are you resilient? Do you have a fulfilling, interesting and happy life prior to, as well as after, the breakup? Do you form strong attachments to only a few people, finding it difficult to get close to others? Or can you form deep relationships more easily? Are you someone you loves especially deeply? Do you tend to romanticize things?
Certain types of people, just because of their personality traits and emotional makeup, may have more trouble letting go of a past love then other types of people. It partially depends on your own personality and emotional background.
2. A huge determinant of whether or not we will have a past love whom we never full get over depends on our alternatives. Our alternatives both before and afterwards.
If we make healthy and positive relationship choices, as well as choose to date great people who are a really good fit for us and get lucky enough to find those great human beings to date in the first place, then its more likely that we will not have previous exes whom we still struggle to get over. Because due to both our continual good relational choices, and the people we meet, we will continue to improve upon our romantic relationships as time goes on.
If, however, we either: continue to make the same mistakes over and over in our romantic life (such as: choosing partners ill suited to us, or settling in relationships, or by making choices or acting in ways which damage our relationships) OR if we go on in our romantic relational life only to find that the alternatives we experience fall short of what we had with a previous love, then its more likely we will harbor nostalgia or feelings for a previous ex.
So this second point is both a combination of probability (whom you stumble across, meet and date), as well as making good choices (both in terms of who you choose, as well as making good choices about who you are within the relationship, once you are in it).
3. The reality of people is that some are more memorable for us then others. And that some loves affect us more so then others. One may grab hold of our hearts tighter, or fill us with more passion then another. There are some people with whom we can just connect with more deeply then others. We can love numerous romantic partners throughout our life, but each one of those loves is nuanced differently, and this is what I am talking about.
Therefore, for this simple fact, if you are lucky enough to have found someone extraordinary (such as, someone who makes your heart race, or someone to whom you can reveal your whole heart, or a person who makes you feel like home, or someone wildly romantic, incredibly charismatic or deeply generous. Or someone who is great fun to be with. A person who is truly fascinating or intriguing. Someone who is truly your soul mate and very best friend. The list goes on in terms of truly memorable types of people), if you have had the fortune to meet someone like this and love them...its unlike you will forget them. Even as you go on to love someone new.
Whereas, if you never really dated anyone who falls into any of the descriptions above, its less likely that you will have an ex whom you have trouble forgetting.
(Important side note: No, just because you feel the euphoric, falling-in-love and intense attraction feeling with someone new, it does not automatically mean they are one of these people ;-p. We always feel this way when first falling in love, about the person with whom we are falling for. Whether its true or not. That is what the chemical rush makes us believe. That is why so many people ultimately fall for someone who isn't actually that great over the long-run (which they discover after the intense rush wears off). We always assume the one who is new and that we are excited about is amazing. But of course, this very often isnt the case. Only time can tell us if they are truly amazing and rare or not. Time reveals the truth about how incredible-or not, someone really is).
4. If the premise were true that each subsequent, new love in our lives always trumped the old one...and that each new love was truly better then the one before it in most important aspects, then there would not be SO much in terms of the sheer volume of literature, music, movies, TV shows, poems, and even real life stories (surprisingly easy to find if you just really get to know people around you) of people who have a past love whom they still harbor some feelings/nostalgia/longing for.
This is a common and frequent theme existing within human life. And that is because its a real thing that a lot of people experience. Some people are more memorable then others, some loves are more powerful or deeper then others, our connections with each person we love (or have loved) are all different. Some people leave a stronger impression on us then others. Some people are harder (or easier) to let go of then others. That is why we hear this theme come up so often throughout human life. Because its a real part of the human experience. Other ever-present parts of the human experience, along with lost loves or loves we cannot forget, include: unrequited love, cheating and infidelity, regret, forbidden love, etc. All part of being human.
5. Statistics. Numerous statistics remind us that is just cannot be true that we simply get over each previous love with the arrival of a new one and that each new love is always an improvement on the last.
To list a few intriguing statistics:
-73% of people would not call the person they ended up with their "soul mate."
-Just 3 in 10 relationships remain both quite happy, as well as stay together, over the long haul (cited from the book The Science of Happily Ever After by Ty Tashiro)
-Over half of people have regretted a past breakup
-Over 20% of people have found it difficult to move on because they still loved their ex
All of these statistics paint the picture that in fact, we very often do have trouble letting go of special people from our past. (If anyone would like my sources for these statistics, please ask! I found them while doing internet research, both in the past and for this blog post. Aside from the one which I mentioned is from a well researched book that reports on numerous studies relating to relational success which I recently read).
6. Logically as well as statistically, it just isn't possible that every single relationship that follows the one before it will be a better person, a deeper love, and a better fit. Statistically this is impossible. Its nice wishful thinking, but its not reality. Its likely one will go on after a big breakup to date people who are both better for them, as well as more wonderful overall. But you also might not. That is just the reality of things like this. Probability...chance...playing the numbers game. Yes, some of this is dependent on you, but some of it isn't.
7. There are at least two parts to potentially missing a past love (IF you will go forward to feel this was for an ex).
The first part or Phase 1, is the obvious one. Immediately, or at least sometime soon after the breakup (assuming you actually loved this person), you will miss them. Their absence will have blown a hole in the center of your life. You will think of them very often. You will feel heartbroken, long for them, feel sad, and likely reflect back on the relationship a lot. You will really struggle emotionally during this time. However, as more time passes, this phase will slowly but surely lessen and fade. That was Phase 1 of missing an ex. Stay tuned. They may make a strong reappearance back in your heart and mind at some point...
Phase 2 of missing an ex will come later on (if this ex is going to be one of the powerful, unforgettable ones).
Meanwhile, before this happens, you will likely go on to date at least one, if not more, other people. You may even fall in love with your next love during this time. During this time, you likely will not think of your ex hardly at all. You will be swept up in the endorphins, excitement, lust and infatuation of someone new!!! Assuming the new relationship has staying power, fast forward 1 year. Maybe more, maybe less. But some time should go by. This is when excitement begins to fade and intense emotions can start to become more subdued in the new relationship. Its also when conflicts can begin to emerge (as they always do), as well as traits that maybe you didn't see so clearly before.
Maybe even upon entering this stage of the relationship, this new partner is ultimately amazing and still a truly great fit for you. If that is the case, awesome!!!
Or, maybe now instead, you aren't so sure of this. Now traits and issues are being displayed or coming up that make you wonder if this person is someone whom you can see yourself with over the long-term. Or maybe at some point, your new relationship begins to experience some major struggles, or even crumble.
These are the moments when, if an ex love was a particularly powerful or special love for you, they will reenter your mind once more. This is Phase 2. This is when their memories may come back to haunt you...your longing for them can reignite...you may question whether letting them go was the right decision or not.
We often think that all new, exciting, lust-filled and endorphin-fueled love affairs are amazing people who are going to become our great loves. And if we fast forward time a bit, we find that more often then not, this is not actually the case.
So. Depending on the satisfaction, success, and overall longer term positive-or-negative fit of future relationships, this also determines whether its tough for us to let go of an ex or not.
8. And finally, how did your relationship with the memorable ex end? Unfinished? Or were you full of regret about it? If things along these lines are the case, it can decrease your chances of being able to full let go of it. Also, if you were still in love with someone upon your relationship with them ending, its unlikely you will ever totally get over it 100%.
For every person who says, "yes, my current partner is my biggest love," you will find someone who has a past love whom they have trouble forgetting (even if they love someone new).
Some of you will not have an ex whom you still harbor something for. Maybe you didn't date enough people to have one of these people in your past, or maybe the people in your past aren't so great anyway and therefore, aren't worth pining over in any sort of way ;-p
But a lot of people do have a person in their past whom they now recognize was someone incredible, and whom they do have some degree of difficulty letting go of fully.
This does not mean they cannot go forward to fall in love with someone else. It does not mean they cannot go forward in their lives to be happy. In fact, most people even with a past powerful love do go on to experience both of these things (finding another love, and being happy). But, they may still think of this past love often, wondering what could have been, still experiencing strong feelings in relation to this person (some of these feelings might be regret, longing, nostalgia, missing this person, etc).
What determines whether or not this happens to someone, I believe, depends on all the factors I just described and listed. A huge part of it is probability and chance (who you meet throughout your life). Another big part depends on you (your unique personality and emotional makeup), as well as on the choices you make within your relationships. Other factors include alternatives (both who you meet and love before and afterwards), as well as how your relationship with your ex ended and what kind of a person they were (as in, how memorable).
A few famous quotes on this topic:
“You can love someone so much...But you can never love people as much as you can miss them.”
― John Green
“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
― Kahlil Gibran
“I know that's what people say-- you'll get over it. I'd say it, too. But I know it's not true. Oh, youll be happy again, never fear. But you won't forget. Every time you fall in love it will be because something in the man reminds you of him.” (or, I would add to this quote, something in the woman reminds you of her ;-))
― Betty Smith,