Rekindled Research

Nancy Kalish, Ph.D. began her research on rekindled romances in 1993 – a survey of men and women who tried reunions with ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends – naming it the Lost Love Project. She designed a 33 question survey, with a space at the end for the participant’s love story (optional). Her initial request for participation appeared on radio stations, television shows, in magazines and newspapers, and on the Internet (AOL and CompuServe forums, and a variety of international Usenet groups), posters, and word of mouth. The same ad was always posted:

College researcher seeks people who loved someone years ago, parted, then 5 or more years later tried another relationship with that person. For an anonymous questionnaire, send a mailing address to: P.O. Box 19692, Sacramento, CA 95819.

The first phase of the questionnaire research ended in 1996 with 1001 participants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 35 additional countries. They ranged in age from 18 to 89. Most people did include their love stories, often adding multiple sheets of paper to make them complete.

The data from the survey questions were analyzed and results were published in Dr. Kalish’s book, Lost & Found Lovers: Facts and Fantasies of Rekindled Romances (William Morrow Inc., 1997). The book was later reissued as a paperback by (2005) as an Authors Guild Back-in-Print book. This is still the only research book that has ever been published on actual reunited couples.

Dr. Kalish found that reunions with former boyfriends or girlfriends were common in all age groups. Two-thirds of the participants had reunited with their first loves from when they were 17 years old or younger. Their success rate for staying together was 78%. For the overall sample, the staying together rate was 72%.

The full results for these 1001 participants are discussed in Kalish’s book, along with reasons why thinking about ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends is common, and how lost love reunions are different from typical romances.

After the book’s publication, love stories continued to pour in to Dr. Kalish from around the world, in letters, in email messages, in faxes, and phone calls. And Dr. Kalish has met many of these couples in person. Many of the original participants have written updates to their romances. Her research with this additional group of survey participants was presented at the American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention in Washington, DC in 1999, and a brief presentation, focusing on couples who reunited using the Internet, was presented at the APA Convention in San Francisco in 2000.

Although it was not planned, Dr. Kalish’s early research was conducted prior to the creation of the World Wide Web. Her new research findings (2005-2006) are based on 1600 participants who have typically found each other online. These populations are very different in one respect: the majority (62%) of the recent survey participants are married, or their lost loves are married, or both. They are in unexpected emotional (and often physical) extramarital affairs with their old flames.

These extramarital reunions were generally not successful, and the reconnections were devastating to the spouses, children, and the lost loves themselves: although most participants believed they could carry on the affairs until they decided what to do about their marriages vs. lost loves, most were caught by their families.

Because of the high extramarital rate, successful reunions for this group of participants was low: only 5% of the lost love couples married each other; one or both of the affair partners chose to remain married. If they were not caught, most ended their reunions after a few years.

Dr. Kalish strongly discourages married men and women from having any contact with their lost loves at all.

Dr. Kalish’s newest research on lost love reunions has concentrated on lost love clients in psychotherapy, the pitfalls for therapists. She also has new data from 1300 participants (randomly assigned to her project by of Syracuse University) who have never tried reunions with lost loves (a control group) that Kalish compares to the first love reunion participants. The two groups are different in several respects, but perhaps the most interesting was the reasons why their first love relationships ended: rekindlers first love romances ended because parents disapproved, moved away, too young, etc., while the nonrekindlers reported that they hadn’t been getting along, had different expectations, one cheated on the other, or physical and emotional abuse.

Because they had bad memories of their first loves, most nonrekindlers reported that they had no interest in reunions and that they couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do such a thing!

Kalish’s most recent book, The Lost Love Chronicles, is a collection of true stories of reunions and touching memories of young love.