Dear Thelma: I have a good life but I keep thinking of my ex

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Dear Thelma,

It's been almost 32 years but I still think about her every now and then. I wonder where she is now and how she’s doing. I wonder if life has treated her well, and I pray that she is living her best life and that she's happy wherever she is.

Back then, we were part of the opening team at a hotel in JB. She was a waitress, and I was a cashier.

I have never experienced what I had with her since she left and even now, with a loving wife and three grown children, I doubt that such intense emotions will ever be in my reach again. Or maybe it's just my memories of her distorted by the passage of time...

All I know and vividly remember is she was a beautiful person and truly an exceptional woman with a kind heart. It was a privilege for me to have shared some unforgettable moments with her. We were so young, but she was an old soul whom, in my moments of regret, I almost destroyed with all my thoughtless antics.

I will never forget her and the stunning way she smiled, her laughter, her soft voice, the deep brown of her eyes, the glow of her ever-soft milky skin, the way the sun reflected her soft features and her warm and gentle touch that sent me tingling every time. The short hair she had when we met served to only accentuate her gorgeous features, her sometimes naughty nature, all of which made her unforgettable, especially to one as undeserving of her as I was.

We shared the same love in music, and she introduced me to Guns N Roses – and November Rain will forever be our song. I made many mistakes that I deeply regretted then and even more so as time went by. Time heals, they say, but not for me. I have bottled up those memories as well as the guilt, the shame but most of all the regret.I did hurt her, and I never meant for any of it! I was caught up in myself and did not realise what my actions would lead to, and I didn’t care how she felt. I was so caught up in my own turmoil that I lost sight of her and what she meant to me. I was so engrossed in my selfish ways that I lost sight of what truly mattered. A love forever ruined by the foolishness of the young me who should've known better. I guess that’s my cross to bear for as long as I live.

I cannot ever forget her – memories of her linger in my subconscious, and surface again and again in my quiet moments. I wonder too if she even thinks about me but that’s just wishful thinking, I’m sure.

I am 53 now and the years have changed me. I have a good life but somehow, she is always on my mind. In the late nights, as I try to sleep, often memories of her appear and remain until sleep finally takes me.

If only I could see her again, I would humbly and sincerely say I am so sorry, and may she find it in her generous heart to forgive me for letting her down and abusing the love and trust she placed in our relationship.

I hope she’s OK wherever she is.

I want her to know that I do not want our last rendezvous at the bus stop – where she whispered to her friends and looked at me with contempt and hate – to be my last memory of her or her last memory of me. We shared precious times together despite everything, and I will always cherish those times more than anything in this world.

Living with regret

I think several things are going on here.

First, you feel guilt over the way you treated her. Second, in your memory she blasted you with contempt and hate. You think of her from time to time, especially when you can’t sleep, and the thoughts hurt you.

What you describe is quite common but few of us dig in deep. So, why does this happen? I think it’s because our brains are optimised to seek patterns.

The world is a very complex place, and there is no way we can consciously take in all the details. Pattern recognition helps us build an instant ‘big picture’ idea of how things are. We can use it to identify threats and opportunities with very little effort.

Recognising patterns is super useful for figuring out if a work colleague has bad intentions or whether cloud formation signals there is a monsoon rainstorm on the way. However, it has some drawbacks.

Your brain is always looking for patterns and it learns by repetition. In your case, when you are tired or stressed, your pattern recognising brain says, “I know this! Last time we thought of her.” Then it pops up that memory.

To get over this, you have to actively unlearn this. Every time that thought hits you, actively push your mind to positive memories.

This will be easier if you dig a little deeper and reconsider your perspective.

With respect, when you think of this lady, your judgement is out of kilter. You were 21 years old. Look around you. Do you really think that young adults have the emotional intelligence of a Gen X? The short answer is no.

Young adults don’t have our experience. Also, their brains haven’t entirely wired up yet. The bit behind the forehead, the prefrontal cortex, isn’t complete.

As that is the part of the brain that helps us with motivation, emotional regulation, and social interactions, it is completely unreasonable to expect young adults to think like mature adults.

So even if you had done something you regret, you cannot judge yourself harshly. It’s not right.

I’m not certain what you did, it’s not clear, but you say you didn’t intend to hurt her and did not foresee how things would work out. If you ask me, you hit the classic young adult problem: not enough wired-up prefrontal cortex to work it all out.

In short, you were careless and thoughtless but not mean.

Do you deserve punishment? Turn it around: would you demand that one of your friends tortured themselves for 30 years over some error they made towards you when you were kids?

Of course not.

In your memory, you see your ex’s anger. She may have been so at the time, but believe me, she’s over it. We don’t hang about for three decades thinking about the wrongs people have done us.

As you describe her, there’s no doubt in my mind that she has found love in her life.

So I suggest this: you write a short note with an apology to your old flame. Take it to a temple, church, or local holy spot and say a short prayer where you apologise sincerely and then burn it. It will be a symbolic end to your self-torture.

When you’re done, play Journey’s Don't Stop Believin' to remind yourself that we grow and can trust ourselves even when times are rough.

Then go home and hug your loving wife and three grown children. They know you and they love you because they see the real man: a good person. So be happy, and celebrate the joys in your life.

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Relationships , break-up , family , marriage


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