A common pain that we come across in life, especially early in life, is that of a promising relationship not working out. Many of us may have entered a relationship that became deeper than most, and naturally raised our expectations. For various reasons not gone into here, the relationship did not fructify, did not last as long as we may have wanted it to. Those of us who have experienced this unfortunate event will testify to the pain that accompanies the break-up. It is a different pain, a mixed longing and sadness and anger that depresses us for some time. The pain may seem to be qualitatively different as well. Many people describe it as nothing that they have experienced before, something that does not compare with other losses in life. It may impact our functional abilities, our other relationships, it may darken our view of life ( at least temporarily) and make it difficult for us to appreciate other good relationships in life. One can’t help wondering why we continue to pine for lost relationships long after they have been lost. Over time, we move on, but often the regret for what might have been persists for an abnormally long time. We may even fall into the trap of comparing later relationships with the lost one, usually to the former’s disadvantage. So why does this pain and regret tend to last so long? There will, of course, be many reasons, some of them very personal and individual. But reflection may yield some commonalities as well. When a relationship starts off and then ends before we expected it to or wanted it to, we tend to extend the relationship in our fantasy or imagination. If she were here or if he were around, this would have happened or that situation would never have come to pass. We keep the best things of the lost relationship and project them into the future. We tend to forget or gloss over the negatives. This is especially true if we are not blinded by inconsolable rage over the lost relationship.
If rage dominates, then the pining is distorted. But in the absence of such anger, or rather when the anger has given way to longing, we tend to beautify and idealize the lost relationship. It is as if we launder the relationship so that it appears cleaner and whiter than it actually was. Because the relationship has been lost, reality does not get a chance to knock holes in it. The relationship is preserved in its ideal pristine form in our imagination, without the corroding effect of reality.If the relationship had been realized, probably over the years we would have developed a more balanced view of it, and love would have waned a bit. We would have had the chance to see the not-so-perfect aspect of the relationship as well, and so the longing would have been lessened. The fulfillment of a desire lessens its impact or drive. But in the case of the lost relationship, the over idealized fantasy persists, and so the comparison with real relationship always harms the real relationships.