Second time's the charm?
October 10, 2007 2:16 AM   Subscribe

Do relationships between the same people ever work a second time round, after a long period of time in between?

So I was talking to a friend of mine who's recently moved back to the same town as her ex. They hadn't been together for over three years, but they both still had feelings for each other.
They got back together. It didn't work out.
I got to thinking - do these sorts of situations *ever* work out?
It seems to be even when the split up is mostly due to practical reasons (someone moving for a job, so on) that it won't work the second time, at least not in any lasting sense.
My experience, however, is with young couples, and a couple years is a lot of change. So, I thought I would do a little unscientific survey - do any of you know of relationships, working or otherwise, that fit this criteria? I'm not talking about "on-again-off-again" relationships, mind.

And if you do know ones that succeeded, why do you think that it was?
posted by Dillonlikescookies to Human Relations (30 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: kind of similar to this but i was more interested in situations where the break hadn't been planned for. thanks in advance!
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 2:19 AM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just went to the wedding of a couple who dated for a while over ten years ago, broke up, had various partners in the meantime and got back together maybe two years ago.
posted by emilyw at 2:34 AM on October 10, 2007

My boyfriend and I split up for two months, and now we're happily back together. We have another pair of friends that have done the same (they've been together longer than us). My sister knows of other couples like these too.

It's a HELL of a lot of work, but if both parties are willing to put in the effort, it's doable. Not easy though.
posted by divabat at 2:47 AM on October 10, 2007

The Actual by Saul Bellow is about a rekindled romance with a lifetime between. Great novel (well, novellette really...)
posted by bifter at 3:21 AM on October 10, 2007

i will follow this thread intently. i just ran into an ex from 10 years ago (we broke up due to immaturity and distance rather than any fundamental incompatibility) and my lord, the spark is still there.

i think it matters why you broke up--if it was a personality difference, then that may not be overcomable. if it was situational, then that's different.

i've heard of senior citizens marrying their high school sweethearts after their spouses of 40 years have died. which i think is adorable.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:55 AM on October 10, 2007

2 years ago, my SO told me that she wanted to break up as the husband she had separated from 6 months earlier asked her if she would try again. We separated for 3 months, I heard she hadnt got back together with him and asked again with positive results. That was 2 years ago, and the most insanely painful period I can ever remember but we got through it.

And no, it wasnt to see if he was any 'better' than me, it was to see if her marriage could be saved.
posted by daveyt at 4:35 AM on October 10, 2007

Depends on the circumstances of the break up. If the reasons for the break up are no longer there and a spark remains, I don't see why it couldn't work. Though, as divabat says, it's a lot of work. Guess if you can see the payoff in it, it's worth a go.

Oh, and as long as neither party retains any bitterness re: the first break up. That's poison.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 4:36 AM on October 10, 2007

My wife and I fell in love when we were in our early twenties, broke up because we knew we were too young to commit and marry, got back together* and are now happily married with two kids.

*We ran into each other randomly at Jazzfest in New Orleans, and decided it was fate. What would have happened if not for that, I can't say.
posted by poppo at 4:45 AM on October 10, 2007

That was: Three years together, two years apart, and now about five years together
posted by poppo at 4:47 AM on October 10, 2007

I think the answer really depends on the reason for the initial breakup. If the issue is some fundamental personality conflict, it's unlikely to be better and will probably fail. If the issue was something else like family pressure or immaturity, it's much more likely to work.

As another datapoint, I tried this and it failed spectacularly. Most people I know who have been in this situation have ended up single again.
posted by MasterShake at 4:55 AM on October 10, 2007

MasterShake has a point: my aunt recently got married to her high school boyfriend. They originally didn't end up together because his Jewish family wanted him to hold out for a nice Jewish girl. Each of them had another marriage, kids, and a divorce (hers was pretty ugly) and then they got married last year.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:30 AM on October 10, 2007

My wife and I dated for a year or so when we were in our early 20s. We went our separate ways for 5 years and now we are coming up on our 4 year anniversary and have a beautiful baby daughter together.

I think sometimes people just have some growing up to do. In my case I certainly wasn't ready to get married at 21. And if we had gotten married then almost certainly it would have been a fiasco.
posted by ian1977 at 5:54 AM on October 10, 2007

My parent's divorced for just shy of a year when I was in seventh grade... They remarried each other and have lived happily ever after.

My partner and I dated for a few months after college. It ended poorly and we ended up in different states. A couple of years later, we reclaimed our friendship and decided to go camping. We've been together ever since (5+ years). I fully anticipate that we will also live happily ever after.

In my parents case it was a matter of realizing that, once you have built a life with someone, you love the person on a level that can't be found elsewhere. In me and my partner's case, the first time around was simply piss-poor timing.

posted by wg at 6:11 AM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

My best friend had a baby at 16 with the 18 year-old she thought she would be with forever. They lived together for a while but then broke up a year or so after the baby's birth. He dated another girl for a couple of years, she lived with another man for a year. Then the two original people got back together (I think they were trying to make each other jealous by dating other people) and have had another baby and have now been married for almost ten years. I think they will probably always be together. In their case, I think they were simply too young to begin with ~ but I don't think they would have gotten back together if she hadn't forgiven him for a lot of stuff and held a torch for him for years and years.
posted by saucysault at 6:23 AM on October 10, 2007

Best answer: My wife and I dated in high school - she was two years behind me, so when I went off to college I was obviously way too cool to be dating a high school girl (yes, i'm an idiot), so we broke up. Didn't speak for about 5 years, but she kept in touch with one of my friends. Went out drinking with said friend one night, stole his phone, and called her at 2 AM while blindingly drunk to apologize for being a jerk so many years before...then called her a few more times to apologize for calling her. Few weeks later we got in touch while sober, and the rest, as they say, is history. Been happily married for two years now.
posted by um_maverick at 6:29 AM on October 10, 2007

Sometimes it does work out. My gf and I have dated on and off for 10 years starting from the end of high school, through college (mostly off during college), up to now, 6 years after college. This last time we've been together for 4 years. (Living in a studio apartment together for the last 2 nonetheless) I think we got extremely lucky. Communication is key. Forgiveness for emotional pain caused by previous break ups and acceptance of each others experiences while not together have gone a long way towards making this work out I think.
posted by zackola at 6:42 AM on October 10, 2007

I like to read the wedding announcements in the NYTimes, the ones that have the extra "how they met" story appended to the boring "she works at MOMA and he works at Schwab Financial" stuff. A surprising number mention some version of this -- they meet, they date, things don't work, fast forward to some years later when she sees him at the financial analysts' ball, from across the crowded room their eyes meet...

So based on that thoroughly unscientific sample, I'd say that it happens fairly often, at least in the demographic of people who end up in the Times wedding section. And it makes some sense -- people often break up for a bunch of reasons (new job, immaturity, itchy feet) that don't actually mean that they aren't attracted to the other person -- they just aren't ready to stay with them. That attraction can still be there later, and the reasons for the breakup, such as immaturity, can be taken care of by the passage of time.

I also know several couples who divorced and then remarried, so it's not just young people who do this.
posted by Forktine at 6:50 AM on October 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Some close friends of mine dated for a couple of years in college, living together for a while. They broke up, then got back together, then broke up again. Then the guy moved to Mexico for two years to "get away" from the relationship. When he came back they started seeing each other again, and have now been married for 12 years.
posted by kimdog at 6:50 AM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Dated a girl in high school, but it didn't work out for myriad stupid high school reasons. As we grew into adults, lived in different parts of the state/country, and dated around, we kept in contact because we were great friends.

We both secretly wished we were together again, but also both assumed the other person wouldn't be interested. After an intoxicated phone call one night about 10 years after we broke up in high school, we revealed our feelings for each other.

She's my wife now.

My experience, however, is with young couples, and a couple years is a lot of change.

Sometimes this change is exactly what is necessary to correct dynamics that were harmful to the relationship the first time around. Definitely the case with us; we needed to "play the field" for a while, and just grow up, to realize what we didn't want.
posted by Rykey at 7:25 AM on October 10, 2007

Best answer: My mom and stepdad were high school sweethearts. He was one year older, went off to college but they still dated. When my mom graduated HS she wanted to get married, but he said he wanted to graduate college first so he could support them. She got pissed, and went to a different college where she met my dad. In a fit of immaturity/anger (her words) she started dating him, dumped her HS BF and got married to my dad. Three kids and 14 unhappy years later (he was an alcoholic) she was visiting my grandmother in the hospital where she ran into her HS sweetheart. It was Turner Classic Movies time: she said, "I was such a fool!" and he said, "I've never loved anyone but you!" She immediately divorced my dad, and married my stepdad (who had never married) a few months later.

I've never seen two people so blissfully happy together. I think it worked because: 1) my stepdad was a truly amazing person. Positive, light-hearted, crazy smart and one of the most generous spirits I've ever known. He completely forgave my mom (it wasn't even an issue) and focused solely on how happy he was to be reunited with her and have a ready-made family. (I should also say here that my stepdad took me and my two brothers in -- 12, 10, and 8 -- and could not have treated us any better. He loved us unreservedly from day one, and we loved him the same way.) 2) my mom is also a very loving and giving person and found in my stepdad someone who appreciated her "warts and all." My father could/would never do this for her and really trampled on her spirit.

Forgiveness, appreciation and maturity are key.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 7:29 AM on October 10, 2007 [13 favorites]

My mom is now back with her college boyfriend 30 years later, after divorcing my dad. It's kinda cute to see pictures of them together as teenagers.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:35 AM on October 10, 2007

My husband and I dated for a summer 8 years before we met again and married. We just celebrated out 6th wedding anniversary. I had a "never go back" policy that I wisely broke in this case.
posted by Wolfie at 9:54 AM on October 10, 2007

I broke up with my boyfriend of eight years when I thought neither of us were maturing in the relationship. I went to school in the interim, we both dated other people, we still talked every day (and forged a very strong friendship, free of the trials of being young and living together). Eight months after the break up, we moved back in together, and a year after that we married.

Today is our twenty six day anniversary, but in November, we'll have been together for ten years. :)
posted by annathea at 10:19 AM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For many years I've tried to bake a pumpkin pie. Mostly attempted with the same dish, received as a gift over a decade ago. When I first got the dish, I could see that it was an extremely nice piece of cookware and would bake pies well, but I was a horribly inexperienced cook. I ruined many pies and almost completely broke the dish once by carelessly dropping it on the floor.

Over the years, I forgot about the dish, and moved onto other things. I learned how to cook, how to make pies, and my way around a kitchen.

Recently, during a move, I found it again. It was raining outside and pumpkins were in season. A good day for baking a pie. I made another attempt. Because I learned a lot since then, I was much more successful (it still came out sorta mushy, but mushy delicious at least).

Several factors contributed to this small victory, experience and timing seeming to be the most important.

That's all I can say that's even remotely relevant, I apologize. I'm hopelessly single and sit around baking pies all day.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:32 AM on October 10, 2007 [24 favorites]


My boyfriend and I were together for four years (living together three years), broke up for about eight months, and then got back together a little over a year ago. Things have been really good this second time around. (We have not moved back in together but have talked about it.)

A close friend broke up with her boyfriend for several months because she really needed to sort some things out. About six months later they got back together. They got engaged within a year, and have now been very happily married for two years.

In both relationships, the breakups were intended to be permanent. My boyfriend and I both saw other people while apart. We both sought counseling. He really needed to work some things out and I really needed to be independent. When we got back together, there was a lot to work through, especially trust issues, so it's not been a picnic all the time, but we have learned to deal with issues much more maturely and I think built a better relationship with a much deeper appreciation of each other.

I've also had the break-up/get-back-together cycle with a college boyfriend, so I know it doesn't always work. For it to be successful, I think both partners need to be aware of why the relationship didn't work the first time and have made some serious changes that will prevent the same issues from arising. In many cases that will require a lot of personal change and growth, or just general growing up. Both partners may need to re-learn or re-appreciate the value of the other person. I think seeing the first break up not as a "break" but as a real break up was important too.

In short, yes, it can work, but not without significant personal change.
posted by min at 11:24 AM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hah! For a second, I though Emily W was at my wedding! My husband and I married this July after knowing each other for 16 years. Here's the tale:

Dated and lived with my now husband for a year and a half back in the early '90's. He done me wrong in a pretty egregious way. I then date and live with Interim Man for 10 years (!).

Anyhoo, when Interim Man and I broke up, my now husband, who had been through his own travails, was sorta just waiting around for me. We had become friends again over the years, and he was waiting for his second chance. My mother HATED him for what he had done to me in the past, and I wasn't that thrilled, either, of course. But Now Husband is one of the most changed people I have ever met. He dated quite a few women in between our relationships, and had grown older and wiser. I cannot now imagine him cheating on me or purposefully harming me in any way. The main change was not how he sees me or other women, but how he views himself. He now really likes himself and is comfortable in his own skin. He is changed to the point that my mother more and more accepts him fully as a beloved son-in-law.

So, yes, it does happen. Had you told me at the end of our first relationship that we would eventually marry, I would have throttled you while laughing derisively. So it goes.
posted by thebrokedown at 11:55 AM on October 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My husband and I dated in college for about a year, and then lost track of each other for eight years, during which time we dated/lived with other people. We bumped into each other by accident 10 years ago, fell in love again, and have been married for seven years, with baby #2 on the way.

I fell in love with him again because of one conversation, in which I discovered how much he had grown and deepened over our years apart. I couldn't stop thinking "WOW!" because he just had such a sexy brain... and because we retained the chemistry that had once been there... and because he made me think and laugh and be comfortable in his presence.

It's still working.

We don't talk about the past -- we each know that the gap exists, but when we talk about the good old days, it's exclusively about what we've shared for the last decade. We don't talk about exes. We talk a lot about our goals as parents and partners, and about concrete ways to achieve them. We don't fight; when I'm mad, I make my point in a sentence or two, and know that he will think about it. We garden and can together, which is our version of a date. We sometimes share books and have great conversations about them.

Every day, I think about the time that I lost with him, and how important it is to do as much loving as I can now that we are together again. I'm grateful for the gap experiences... and I know just how close I came to not finding him again. That knowledge -- that I might so easily have missed out on parenting with him, discovering a city together, living in sin -- gives both a sense of sadness and gratitude that makes the difficult days easier to bear.

I know now what I might have lost. I appreciate what we have.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:14 PM on October 10, 2007 [5 favorites]

allow me to add to the chorus: My folks divorced when I was 11, dated others a little, then got remarried to each other when i was 21, and they're so happy it's sickening. It just took time to grow as people.
posted by tristanshout at 10:39 PM on October 10, 2007

Some people give it a go.
posted by wierdo at 6:43 PM on October 11, 2007

It all depends on if parties want to do it. That's all that ever matters.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:33 PM on October 12, 2007

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