Caroline West-Meads: I can’t forget my first love after 60 years

Caroline West-Meads
Chris O’Donovan

Q. When I was 17, I met a student teacher while at college and he changed my life. He was the first boy to walk me home, a mile from town, and then walk five miles back to his house. He was always happy and good company. We quickly became very close and got on so well. He told me he was 23 which shocked me but he said although it seemed a big difference then, that when I was 20 and he was 26, it would be fine. He was really loving and affectionate and we were very happy together. Then he went away for six weeks in the summer and asked me if I would write to him. We exchanged loving letters, but then they stopped just before he was due to come back. When he returned I contacted him to see if we could meet at the college dance and he said his parents were visiting which I knew was just an excuse. I saw him many times afterwards as he sang in a band, but although he was never with anyone he had obviously met someone else. He was friendly but the feeling had gone. I am now 74, happily married and have three grown-up children yet I still think about this man. He would be 80 now and I long to know if he is still alive and what happened to him. Why can’t I get him out of my mind? I met him in 1963 and last saw him in 1965, yet I still cannot forget him. What is wrong with me and why do I still think of him after all this time?

A. Perhaps one reason you are not able to forget this man is because he was your first love, and you have never had an explanation for why he stopped seeing you. This can make it hard to accept when a relationship is over, and there can be a feeling of ‘what if’ that is hard to shift. While 17 and 23 is not a big age gap, these are different stages of life. I suspect that he might have ended it because he was a teacher and you were a schoolgirl. Perhaps he realised that this was not quite right or maybe someone said something to him. He sounds lovely and a gentleman, but since 2001 it has been illegal for a teacher to have a relationship with anyone under 18 as this is a situation that could be open to an abuse of power. Another reason why you may not be able to forget him is that as people get into their older years, it is easier to look back on happy memories than to look forward. You have idealised him in your memories and are fantasising not just about the relationship but your own lost youth, too, which is understandable. This is especially true if you feel a little unfulfilled (which is possible even in a happy marriage). I am not sure that it would be a good idea to contact him. If he was still alive, you might be very disappointed that he was not how you remembered or you could be terribly hurt if he had not thought of you as you have of him. Leave it as a happy memory.

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He’s grieving, but his constant calls are too much

Q. Both my in-laws sadly died recently aged just 75. My husband, 51, organised their funerals and cleared their houses (they were divorced). He says that he is doing ‘fine’, and is sad but coping. However, his brother, who’s 55, is phoning multiple times a day, sobbing and saying he cannot cope. My husband suggested he speak to his GP, but his brother replied, ‘Don’t tell me what to do, just listen.’ He is married with three adult sons, two of whom still live with him. I’m getting to the stage where I want to put my husband’s phone on silent. He is still dealing with his mother’s estate – piles of paperwork and long delays because of Covid. What can we do to help his brother?

A. I’m sorry. This is so sad for your husband and his brother – and for you. It is a tricky situation because your husband wants to support his brother but his needs are too much. Your brother-in-law may just want someone to listen – often grieving people simply want to talk, and anger is normal – but I think he might need some professional help. The difficulty is getting him to accept this. Ultimately, your husband needs to tell him as gently as possible that, while he is happy to listen, he is finding the constant phone calls distressing. He could say that he wants to offer support but that his brother needs more help than he can give. Could you also involve his wife and together explain that he seems depressed and should see his GP? You can get further support from Cruse (sueryder.org), Marie Curie (sueryder.org) and Sue Ryder (sueryder.org).