Dear Virginia, Do you ever get over a broken heart? I went out with someone 10 years ago - I'm 30 now - and I can't forget him. I lost my virginity to him, got pregnant and then had an abortion. Eventually he dropped me. I go out with people now, but always hark back to this one man. Getting in touch with him might make things worse, but I can't go on like this. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Lynn

My theory, for what it's worth, is that we all start off life with a broken heart. From the very moment that we experience the separation from our mother's womb, we're aching to get back that feeling of union with another. The first cry is the cry of anguish at separation.

Our childhoods are spent trying to recreate this closeness. And if we have good relationships with our parents, we can do it. No, it will never be quite the bliss we experienced in the womb, but it'll be good enough.

For others, however, the closeness never comes in a satisfactory way, and we are left always associating love with unfulfilled longing and, often, abuse. No fun of course, but until we realise what we're doing, it's hard to get out of such an ingrained pattern.

So I suspect that you, Lynn, chose this man - who sounds absolutely ghastly to anyone outside the situation - precisely because he could offer you just what you wanted. He offered you hurt and rejection, all the things that you experienced when you were young and longing for closeness, and which you associated, because you knew nothing else, with love.

How can you get over it? Partly by growing up, and I don't mean that in a brutal kind of "For God's sake! Grow up!" way but rather, in starting to understand that what you are yearning for is not, in fact, this loathsome bloke but, rather, your mum or dad.

I know this all sounds horrible therapy-speak, but one resorts to any model - and in this case I think it's a goodish model - to try to heal the agonising pain of lost love.

There is another way that might help, however, and it's the dangerous one you've been considering. And that is to risk meeting him again. Ten years have passed by since you last came across this bloke. A lot will have changed in both your lives. I've certainly met old loves I've yearned for all my life, only to discover ghastly, selfish, blokes with beer bellies and, in one case, with hair sinisterly darker than when we had been going out together. And, even if he does succeed in hurting you once again, perhaps your reaction this time would be different to the last time. At 30, you may have access to more rage than you had when you were 20 and still only a child. You might find that when he sticks the boot in yet again, you could say to yourself: "Enough! This is the last straw!" and manage to shake him off at last.

His memory will come creeping back occasionally. Only the other day I found myself weeping over a lost love, only, luckily, to wake up and remember what a little shit he was in real life. But the pain wasn't really anything to do with him. It was the memory of the feeling of what I imagined we had together.

Though the longing will never go away completely, it does get easier. Why not, this year, make it your mission to try to exorcise this man, either by searching self-examination or by confrontation. I'd try confrontation first. There's no sweeter sound than the clunking, on the ground, of the scales as they fall from your eyes.

Readers say...

Go to relate

Like you, 10 years after breaking up with someone, I was still not over him. A friend advised me to go to Relate. They will allow you to discuss what happened, help you to understand why you have held on to the thought of this man for so long, and give you the courage to move on. It will be painful but well worth the effort.

Karen McMullan, Ballyclare

'Divorce' him

Of course people get over a broken heart! The only reason you haven't is because you're angry with this guy for "taking" your virginity, getting you pregnant, letting you go through an abortion, and then dropping you. Ever since, you've been telling yourself it's intolerable to be treated like that and he ought to make it up to you - and punishing every other man who dares come near you with the same rejection he dished out to you. If you make this man responsible for your future happiness, you'll never get over your broken heart.

Divorce him straight away! Draw up a decree absolute and sign it. He took your past, don't let him have your future as well. One failed relationship doesn't define who you are.

Irene de Beer, Brighton

Ask him out

If he is still single contact him and invite him out for a drink for old time's sake. If he refuses, then you must accept that it he isn't interested. If he accepts, you may find that he is vastly different to the picture you have in your mind and this may convince you to let go of the past and get on with your life.

It may be that you will still feel the same way about him and he may be interested in resuming the relationship. There is the chance that he is not interested but it is a risk worth taking. This is something that you need to find out before you can move on with your life.

If he is happily married or in a relationship, then you must accept that he is not the man for you. Once you know where you stand then you can look forward.

Linda Acaster, Leicester

It's human nature

We all think about people that we have had relationships with - it's only human nature. I was similar about my first love. What changed things for me was meeting him again. I had only remembered all the good things. When I saw him I was less than impressed. In real life he was nothing like the perfect image I had created and I suddenly recalled all the reasons why I was better off without him.

Rebecca Jackson, Oakham

Imagine a meeting

Lynn asks if she will ever get over her broken heart. In short, not completely, but the pain does lessen so that you can lead a normal life. Two things helped me when I was dumped by my girlfriend. A friend asked me to remember fondly the love that my girlfriend and I shared. He said that nothing that ever happened in the future, whether she went on to marry her new guy and have children and live happily without me, could ever take away the love we had.

The second thing is that I imagined meeting her and talking it over together. We told each other what we meant to one another, we cried a bit over our shared loss, and said what out hopes were for the other person. While actually getting in touch might make things worse, imagining it could help.

Chris Moorhouse, by email

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia, Our 20-year-old daughter is living at home, having dropped out of university. She's always been a problem and not nearly as talented as her younger brother. She seems very angry and confused and refuses to talk about anything. My husband's getting fed up and wants to kick her out to earn her own living, but I feel reluctant. What do you think? Yours, Valerie

Send letters by Thursday to 'The Independent', 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182; or email dilemmas@independent.co.uk, with postal address. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a medium box of Grand Collection truffles from Montezuma's (www.montezumas.co.uk).

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