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Old flames reunited make the most lasting marriages

The rekindling of young love after many years apart is the key to long-lasting wedded bliss, researchers say.

The rekindling of young love after many years apart is the key to long-lasting wedded bliss, researchers say.

A study in the United States found that people who rekindled youthful romances at least five years after they had split up had a 76 per cent chance of staying together, compared with a 40 per cent chance of successful marriage in the rest of the population. The study is the first done on people reunited with a lost lover after years apart.

Nancy Kalish and colleagues from California State University found it was not just the nostalgia of ageing that made people look for their first love. The average age of those involved in the reunions was 36.

Older couples attributed their success to having re-found their soulmates and to increased maturity. Some 55 per cent chose to reunite with someone they loved when they were 17 or younger - their first love - and 29 per cent chose a former sweetheart from late adolescence.

The researchers found the most common reason for the initial romance breaking up was parental disapproval, accounting for 25 per cent of cases. Other frequent reasons included "We were too young" (11 per cent), "Moved away" (11 per cent) and "Left to attend school" (7 per cent). None of those who took part in the study said the relationship ended because they were not getting on.

Professor Kalish said: "Perhaps absence really does make the heart grow fonder. These were not the 10-minute loves that adults often attribute to teenagers." More than one-third of the initial romances had lasted 13 months to three years. Some 15 per cent had lasted four or five years and 12 per cent more than five years.

Many of those who were reunited said that they resented their parents belittling these early romances, calling them crushes or puppy love. Professor Kalish said: "Many reported great bitterness towards parents for breaking them apart years earlier. This research may serve as a cautionary tale for today's parents to think twice before they interfere with a teen's romance or dismiss it as 'just puppy love'."

The professor said curiosity or finding their first love by chance caused problems for some people. "A person may not have thought of cheating on a spouse - he or she may play around on a computer at work one day, type the name of the first love as a lark and out pops the e-mail address."

Professor Kalish found that innocent e-mails did not remain innocent for long: 71 per cent of respondents reported obsessive and compulsive thoughts about their lost love.

The professor said: "The couples' first love had endured throughout their many years apart, and in the case of widows and widowers, often through very happy intervening marriages. However, given the high extramarital [affairs] rate, married people should be cautioned not to contact a lost love."

An example of young love rekindled is provided by June Chapman and Eric Turner. Ms Chapman was 16 when she met Mr Turner at the aircraft factory where they worked. They became sweethearts and dated for three years before Mr Turner left their home town of Swindon, Wiltshire, to begin his National Service. Letters were exchanged but after a year the two lost touch. Over the next 50 years they both married and were widowed before being reunited last year.

Mr Turner proposed in October. Ms Chapman said: "Eric and I met in 1950 and from the moment we began dating I knew we were made for each other. We had so much fun - Eric was always making me laugh." Ms Chapman married and had two children. "John and I ran the pub for over 35 happy years but... I never forgot about Eric. Every time I heard our song, 'Jealous Heart', by Connie Francis, I recalled the first time Eric kissed me."

After her husband died of a stroke she met an old friend by chance and they reminisced about their teenage years. "A couple of weeks later I was serving at the bar when a voice I'd not heard for nearly 40 years asked me if there was any chance of a pint. I looked up and there was Eric, the hair was greyer and the face a little more wrinkled but other than that he was just as handsome as ever," Ms Chapman said.

After six months they moved in together. "Our relationship is just as passionate and physical as before, although now we've lost all of our teenage inhibitions," she said.

Mr Turner said that his first marriage was wonderful but his wife, Gwen, died of a heart attack when she was 58. "June was my first love and I never forgot her. When I saw June again the old feelings came rushing back. I wasn't going to let her go a second time," he said.