Before Sunrise is the screen romance that defined a generation. It’s the story about backpackers Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) who met on a train and felt an instant and powerful connection. In persuading Celine to spend the day with him, Jesse asks her to imagine 10 years in the future when she’s married and starting to think about the guys she met and missed out upon. "I’m one of those guys. Think of this as time travel".
He’s irresistible, so they spend a day together in Vienna talking about life, love, sex, God, identity, career, marriage and everything else in between. In the rare silences, their longing for each other is so exquisite it hurts.
In the sequel, Before Sunset, they meet again nine years later to discover they are both, indeed, the ‘one that got away’. After a lot more talk, their thwarted love is realised.
I am of the generation who loved those movies. But we are now at the stage where the weddings have stopped and the divorces have begun. Many of my newly single friends express wonder and horror at having to rebuild their love life and a few decide rather than build, they will renovate. This involves reconnecting with a long lost love; a love as familiar, comforting and beautiful as a favourite movie of their youth. Some have rediscovered a relationship while others have reconnected with a love affair that never really happened because the timing wasn’t right.
The reconnection of lost loves is now so common it’s got a name. It’s called going ‘retrosexual’ and it’s been made a hell of a lot easier due to the internet and social media.
Developmental Psychology Professor Dr Nancy Kalish reconnected with an old college boyfriend in 1993 and has been exploring retrosexuality ever since. In the 90s she surmised that 10 percent of people have tried to find their lost love but has become much more common thanks to social media. Dr Kalish surveyed 3000 people across 42 countries, aged from 18 to 91, mostly straight and found the majority of the couples felt they had ‘unfinished business’ because they had been pulled apart by parents, war or circumstance.
In her book, she collates rediscovered passion – couples saying they ‘couldn’t stop holding each other’, of being ‘hit by a lightning bolt of passion’, of ‘talking like nothing else mattered’, of ‘destiny’, ‘physical aching’ for each other, of a ‘magical, intense, soul connection that was frightening in its intensity and primal’.
I understood the power of retrosexual relationships after reading Catherine Deveny’s novel, The Happiness Show. Her heroine, Lizzie, bumps into an old flame from her 20s and, in doing so, reconnects with her days of backpacking freedom. Lizzie falls in love with the person she used to be; a person alive with possibilities.
Reconnections are powerful because they sweep couples back to powerful emotions of their own past (regret, desire, first love, lost chances) while at the same time propelling them into a new future. It’s time travel but not as Ethan Hawke even imagined.
The reclaiming of her teenage love didn’t work for Dr Nancy Kalish, yet, of her original study group, 72 percent of reunited couples stayed together. However, in recent years, she’s found retrosexuals are more likely to be cheating than establishing new relationships.
Even so, it’s an interesting use of technology that’s in some ways opposite to dating websites like RSVP or hook up apps like Grindr. Retrosexuals are not seeking the thrill of the new but a rediscovery of desire. They are fuelled by the power of longing and a need to connect with a lover with a common past and known history. Perhaps, in a rapidly changing world where we often feel lost and insecure, rediscovering an old love has the pull of passion and the flame of familiarity. It’s also a rare opportunity to fix the past; to mend old hurts and connect two phases of life.
Age does not weary lost love. In fact, it seems to strengthen the success of hooking back up. Nancy Kalish found the success of the reunions increased with age. She even talked to a couple reunited after 75 years of separation who married on the woman’s 95th birthday. If you, like me, adore the idea of old love watch this.
Filmmaker Danielle Lurie boarded a plane from California to Washington and met 81-year-old Jack flying across the country to meet his high school sweetheart Betty. The short film about what happened next has been watched over a million times on YouTube. Danielle stayed in touch and last she heard the oldyweds were still together.
Before Sunrise director Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have now completed the trilogy. Before Midnight is set in Greece where the couple are on holidays with their children. I’ve put off seeing the film; nervous to see if the couple who found each other after years of separation have lost love over the years of being together. The first two movies were about romantic projection, the third is the opposite; it’s about reality. And that’s the nerve-wracking thing about reconnecting with old loves – perhaps they are best preserved as perfect and in the past.
But I’d love to hear your stories of otherwise …