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by Abigail Van Buren

Fanning Old Flame Can Create Fire That Burns

DEAR ABBY: I read with great interest your answer to "Concerned in Florida," who was worried that her husband might rekindle a romance with his former high school flame (and later his fiancee), a woman they both see socially from time to time. You advised her that such a romance would be highly unlikely, since "Concerned" has had 40 years of a good marriage and so has the old flame.

Abby, your conclusion certainly sounds reasonable, but it is incorrect. I have spent the last four years researching more than 1,000 couples worldwide who have reunited after many years apart. I have learned that these reunions are quite common, and the flame can reignite at any point. One couple had been separated for 63 years!

As I reported in my book, "Lost and Found Lovers: Facts and Fantasies of Rekindled Romances," overall, 72 percent of these renewed loves stayed together, and the percentage was even higher if they had been first loves. These are very stable, joyous and sexually passionate relationships the second time around. However, you should inform your readers that over 30 percent of these couples began their reunions while one (or both) of them was married to someone else!

These lovers often tell me -- sometimes between sobs -- that they are in good marriages and love their spouses; they NEVER intended to find themselves in affairs. The lost lovers met again innocently, often with their spouses present, and none was prepared for the "old feelings" to return full force. They feel torn between their marriages and their lost-and-found lovers -- but not for long. Rekindled romances are emotional steamrollers; they choose the old flame in most cases, leaving their bewildered, devastated spouses behind.

My research project is the only study of lost-and-found lovers ever conducted. For the first time, there are norms for these renewed romances.

My advice, based on my years of study, is to encourage single, divorced or widowed individuals to look for sweethearts or old friends from their past, but to strongly discourage married people from doing so.

Abby, please warn your readers that there is NOTHING safe about meeting with a former sweetheart, no matter how innocent the intentions, or how many years have passed, or how strong the marriage seems to be.

If "Concerned in Florida" invites her husband's old flame to his surprise birthday party, she might get badly burned. -- NANCY KALISH, PH.D., PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, SACRAMENTO, CALIF.

DEAR DR. KALISH: Thank you for informing me of what has to have been a fascinating study, and for wanting to warn my readers. In the light of your research, I would like to formally retract my advice to "Concerned in Florida." In the future I will warn my married readers that old flames are potentially combustible: They can ignite without warning, and leave a marriage in ashes.

So, don't play with fire!

DEAR ABBY: May I add my story to your acts of kindness?

Two years ago, a friend who now lives in Israel came to visit me with her family. I had known her from my hometown back in Orleans, France. One evening, while I was surrounded by my grown children and my husband, she told me a story that I had never heard. She said my father (Leon Levenson), now deceased, had saved the lives of her entire family -- seven people -- during World War II by helping them hide their Jewish identity in order to avoid being killed by the invading Nazis.

After hearing this story, I realized that my father, who was short in stature, had been a giant among men and was truly one of those "unsung heroes" who never tell their stories.

I thank God for the opportunity to have known such a person in my lifetime. -- BETIE NEWTON, GLENDALE, ARIZ.

DEAR MRS. NEWTON: And I thank God that we're living in a country where people will never encounter the horror that was faced by your friend and your father. He was a man of great courage and conviction. Thank you for writing.

For Abby's favorite family recipes, send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet No. 1, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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