Posted by fxckfeelings on March 15, 2016Share This Post
You can’t stop love from making old flames live in your memory and obsessions, and if you have the kind of brain that tends to make personal connections easily, your ex can feel like a phantom limb that you head and heart still feel long after he’s gone. Instead of waiting forever for the memories to fade before dating again, however, learn how to define the kind of future relationship that you think would be good for you, regardless of how much you long for your ex. There are ways to resume your search, even if your heart isn’t in it and your phantom feelings are.
Like so many people, I am struggling to get over a serious past relationship whose ghost just won’t go away. My ex-boyfriend and I had a five-year-long relationship that I confidently assumed would lead to a life together. We had a very pleasant daily life, enjoyed frequent activities with a circle of friends and shared values, important life events and love. Unfortunately, he was unable to move past the boyfriend/girlfriend stage, was never able to clearly communicate why to me (although I’m sure his parents’ snobbish disapproval of me had something to do with it), and a year ago we made the decision to end our relationship. This was an painful process that I am still not completely over— I feel rejected, insulted and strung along, not to mention robbed of my future with him for unfair and unfounded reasons. In the midst of and despite this grieving, a platonic friendship of mine transformed into more, and became serious rather quickly. This new person loves me in the way I always wanted my ex to love me— makes me a priority over his job and himself when needed, spends time on our relationship, spends time with me and his family together to make sure they understand who I am and enjoy being around me. It’s just … I pine for my old life with my ex daily. I know in my rational brain that there are very good reasons why I am not with my ex anymore. I just can’t seem to remember them. I actively dread the day when I will run into him in town with the new woman his parents finally approve of. I feel guilty when I have these thoughts, because I know I am very lucky to have found a new person who has an open heart that’s full of love for me, but I also can’t help but wonder if I was too hasty with my ex, if we could have compromised somehow. This conflict is distracting on multiple levels and keeping me from moving forward. My goal is to get over these feelings of rejection and resentment as soon as possible, and begin to fully appreciate the new person in my life the way he deserves.
There are good reasons why people who have a capacity for good relationships have trouble giving up bad ones, most obviously because they have a capacity for long-term attachment that their ex-partner just doesn’t have. When they break up, the one who cares more hurts more and for a longer time, even if they did much less to actually cause the hurt.
In any case, the fact that your pain lingers doesn’t mean that you’re confused or don’t know what you’re doing. It’s just a reflection of your greater capacity to invest in relationships, and a sign that you need to develop better techniques for evaluating and possibly ignoring that trait when your investment doesn’t pan out.
Your observations about your new boyfriend’s strengths indicate that you actually saw many red flags of non-commitment and weakness in your old boyfriend’s behavior but were unable, for a long time, to act on this wisdom. Over-attachment made you disregard those warning signs back then and it distracts you now.
Of course, you shouldn’t continue your relationship with your new boyfriend if you don’t love him. If, however, you really get along well, he seems to possess the right kinds of values, and he’s committed in all the ways your prior love wasn’t, then treat your continued afterthoughts as a kind of OCD. They’re an obsessive-yet-meaningless rumination that your brain keeps spitting out, requiring management, not validation.
Assuming that your current boyfriend truly does meet your overall job description for what you require in a partner, you need to work hard to ignore overthinking about your old flame. Read up on cognitive treatments for OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and consider hiring a therapist to help you manage intrusive thoughts. Don’t ask yourself why you have these thoughts, because that promotes rumination, or whether you’re doing yourself a disservice by ignoring them, because you already know that nothing positive has or could come from them. Instead, find behavioral ways of distracting yourself when thoughts intrude, such as getting exercise, volunteering, or adopting a particularly neurotic pet.
You may well have found a good match after a sad experience that’s hard to get over and easy to idealize. It’s too bad you can’t feel happier, but, what’s more important, at least in the long run, is to take advantage of your good luck with your new boyfriend, build a life together, and let go of your ex and your regretful thoughts, no matter how long it takes.
“I feel I should be happier, given the great relationship I’ve found, but sometimes happiness is not possible even when my luck is good. I won’t let ruminations interfere with my decisions about my new boyfriend and our bright future together.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname