Both Feet In!

whatsbehindyouI got an email last week from a woman who’s dating a guy “on the rebound.” Not long ago, she ended a relationship with someone who didn’t make time for her when they were together, because he was always busy racing out the door to go running, or to the gym, or to meet up with his buddies. When she talked to him about it he’d repeat back to her what she’d said to make sure he understood, but that’s as far as it went. She said he’d read a book and learned this technique, but I’m thinking he didn’t read all the way to the end. They’d have a talk, and then he’d mirror back what was bothering her, and then he’d go running. The only time she had his attention is when he traveled on business. Then he’d want her on the phone all day and night, because he was off in some hotel room feeling lonely. So finally she ended it, but she was broken up about it. Because she had a vision of this guy, of how things could have been between them if only he wanted to be there. She kept waiting for the guy he seemed to be the first three weeks they dated, but that guy never came back. So finally she accepted it wasn’t going to happen for them and she threw in the towel and I guess that got his attention, because he was totally blown away. Even though she’d talked and he’d listened and verified what he heard. Somehow he didn’t hear her main message, which was, “This isn’t working for me.”

So now she’s with this new guy she likes, but her ex is devastated and he’s calling her and emailing and texting all the time. Part of her is soaking it up because it’s what she’d wanted so much when they were together. Part of her is relieved to know he does care and another part of her thinks it’s just his ego because there’s another guy in the picture, and if she didn’t have a boyfriend, maybe her ex wouldn’t be feeling this desperation to have her back. It’s making her doubt her current relationship, too. And it doesn’t help that her new boyfriend also has a recent ex. Here’s the thing. Rebounding is common, but it’s not a fabulous idea if you can help it, because you get this weird mixed bag of heartache over what ended, and the headiness of something new. You don’t give yourself enough time to process and mourn the loss of what you had, so it follows you right into your next relationship. And lost in that mix might be the very lesson you need to learn and carry forward, but it’s hard to see clearly when you’re running too fast.

If you want to move forward, you have to stop grasping at what’s behind you. Our friend told me her ex has asked to meet her on several occasions, and she’s had tea with him three times. She wants to comfort him, but the object of a person’s unattainable desire cannot be the source of comfort. Every time she meets with him, he gets a sense of false hope and it seems she is on the fence. Part of her feels she gave the relationship plenty of time and countless chances and another part is wondering if maybe one more would do it. Maybe now that he’s felt the loss of her he’d get it together. She’s had these teas with the knowledge of her new boyfriend, who also accepts calls from his ex, which usually deteriorate into screaming matches. So they’re not off to a bang-up start.

People cling to the past in all kinds of ways. It’s not always an old romantic relationship, sometimes it goes back a lot farther than that. People hold onto their pain and their stories of why they are the way they are because they’re familiar. Sometimes familiar pain is easier to deal with than the unknown of who am I without that stuff? What would it look like if I forged something new? Anything you feed will grow and strengthen. If you want to be happy and you want to be at peace, feeding your pain is not the way.

It’s complicated enough for two people to get to know each other. To take the time, and feel things out, and start to open. You need trust to do that, it’s not going to happen in a crazy, unstable environment, where neither party knows from day to day which ex is going to show up, and how nuts it’s going to get. If you’ve ended something, presumably there’s a reason. Probably more than one. Giving yourself the time to grieve is really ideal, but not everything in life is ideal, and sometimes beauty can grow from a situation that has a bumpy beginning. Having said that, if you didn’t handle your ending well, if you weren’t completely honest, if you didn’t communicate as things bothered you, then do your best to clean up the mess. It’s not kind or compassionate to leave someone holding the bag with no explanation. Once you’ve done that, you really will have to let go at some point so you can move forward and your ex can as well. If it’s a more complicated situation, divorce with children for example, the whole thing changes because your ex will be in your life forever, and you’re going to need to figure out how to be friends if at all possible. Or how to co-parent effectively if that’s not an option, and in a way where your feelings of pain, anger and grief affect your children to the smallest degree possible. There’s a whole post I could write about that.

Short of that, though, kindness is the thing. Sometimes it’s possible to be friends with someone you were close to; I’m friends with most of my exes with a couple of glaring exceptions. But that’s usually not possible unless a good amount of time has gone by, and both parties have moved on. If you go directly from one thing into another and carry your ex along for the ride, if you participate in the drama, you can’t be surprised when things get crazy. If you want peace and you want to move forward and explore something new, at some point you are going to have to release what’s behind you and release yourself and all the people involved from the grip of the unhealthy dynamic. If you don’t, everyone is going to have a tough time breathing, everyone is going to feel strangled by doubt and uncertainty. You can’t expect trust to bloom in a greenhouse full of nuts. Most people who go back for third, fourth, or fifth chances remember within three hours why it ended. If you really have doubts, I suppose you may have to consider a Round 8. But if you know in your heart it’s over, let it be over.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Leave a Reply