I'm in a New Relationship, But I Can't Stop Thinking About an Ex
I know I'll be happy and loved with my current boyfriend, but I find myself wondering what it would have been like with Him?
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A BIG SWEETIE:
Just before I met my current boyfriend, I was having a fun summer of dating, including with a guy I had been speaking on and off with for a few years. This guy's name always gets a groan from my friends because the saga has gone on for so long. For some reason, we often fell out of touch. He has a job that sends him all over the place and he doesn't have much of a work-life balance, so he would disappear for a few weeks or even months at a time. Sometimes I would anticipate what was coming and stop talking to him first. It was a bad cycle.
It felt all consuming when we were together. We had so many similar interests, I found him extremely attractive, and it was just great sex. I'm cringing typing this, but it really did feel like a romcom at times. There was one night where I had just gotten off the subway at a stop I'm not usually at, and there he was standing on the platform exactly where my door opened. We ended up going for a late night walk, talking about life, and I think I fell in love. In those periods where we were talking, we could text all day about anything. I wanted him so badly, but he would never take it further and I was scared of rejection.
I decided to stop waiting for him to want me enough. After our last date I could sense he was pulling away, so I resolved to open myself up to other romantic interests. A few weeks later and I was on a date with my current boyfriend, he very quickly made it clear he wanted us to be together, and we have been together since. With my boyfriend, I just know that he's the right person for me. The relationship has grown into one of the most loving and fulfilling experiences of my life. I didn't have a happy childhood, so it feels like I'm learning what it is to be really loved by someone for the first time.
The guy gets back in touch a few months in, but I swiftly explain that I'm in a relationship and shut it down. A year later, he tries to follow me on Instagram late at night (cue eye roll, men), which I ignore. A few months ago I was at an art gallery in a completely different city, where by chance, a piece by his sister was on display. It bothered me. I felt like the world was trying to send a message. He got in touch again not long after and I entertained it this time. It was amicable, he knew I was still seeing my boyfriend, but we talked at length just like the old times. I felt bold and asked him why it didn't work, but he gave me an unsatisfying answer about being useless. It stayed on my mind - and when I went out last week, I drunk texted him to try and get the real answer out. He couldn't explain it fully, but suggested that he got the similar feeling I wasn't interested, and he liked me so much he didn't know what to do. He told me he would at least like to stay friends, and said he would coincidentally be in my new city for work soon. I woke up the next morning realizing I'd made a huge mistake and knew I had to slam the door on it shut, as it was bordering on hurtful to everyone involved. I explained we couldn't be friends and wished him well.
Sophia, I feel like I'm going through heartbreak and I can't explain it to anyone. I know that the world doesn't work this way, but it felt like our lives kept being pulled together and for some stupid reason or other, we couldn't make it work. It felt fine when I was newly in a relationship, but now it's gotten to that point in my life where everyone is starting to settle down and I have all these big choices ahead of me. I know I'll be happy and loved with my current boyfriend, and we've talked all about houses and kids, but I find myself wondering what it would have been like with Him? The rational part of my brain reminds me of the anxiety I regularly felt when he was about to go AWOL, but I often re-examine the evidence to see if it was all my fault. I have to stop ruminating on this one as it's driving a wedge in my relationship, but I really don't know how. I don't feel very deserving of love from anyone right now.
In the words of Peter Kavinsky: Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa!!!!
You have a lot of very Classic Stuff happening right now. Tons of it. You are knee deep in some really Classic Being Alive Shit. And of course to you—as is true for all of us—it feels like an emergency, a real emergency1. (Siri, play “The Way I Loved You”).
First and foremost, I feel compelled to tell you something I discovered The Hard Way. When the reasons you like/love/want to bang someone are little life signs, you are probably being swindled. By yourself. There’s a joke that I think was in Scrubs that I can’t find online because google has gotten really bad and SEO ruined all of our lives, but the joke is, as I remember it from 10+ years ago, that JD says he’s going to tell a girl he’s dating that he’s allergic to the same thing she is allergic to because “girls always like shit like that” or something. (Nota bene: I probably got all of that wrong because I’m going off memory).
The sexist point of the joke is that basically all of us think it’s really cool when someone has the same birthday as our mom but like… 1/365 people or so have the same birthday as your mom. It’s normal. It’s not fate! It’s coincidence! We are, at the end of the day, not all that different from those pigeons that B.F. Skinner made superstitious.
This doesn’t mean you’re a Bozo Clown or anything for being filled with yearning for a turbulent affair of your past. Nothing but nothing beats looking back on a wildly thrilling and ultimately devastating romance. Why? Because—and you get very closes to saying this yourself—anxiety feels a whole lot like passion. I have used this metaphor before and I am guaranteed to use it again, but all of this is why rollercoasters are so fun to be on— FOR A SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME. Actual, real love feels more like sitting in an armchair by the fire. Of course sitting in an arm chair is not nearly as much funnnnnnnnn as Space Mountain. Another metaphor in case you were like, “Hey can she do another bad metaphor? Please?” Real long term love is like eating a perfect bowl of oatmeal for breakfast every morning. And sexy, frantic affairs are like Pop Rocks. Pop Rocks are fun!!! But you do not want them for breakfast!
All the warning signs that your emotions for that ex are flimsy and anxiety-based are in your letter. You literally used the words “all-consuming” which is the most red flag of all time, IMO. (Obviously we want love to be bangin’ hot! And it is! But it is not meant to consume your identity or boundaries!) The guy frankly sounds like kind of a fucko, which is obviously very appealing and easy to romanticize. He will be a useful side character in the story of your life. But please do NOT mistake his sister having made art or him hitting you up late at night for cue that he’s meant to be the Male Lead. NO!
It seems like you’re at least 76% aware of what I already said above. (Not very helpful, Soph!) So now the question is: what the fuck do you do with all these emotions? How do you let go of this? How do you grapple with the sick, twisted truth that each of us only gets to be alive one time. ONE TIME!!!!! I’ve driven a golf cart more times than that! I’ve almost crashed a golf cart more times than that! It’s bullshit! It’s stinky!
Here’s what my advice is: accept that you’re sad about it. Accept that some of the sadness is you not ending up with this ex, sure. But also, do what AI is doing right now2 and zoom out to the bigger picture. What precisely is sad about this? What is making your heart lurch? What is making you ache with grief? What have you lost? Because my suspicion is that it’s less about This Guy and more about the feelings of excitement. Of the unknown. Of “passion.3”
How do you get novelty back in your life without it being about DMing this weiner at 2am? What else makes you feel a little lemon curl of pleasure? What makes you not feel like life is just one long game of Monopoly that you wanted to quit playing three hours and five landing-on-Baltic-Avenues ago?
Your current boyfriend does not have to be the answer. Or all of the answer. You feeling like you’re missing out on something— and having a longing for a past romantic excitement— is not evidence that your current situation is secretly, slowly rotting in the vegetable drawer. Some people in our lives loom LARGE romantically, no matter the role they end up playing. I mean, one of the most devastating romantic situations in my life was with someone I never even hooked up with!!! IMAGINE MY FEELINGS OF PATHETICNESS!
Allow yourself some private wallowing. Watch movies that push on the bruise. Journal about how much this shit sucks. And do your very, very, very best to separate all of this from your relationship. Draw some hard lines. Fake it until your brain lets go of these intrusive thoughts about your ex. Go on extra date nights. Take a bath together. Buy him a small, thoughtful gift for no good reason. Pour good energy into your current, lovely, wonderful relationship.
And then accept and make peace with the sour apple jolly rancher that is always going to sit in your heart about this other affair. It’s ok. It’s not poison. It’s not unfaithfulness. It’s just… longing for something else. You do not have to give into longing or “signs from the universe.” It’s ok to feel pangs from time to time. AND YOU WILL! We all do! You do not have to submit to pangs! You can just be like, “Yeah that was fun.” Or “Yeah, that move was hot.”
Also, I want to tell you this, and I might be totally wrong. But usually when you build a life with a partner who can’t figure out how to tell you that he likes you and wants to be with you IT’S NOT THAT GREAT! Kids?? With a man who can’t explain himself enough to keep dating you? No thank you! No!!!
You will be fine. It doesn’t matter how much of this was or wasn’t your fault. You deserve love, but right now you also have to give some extra love out to your current partner. Try not to focus on yourself too much. (I know that advice sounds odd, but sometimes when I’m in rumination mode, I become rather self-absorbed, which never actually cheers me up). Talk to the people you love. Ask them about their lives. Don’t worry about that one random tab in your brain that you can’t close. It’s ok. You’ll be able to minimize it soon. This is not going to eat you alive. I swear.
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at email@example.com.
This is the dumbest footnote of my life. You should not read this footnote. But basically my friends in college watched a lot of Tim & Eric sketches and they once did a commercial for Shrek The Third and one of the lines was “It’s an emergency! A real emergency!” and that line has stuck with me in a way that no line from poetry ever has. (Skip to minute 2:55 if you’re sick).
I fucking HATE AI and I think it should be burned to the ground and I think its existence is anti-human and hostile to life and devastating. So don’t actually do anything with AI pls.
Sorry to be a barf bag, but I think passion is kind of fake. Willing to be wrong about this if I see a really hot person soon.