Fantasizing About an Ex
November 8, 2004 1:12 PM   Subscribe

How do you ween yourself from fantasizing about an ex? I'm a twentysomething female who was in a long distance, long term (4+ years) relationship that recently went sour. Basically, the biggest problem had to do with sex (I still wanted my partner but he apparently lost interest in me physically). Now, I'm good when it comes to making a clean break in the manifested-social-interaction sense; I don't stalk or google exes or call them up randomly just to be "friends" or initiate contact ever after break ups. But in this case, I can't stop myself from wanting this person in my head. When I daydream/fantasize sexually, he is always my partner and everything is what I wished it had been but wasn't in the last month or so of our relationship. I would prefer it if people offered me constructive ways to stop doing this rather than telling me I should just accept it--it is painful for me and I just want to move on through and through, inside and out. Dating (rebounding to forget him) isn't really the answer either--I have made a well-thought-out decision to remain single for a while as I get myself together on my own terms. I'm hoping there's something besides just the whole "time heals all wounds" adage that can help me get through this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Find someone new to have sex with. You don't have to date them. A 20-something female has all the options in the world in this scenario. Good luck. I've felt your pain. Nothing cleanses it like some action.
posted by scarabic at 1:21 PM on November 8, 2004

Here are some things that helped me...

1 - Concentrate on the fact that he doesn't want you anymore. Yes, it's really painful, but it does a lot to decrease his standing in your eyes (eventually).

2 - Be firm with yourself. Anytime you start to daydream or fantasize - stop, acknowledge that you're doing it, and then ask yourself what good this line of thought will do for you.

3 - Invest in some (new) fun toys for yourself. And then spoil yourself silly. You don't need a guy to have a good time. And you don't need to fantasize about him either. Get some books, watch some porn, watch yourself - anything - so long as you take him out of the equation.

Of course, YMMV...
posted by MsVader at 1:38 PM on November 8, 2004

Get a hobby. Seriously. Throw yourself into something really really difficult. Buy a bunch of books and learn how to be a gourmet cook. Or learn a foreign language. Or teach yourself how to program. Learn a musical instrument. Teach yourself Calculas. Join a theatre group and act in a play. Join Habitat for Humanity and build some houses for poor people. Etc. Etc.
posted by grumblebee at 1:38 PM on November 8, 2004

I don't think distracting yourself with anything other than a new relationship will work. Sorry.
I'm a small business owner ... I'm bootstrapping a startup right now ... and I still find myself fantasizing about my ex from several years ago. She was my first, and to date, for the most part still the best. I'm even more attracted to women of her body type after we broke up than before, and I never would have been before we got together.

Quite honestly, I think fantasizing is harmless. It's not bad, even if you occasionally imagine you're with him when you're with someone else. The one thing you have to watch out for is to make sure that you don't start to think, "Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I tried to get us back together" ... because if he doesn't want you, he doesn't want you.

You should know that there are some good support groups for stuff like this. Check in your area and see if there's a "recently single" meetup in your area.
posted by SpecialK at 1:43 PM on November 8, 2004

Scarabic's (and, on preview, SpecialK's) answer is precisely what all my male friends said to me when I was in a similar situation awhile ago. And I don't at all mean this to harsh on Scarabic or SpecialK or my male friends (stand-up guys, all), but in my experience, the "go and sleep with someone else to distract yourself" advice is largely bullshit at this early stage of the breakup game. Sleeping with someone primarily to try to forget about the person you really want to sleep carries an emotional price that can be difficult to pay. (It also, more to the point, doesn't really address the grief you're feeling over having lost someone you desire.) Anonymous has stated that she's made a conscious decision to be single for awhile -- and simply getting some action can be far from a "cleansing" thing. (Note that I'm absolutely not saying it doesn't work for some people under various circumstances -- just that it rings false for me to suggest it to Anonymous under the circumstances she has specified.)

So what did I do? For awhile, I just let myself not think about sex. Really. I let myself fall out of the habit. I let myself get deeper into the grief. I did a lot of yoga. I figured out non-sexual things to fantasize about as I drifted off to sleep -- the play I was writing at the time, for example, or what was then my upcoming trip to New Zealand. I basically replaced most of my sexual fantasy "time" with other types of fantasy/daydreaming.

Eventually I allowed myself limited daydreaming time about him -- so it wasn't so taboo to think about him, but it was also within my control. I also let myself start considering other people to fantasize about (this, by the way, was the point at which sleeping with someone for fun/distraction was able to be a really positive experience). I resurrected crushes on looong-ago boyfriends who I no longer have any genuine interest in resuming a relationship with, in the real world. I fantasized about a world in which I had to choose between Clive Owen and Paul Weller. Basically, I short-circuited the impulse that inevitably connected the natural impulse for fantasy/daydreaming in general with the specifics of desire for the ex I was missing so terribly deeply.
posted by scody at 1:56 PM on November 8, 2004

I meant to say also that I do totally agree with SpecialK when he says that The one thing you have to watch out for is to make sure that you don't start to think, "Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I tried to get us back together" ... because if he doesn't want you, he doesn't want you. That's where the time limit I put on myself when I did eventually fantasize about him again was useful -- I didn't have time to leap from fantasy into expectation.
posted by scody at 2:00 PM on November 8, 2004

Think long and hard about all the things about him that annoy you (there's bound to be something, no matter how small). Keep focusing on that until that's the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of him. Congratulations, you've now succeeded in poisoning your own mind; despite the negative connotations, this might be a pleasant choice considering your situation.
posted by fvw at 2:43 PM on November 8, 2004

Let me point out that I wasn't trying to say "sleep with someone" ... I wanted to say, "get into a relationship when you feel comfortable again, and that should pull you away from fantasizing about your ex and towards fanatasizing about your current crush."
My theory about human sexuality comes down to one thing: intimacy. We all crave it, for whatever reason. That goes for relationship intimacy -- being able to share your thoughts and feelings and day to day life with a lover -- as much as it does with sexual intimacy, and the day to day intimacy is what you can't replicate on your own. Even though it might be manifesting itself as a sexual need or fantasies, that need for intimacy that we *all* have is still most likely the root.

Also, just as a side note, because i know it's going to come up: *I* don't think there's anything wrong about comparing your exes sexually in your head, just as long as you don't verbalize it in any way. People are naturally different, but no one (man or woman) wants to think that they're the current one in a long line that stretches into the past and future...

Scody, I don't think guys have the same self control about fantasizing about sex that women are capable of. ;) I've *tried* to not think about sex... it just plain don't work! *Insert obligatory oinking of a male pig right here.*
posted by SpecialK at 2:44 PM on November 8, 2004

I would second the idea that "get involved with someone else" (sexually or just romantically) is a rather masculine strategy for this sort of situation. I really don't think it's such a great across-the-board solution for a woman.

What helped me was stopping myself from talking about an ex (though my motivation was really to keep from boring my friends to death for months and months after the break-up). I told myself I could think about him, but I couldn't bring him (or the break-up) up in conversation. It forced me to think about other things so that I'd have something to talk about, which eventually made me stop thinking about him so much. Plus it's easier, somehow, to make the change in order not to annoy your friends rather than in some abstract attempt to stop yourself.

If that doesn't work, you might also try meditation -- just quieting your mind for 10-20 minutes a day. I think that forcing the voices in your head to be absolutely quiet for a short period every day makes it easier to selectively quiet them at other times. Yoga Journal has some great articles about meditation.
posted by occhiblu at 2:59 PM on November 8, 2004

Scody, I don't think guys have the same self control about fantasizing about sex that women are capable of. ;) I've *tried* to not think about sex... it just plain don't work!

Actually, it was kind of tricky for me, too -- in some ways I think the only reason I was able to manage it this time around was that it was a side effect of all the depression and grief. (If someone had told me a few years ago, "try not to think about sex," I would have fallen down laughing. I mean, sure: and I could try not to breathe while I was at it!)

In my case, it was also matter of giving myself permission to choose to put aside sex for awhile -- not for good (and I made a point of reassuring myself of that), but just for the time being. I reasoned that, just for this moment, it came down to a choice: A) keep fantasizing about sex (which at that time inevitably meant sex with my ex) and thus compound the grief/helplessness/ loneliness I was already feeling, or B) not fantasize about sex for awhile, and deal with the already-generous measure of painful emotions on my plate. In a way, once it was that clear to me, it was easier simply to choose option B until the worst of the initial grief/disbelief/instability had passed. (That's the phase I'm assuming Anonymous is getting through currently.)

On preview: occhiblu's strategy of starting to remove him from your conversations is good, too. If the breakup is still quite recent (within the past couple of months), I think it's okay to talk about it, but perhaps selectively -- confide in a few close friends that you still need to express your feelings, but that you're also trying to consciously cut down on how much you talk about him. Maybe (I'm just brainstorming here) you get 10 minutes of any conversation to let it all out, and then you agree to talk about work, hobbies, family, making plans to go on a hike next week -- whatever. So you're still connected to (and sharing) your feelings, but you're not dwelling on them (and forcing your friends to dwell along with you).

Also, this is an excellent time to reach out to a therapist, if you haven't already -- you can talk all you want about it, which can relieve a lot of the impulse/need to share it with your friends ad infinitum.

Sorry for going on at such length. As always, anonymous, feel free to contact me through email if you like. I will absolutely respect your privacy, and I really, really do feel for what you're going through.
posted by scody at 3:11 PM on November 8, 2004

I don't know -- for me, at least, forcing myself not to talk about him *at all* was the biggest help. I had great, caring friends who didn't show any impatience at all -- I probably didn't explain that well -- I just started to realize that I wasn't talking to them about anything else, which meant I probably wasn't thinking about anything else, which was probably not so healthy.

Going cold turkey on the talking, even while allowing myself to think about it as much as I wanted, was necessary for me. At least for a few months.
posted by occhiblu at 3:45 PM on November 8, 2004

Another option would be to give yourself permission to fantasize about whomever and whatever you want, and not feel bad about it. I still imagine some pretty memorable scenes from a couple of old boyfriends, and even though I don't like them anymore, I don't beat myself up over it.

As for getting over the relationship itself, nothing's ever helped me but time. Oh-- and ice cream. Time and ice cream. Just realize that what's excruciating now will just be distant twinge in a year or two.
posted by bonheur at 4:38 PM on November 8, 2004

There were a couple of things I read or stumbled into that helped me get happy again,

Some people you'll never get over, and that's ok. You don't get over your mother dying, or your best (platonic) friend, they're always there. So I think about it as taking care of yourself, and finding other things that'll make you happy.

There was this (probably bullshit hippy) thing I read about break ups being like a death, I mean, so far as your body is concerned. They were vague about the chemicals, and the measurements, but the idea was that you shouldn't be so tough on yourself and that it'll take time. It takes some old people years to get over their partners death. It took me about a year to get over my first long-term thing.

And getting with other people helped. Lots of little light relationships that didn't go anywhere helped. Friends could say I'd find someone better but it wasn't evidence like those short term flings.

And the first time hurts the worst. That Amy Martin from emailed me saying it's never as bad as the first time. So don't be too afraid about getting romantic again because you'll temper yourself automatically now that you've done more. You'll probably take better care of yourself now.

Here's this thing I started reading that seems to be good Guide to being dumped, and taking it like a champ
posted by holloway at 4:40 PM on November 8, 2004 [1 favorite]

First of all, I totally commend you for staying single throughout your mending process. Well done. Better to sort yourself out after being someone's significant other for so long, rather then get lost again and latch onto the first sausage that pays for your dinner. Regarding your fantasies, they only reflect your true feelings, so I'm not going to tell you to stop fantasizing about him. This will only happen when you get over the loser.

I've been throught this so many times, so here's my advice: Try to grasp the fact that you're still very young, and seem bright. Get used to the idea that you'll almost certainly and eventually meet someone better than this loser. Someone who will treat you better, someone wiser and kinder, more outgoing, and has a higher income (had to, sorry). You'll meet someone who gets along with all your friends, your family, and treats you like a queen, and you'll never have to make excuses for. Realize that there are tons of men that would consider themselves lucky to date you. Understand that the binding of two people is a chaotic, senseless event that sometimes works and sometimes fails. Understand that love is usually unrequited or bound to wane. You can't predict when someone will fall out of love, nor would you be able to prevent it with any prescient knowledge. Also, try to ccept the fact that he simply isn't attracted to you anymore for whatever reason, and don’t make any excuses. Don't dwell on it, because you'll only start being critical of yourself. It's his issue, not yours. You are too good for him. He simply was wrong for you, and you for him. Convince yourself that he's a loser who gave up something special. Convince yourself that this break-up was a blessing in disguise, and is saving you from some sort of horrid future issue that would have inevitably happened. It’s all mind play, but it’s the only way to get through it aside from drugs or meaningless sex.
posted by naxosaxur at 4:46 PM on November 8, 2004

There's nothing wrong with a good fantasy or a nice memory. I have a few that I trot out now and again that involved exes. If you feel really inclined to alter your behavior, you can try negative reinforcement to minimize your yearnings. For example, wear a heavy rubberband on your wrist and every time you think about your ex, snap the rubber band. Since you don't want to squelch your ability to fantasize, you need an appropriate way to positively reinforce other fantasies too. That's pretty easy, though.
posted by plinth at 4:48 PM on November 8, 2004

halloway's SA link is exceptionally delicious, and good for a few roffles.
posted by naxosaxur at 4:55 PM on November 8, 2004

Thanks for the replies.
posted by adampsyche at 7:28 PM on November 8, 2004

...wait a sec, i vaguely recall that we weren't supposed to link to SA forums...and adampsyche, by my recollection, you are not a 20-something female...huh.
posted by naxosaxur at 7:33 PM on November 8, 2004

...isn't this the thread where we are supposed to talk about kittens? I’m clearly insane and feverish, so please ignore this comment, but mostly the one above. (adampsyche, I thought you were wittily insinuating that you were thanking on behalf of mr. or ms. anonymous, so I was making a joke that your physicality jibed with the anonymous poster’s somatic description…but I fucked up the joke. I suck. Knock, knock, who's th...oh, nevermind.)
posted by naxosaxur at 8:23 PM on November 8, 2004

Sorry to hear about your breakup anon. I know it sucks. We all go through it though.


Try to get out with people as much as possible. Make dates with friends. Make plans with someone that you haven't seen for awhile. Make an effort to forge relationships with new people. Go to a new club/restaurant that you haven't been to. Basically, be social.

Call someone that you think is interesting and say "I was thinking about having dinner on Thursday and I thought who would I like to have dinner with? Carol (whatever their name is), I'd like to have dinner with Carol." Say it with a smile in your voice. They'll be flattered and you'll have a nice dinner out of the house and possibly a new friend.

Talk to Friends

I know you didn't say that this was an issue, but just in case..... Your friends understand. Really, they do. Are they bored by the subject? Yes. Will they occasionally get irritated? Yes. That's okay, they'll still listen. Because that's exactly what friends do for each other. You've done it for your friends, right? Talking to your friends is not a one way street. You have to listen to them too. And, you have to actively think about what's going on in their lives. As long as you do that and show some progress towards healing, your friends will be fine. For awhile at least.
posted by Juicylicious at 8:31 PM on November 8, 2004

We weren't supposed to link to SA? Says who?

It's just GBS. It's public and stuff.
posted by holloway at 9:45 PM on November 8, 2004

holloway, it began here, and then was followed with this and this. I personally think the SA link you posted was brilliant. I was just saying, you know, as a caveat.
posted by naxosaxur at 10:29 PM on November 8, 2004

just play it cool ... super cool. if you still want the boy back - he'll come back, but you gotta be cooler than the backside of the pillow with old boy. show little or no interest - time will heal things on your end - and the ms. freeze act will eventually have him knocking on your door again. guaranteed.
posted by specialk420 at 11:07 PM on November 8, 2004

Get a hobby.

I recommend an addictive (on-line) computer game. I'm intending to use World of Warcraft to lose weight.
posted by krisjohn at 12:03 AM on November 9, 2004

Yeah, I missed all those threads. I guess I don't read mefi as much as I used to.
posted by holloway at 12:34 AM on November 9, 2004

Sexual fantasies? If you're my ex, come back - all is forgiven!

More seriously, although jumping into another relationship always seems like a good idea at the time I think it fosters the idea that you always need to be with someone, which can get pretty unhealthy.

I'd (and "I'm" actually) try to stay single, hang out with friends a lot more (and if you've lost a few in the last four years, make some more), limit contact with your ex (out of sight, out of mind?), and if all else fails there is indeed always a bloody mmorpg.
posted by cell at 2:00 AM on November 9, 2004

Rent a lot of movies with guys you find hot. Rinse, repeat.
posted by agregoli at 7:11 AM on November 9, 2004

Your fantasies might represent a longing the nature of which you're not fully aware. Maybe intimacy, maybe something else. If this is true, you might not be able to supress the fantasies because you don't yet know what the longing is for. What are you longing for? Only you can find out the answer to that question.
posted by jasper411 at 10:25 AM on November 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

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