Rekindling a flame that has burnt out.
October 22, 2009 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Is this settling? Where are those heartpangs I should be feeling?

I was in a relationship with my ex for 3 years. We'd been best friends for 5 years before dating. In many ways, we're a great match and a great team. We care about each other, we have great conversations, we make the same kinds of jokes, we like lots of the same things, we have good sexual chemistry. But our relationship fizzled out. We both got too comfortable and bored with each other and didn't feel happy or excited with our relationship anymore. We had difficulty communicating our feelings and needs and neither of us really worked to change things. We broke up mutually and amicably. No animosity, no fighting. We've remained friends.

I've spent my single time meeting new people, spending more time with old friends, and casually dating. I've met some perfectly nice, interesting guys. Even had some sexy times. It's been fun being free to see whomever I choose and feeling desired by new men, but I haven't felt a serious connection to any of them and it's all been pretty superficial. I often find myself thinking about my ex - how comfortable and easy it is being with him, how we know each other so well, how we have so much in common, how we enjoy each other's company and love each other. (What more would a person want?)

We've been broken up for about 8 months now, and over dinner one night recently he expressed a desire to get back together. Since we've been broken up for a while, getting back together wasn't necessarily on my agenda and I didn't expect it was something he wanted either. He's been on my mind constantly throughout our breakup, but I really felt a sense of finality when we ended it, so I started to get on with my life for my own sanity. But since he brought up wanting to try over again, I've been seriously considering working through things with him too.

However, there's something missing. Logically, on paper, we make sense. We could work things out, our problems were never insurmountable. We're very compatible and we care about each other deeply. But I feel like I'm missing a sense of urgency, of excitement about starting anew. I feel like I'm supposed to have this intense and passionate desire to be with him, this "can't be without you" feeling, the way I did when our relationship was new. And I just don't feel it.

I've chalked it up to having been broken up for awhile, that I'd started to accept the situation for what it was, got used to being on my own and focusing on myself. I've also chalked it up to the fact that after our breakup, we never really got a chance to miss each other's presence - we still saw each other once a week (we have lots of mutual friends), still talked on the phone weekly and, admittedly, got physical a couple of times - so that feeling of desperate longing/horrible missing never had a chance to materialize. Some friends have said that maybe this means I'm not "IN love" with him anymore and that I'd be settling if we reunited, that instead of sticking with what I know is good and nice and comfortable, I should seek out something that's great, that I should hold out for that teenage feeling...but I'm not sure I trust that feeling either, as it is known to fade. I've thought about taking some time to not see each other or speak, as sort of a test...though I'm not sure what it would accomplish.

Can we get back together if this feeling is missing? (and where the hell is it?!) Am I placing too much importance on it? I want so badly to rekindle the flame that once burned so brightly between us...but can I force it?
posted by blackcatcuriouser to Human Relations (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Desperate longing and intense feeling is perk of a new relationship, but isn't the basis of one. It's natural for passion to fade. The question is: what's left after the tinglies go away? I defer to a previous comment.
posted by reverend cuttle at 6:01 PM on October 22, 2009

Best answer: The dizzy, smitten feeling you describe is a chemical kick-along that can help the start of a relationship.

Everything else you describe about care & compatibility are the things that should enable you to stay in a stable, long-term relationship.

Don't confuse the two.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:11 PM on October 22, 2009 [4 favorites]

You might find this Radiolab short helpful. To summarize: there are three chemicals that come into play when you fall in love. The two that are temporary that lend to the urgency you describe are dopamine and norepinephrine. Those go away after several months. When they do, you're left with oxytocin, which is the whole comfortable attachment thing.

Compared to the first two, you could say oxytocin is relatively boring. Don't get back with your ex if you don't want to, and don't get back with your ex if you're determined to keep chasing the feeling of excitement and urgency. If you want to keep having relationships and breaking up when the excitement goes away, that's a legitimate thing to do as long as you don't mislead your partners. But please don't fool yourself into thinking you're going to somehow overcome biology and find a relationship where the excitement and urgency never goes away.
posted by Nattie at 6:39 PM on October 22, 2009 [6 favorites]

I will refer you to a quotation from Captain Corelli's Mandolin, quoted here by idest in a thread about readings for weddings:

Love is a temporary madness; it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.

Louis de Bernieres (from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin)

Nobody but you can answer the question of whether you should get back together with this guy. But as others have said above, constantly feeling like a 16-year-old with a crush is not an achievable long-term relationship goal.
posted by vytae at 6:52 PM on October 22, 2009 [38 favorites]

please don't fool yourself into thinking you're going to somehow overcome biology and find a relationship where the excitement and urgency never goes away.

Nonsense. I honestly feel like I'm in a relationship where the excitement and urgency have never gone away. Or at least, they've never stayed away. Those feelings are seasonal, they come and go based on all sorts of factors. Sometimes one of us is on and the other is off, sometimes we're both on, sometimes we're both off. I understand how Nattie is trying to help with that comment, but I think trying to understand this in chemical terms drastically oversimplifies things.

But if you've been seeing him casually all this time, then I'm pretty sure you would know by now if you were pining for him or still wanted him in that way. It sounds like you've moved on more than you think. "Logically" doesn't really factor in here. "Logically" you'd be perfectly fine with the most viable person with qualities A through H, just like back in the old days when marriage was a business transaction.

Take all the time you need to figure it out. Don't go too far down this path if you're not sure though, he may already have his hopes up a little higher than you think.
posted by hermitosis at 6:55 PM on October 22, 2009 [4 favorites]

You've been broken up for 8 months, but you still see each other once a week.
You've remained "friends", but you occasionally admit to getting physical.

You're still in a relationship.

I think your idea that you need to not speak or see each other for a while is a good one.

After a couple of months of not talking, not seeing each other, and not getting physical, see if your desire to be with him is more passionate.
posted by device55 at 7:30 PM on October 22, 2009

I agree with the other folks that the crazy new relationship feeling is all chemicals.

You can keep some of that sass alive by flirting and being playful; I think it's a good thing to do to keep some spark alive. That's all stuff you work on though. The roots, the love, the connection, the deep friendship, the respect, you have that, and that's so awesome. But don't "settle" for it, or you'll never shake that feeling of wondering if you just settled. Make a decision, work at falling back in fun love, and go for it 100% or not at all.
posted by snailparade at 7:51 PM on October 22, 2009

Best answer: OK. Let me pipe in here as someone who is (a) happily married, and (b) someone who held out for the man her dreams, after, (c) being married to someone nice-yet-settled for, AND (d) picked up again with a guy after my divorce who was an ex-boyfriend I couldn't stop thinking about for years, etc. etc.

Everyone is both right and wrong about those chemicals! I had those with the "d" guy, but he was a bad bad man. I still found those chemicals (emotions?) for him compelling for over 12 years. Of course, "d" guy was a charming manipulator (narcissist!) -- so that helped keep me hooked.

More relevant to you, however, is that I divorced my ex-husband because I had this nagging feeling there was more out there for me... He was a great guy, just not exactly for me. Sorting the courage to leave him after 7 years was one of the hardest things EVER. Like a wolf, I chewed off my leg to leave the life/trap I had invested in for so long. My friends, my city, and after a shitty childhood -- the only Home I had ever known up to that point. It was brutal. And the best thing I ever did for myself, although the positive result took a looooong time to show up.

I found my way back to great chemical feeling guy (mr "d") post-divorce. Eventually, it turned into a Nightmare.... Que Mr. Jbenben!!

Here's how that whole thing played out:

I was with mr. "d" off and on for a couple of years. Eventually, it was super clear we would never achieve the ideal relations I had in mind when I left my ex-husband. Luckily, I kept my ideal relationship in mind. One day, I noticed the future Mr. Jbenben. I already thought he was awesomeness personified, but I didn't know he liked me. I didn't really believe he could like me because he was just that super cool.

I was wrong! Mr. Jbenben totally dug me (I found out one day when he spontaneously kissed me:) We were married 3 weeks later. We've been over-the-moon happy every day since. That said, it isn't chemicals -- it is a true meeting of minds and hearts here @ chez-benben!

It's pretty excellent to wake up everyday with someone who is actively choosing you. It feels pretty "high" and it never gets boring. I attribute that daily high to our feelings of certainty, trust, and security. Imagine for a second... You don't worry about petty disagreements (sure you have them, but you always end up laughing!) You don't worry if your partner has a roving eye (they obviously don't.) You don't worry about who contributes what to the relationship -- you and your partner appreciate and make exceptions for your individual skills and deficiencies. You both pretty much go, "Right On!" when one of you takes active steps to improve yourselves, and therefore, your life together.

I'm not kidding. This can be done. I think it is only unachievable if you believe it can not be done.


Blackcatcuriouser, only you know what beliefs you hold in your heart. Sometimes there are people in our lives we must play things out with before we can move on. I didn't leave my ex-husband to pursue mr. "d." I do know that if I had not fully experienced mr. "d," I would not not not have recognized Mr. Jbenben when he finally crossed my path.

Make of that what you will.

i will tell you to follow your Highest Desire. I don't know why, but I am confident that doing so will likely lead you where you really want to go.

posted by jbenben at 8:54 PM on October 22, 2009 [27 favorites]

PS. Nthing hermitosis!!
posted by jbenben at 9:01 PM on October 22, 2009

You don't sound to me like you really want to get back together. You sound like you're trying to convince yourself that you should want to.

On the other hand, you also don't sound like you've ever really really broken up. You need to be your own people for awhile to really sort those feelings out and figure out if you need to work harder or you just need someone else, or both. I'm a firm believer in the no-talking-after-breakup rule, at the very least for a few months if not much longer. I agree you should stop talking and stop hanging out now, and see where you're both after new year's, or even next spring.

Also, eight months is barely enough time to start dating seriously again, let alone meet Mr. Awesome. When you break up for this kind of thing, I think six to eight months is around the time you start thinking "hey, that wasn't so bad, what was I thinking, everyone else out there isn't really all that". Don't fall into that trap. I bet the ex IS pretty great--maybe just not perfect for you. Don't think that just because your perfect man hasn't come along since you broke up, that means that he isn't ever going to. Trust don't want to be breaking up again three years from now, because it will be a lot more painful.
posted by min at 9:35 PM on October 22, 2009

Anything that "looks good on paper, but..." is a problem.

Lots of things look good on paper but aren't awesome in real life. You're not living on paper. You're living real life. Which do you want to choose?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:10 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't agree with the people who are saying that love starts out with a bang and then it levels off to that "mature" calm feeling that we're supposed to settle for. (and really, talking about "dopamine" instead of love doesn't make it more "real", just saying.)

I believe (and feel this way about my own relationship)(17 years now) more in the "sine wave theory" of love. It revs up, it calms down, etc. No, that's not right. The fluctuations aren't as even as sine waves. But then I took Accelerated Latin instead of Physics.

I also agree with those who are saying that you haven't given yourself enough aloneness to see if you will really pine for this person. You need to see him as "new" again, and find out what that feels like.

Anyway, carpe diem.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:45 PM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

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