First Love Issues
August 23, 2012 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Why do I often dream of my ex?

I'm a 23 year old and have already moved on to a BETTER relationship with someone I love. We've been together a year but I occasionally dream of my ex.

We were friends when we were 12 for a few years and we ended up dating for almost 6 years. We were each other's first everything.We grew up a lot together, we went through long distance for 2 years, and me supporting him in the military. We broke up due to the distance and then I avoided him for a few months to "heal" and he ended up wanting me back but did no action to fix things. So I didn't see the point of going back to something broken if he wasn't willing to fix on it.

Then I met someone else and we seemed like a good match. Unlike my ex, we get along, have the same views, he is understanding, and I trust him. My ex and I weren't the best of couples because we had differences and he would always make me cry and be jealous because we just had a different view of things. He's a good friend for me but not boyfriend.

My ex got a new girlfriend and within 3 months they got engaged before he was deployed. He told me he couldn't talk to me anymore because of her and cut off allll contact. Deleted me from his Facebook, deleted all of our pictures, everything. It was like he didn't existed.

It's been almost 2 years now and I still miss him. I think I might even still love him. I don't want to be with him, I don't wish for things to work out as a couple between us, but I just really miss him as a person. He was a big part of my life. I don't want to be FRIENDS but it's just sad that I'm BANNED from his life. I can't even say "Hi, how's life?"

I constantly dream that I'm friends with him and his fiance. I dream that we meet again and we're okay, and he'll pursue someone else. I dream that he's in trouble and I'll help him.

I dream of him probably 1-2x a month. I don't really think of him a lot like today.
posted by Asian_Hunnie to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It's been almost 2 years now and I still miss him. I think I might even still love him. I don't want to be with him, I don't wish for things to work out as a couple between us, but I just really miss him as a person. He was a big part of my life. I don't want to be FRIENDS but it's just sad that I'm BANNED from his life. I can't even say "Hi, how's life?"

This is why you often dream of your ex.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:52 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You pretty much answered your own question, no?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:53 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I mean, how do I get it to stop?
posted by Asian_Hunnie at 9:55 AM on August 23, 2012

tl:dr Dreams are a way of processing all the flotsam and jetsam floating around in your memory banks. Rebooting, if you will. Sure you miss him on some level, because he was a habitual part of your life. But just like a wound heals faster if you don't pick the scab, I'd say, don't talk about him, don't journal about him, and don't dwell on what you're missing. You can say "how's life" if you wish, but since there's never going to be the response you want, what's the point?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:56 AM on August 23, 2012

I mean, how do I get it to stop?

You can't. No one can control their dreams.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:00 AM on August 23, 2012

I still dream about someone I had a crush on for a few years back in like, 1999. It happens. Indulging it a little bit by listening to wistful music and then allowing yourself to be distracted is a good way to deal with it. Getting upset with yourself or over-analyzing it doesn't really help.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:02 AM on August 23, 2012

Actually, lucid dreaming can control dreams but it's something that is hard to master. Scary too because you kind of enter sleep paralysis...
posted by Asian_Hunnie at 10:03 AM on August 23, 2012

Accept it. Think to yourself "Huh. I dreamed about my ex again last night. Odd" and move on with your day.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:05 AM on August 23, 2012

I mean, how do I get it to stop?

Figure out a way to find some sense of closure, either by sending him a last letter that you truly intend to be the last letter, or maybe talk to a therapist. Either should work.

After an apocalyptically bad breakup a couple years ago, I had dreams that absolutely would not stop - I started having nightmares for the first time in my life, many of them about this person. The person about whom I dreamed is not someone I expect I'll ever talk to again. It wound up stopping when I sat in a chair at my therapist's office and started trying to talk about all the stuff that was bothering me. There was seriously one day when it was fixed - the therapist was dogsitting and I said it was totally okay if the dog hung out since I love dogs and dogs love me and they tend to improve my mood. The dog took a shine to me and I played with it a bit while holding conversation and then it jumped in my lap (this was not a lap dog mind you, though not gigantic either) and hung out and started napping. After a little while I kind of talked it all out and felt kind of a sense of peace. The nightmares stopped after that.

Long story, I know, but the point is this: The problem is either that you have these dreams or that they trouble you. These things are happening because dreams are kind of like a janitor for your brain and it keeps trying to put this part of your emotional life into its particular little cubbyhole and it's not going in there. It's not going in there because you have no sense of resolution about all this, just an abrupt end that you're not happy about. Dreams about unresolved conflicts are super common.

Find a way to put these feelings in the box they go in and then closing the lid, either by talking to your ex (unlikely) or talking to someone who's trained in listening to this sort of thing.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:06 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

The reason that you still dream about him is because you are still overly invested in rehashing the relationship and speculating on it. You should work on actively redirecting your thoughts about this person to be less "it's just sad that I'm BANNED from his life" and more "I'm a 23 year old and have already moved on to a BETTER relationship with someone I love." He made a choice that you had no control over, and you need to work on accepting that this person did the right thing for HIM, just like you did the right thing for YOU at an earlier point.

Also, you and your ex had a dramatic relationship, as I recall from your earlier questions. Many people think that high intensity, dramatic relationships are "true love." Maybe you feel like you are missing something. Age and experience tell me that you aren't.
posted by sm1tten at 10:06 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

See the film Cafe de Flore. It is about this, exactly. It may give you some insights that will help.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:07 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I find sitting down and writing a letter of all the things you want to say to your ex but never got a chance to can be really therapeutic.

Then throw the letter away.

You *could* try to get in touch with him and his fiance, but I think you recognize yourself that this is more nostalgia about all the good times than a realistic wish to reconnect with your ex.

Which is another tip, actually: whenever you find yourself dreaming about your ex, make yourself follow it up by thinking of all the negative, nasty times, the fighting and disagreements that led to the breakup and prove to you that you are better off without him.
posted by misha at 10:09 AM on August 23, 2012

Since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Minds is still sadly fictional, you kind of just have to get over it in time. It's not unusual to still have feelings for someone you spent so long with. What you are experiencing isn't weird, and it doesn't make you a bad person.
posted by elizardbits at 10:10 AM on August 23, 2012

If you have anything of his, you must burn it the morning after waking from one of these dreams; implore the gods of sleep to rid you of these dreams, and stress that you do not want it to happen again.

Because right now, this:
I still miss him. I think I might even still love him.
it's just sad that I'm BANNED from his life. I can't even say "Hi, how's life?"

suggests that you DO want it to happen again, so it keeps happening. If you want it to stop in the dream state, you need to stop it wholly in the waking state, and that means taking an aggressive tack toward the stewards of the sleeping world.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:12 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I am reading posts and stuff right now reminding me of all the issues I dealt with. It sucks because I know he is treating his fiance way better than he ever treated me. It's kind of a slap to my ego to as if I wasn't good enough. I'll try not to talk about it again.
posted by Asian_Hunnie at 10:18 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why do I often dream of my ex?

Why do lots of people dream about high school years and years after they graduate? Why do people continue to dream about childhood homes they haven't seen in decades? Why do I still sometimes dream of my grandfather even though he died 18 years ago? These sorts of things are just formative and influential in our lives, and it's not surprising they end up being a fixture of our dreams.

He'll probably stick around in your dreams for a while. Eventually, as you get more emotional distance, he'll fade to only occasional appearances.
posted by Coatlicue at 10:20 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

He told me he couldn't talk to me anymore because of her and cut off allll contact

does not mesh with

It sucks because I know he is treating his fiance way better than he ever treated me.

Are you still in contact, or are you assuming things that do little else than make you feel worse?
posted by griphus at 10:28 AM on August 23, 2012

I have done a lot of dream analysis over the years. My ex shows up in my dreams as a symbol for other things. For example, when I worked for a large company, he sometimes showed up as a symbol for my job. I was "working for da man" and I had been a homemaker. In some sense, my job was my new committed relationship, or "da man" in my life (hoping that makes sense).

Actual baggage related to my marriage showed up in dreams as outdated furnishings I needed to get rid of. The amount of unwanted furniture in my (dream) life gradually shrank in size and quantity and basically no longer appears in my dreams. My ex still sometimes shows up, almost always as a purely symbolic metaphor for something else. Since I know he is a metaphorical dream language symbol, it almost never bothers or concerns me.

Perhaps the same principle applies to you, at least some if the time.
posted by Michele in California at 10:31 AM on August 23, 2012

I have these types of dreams. Scumbag brain syndrome.

Love and dating can do stupid things to your logic circuits. This book talks about how you can think of your mind as having a giant ski slope. The way that you get from a starting thought to a conclusion is by taking a path down the slope. The more times you take the same path, the deeper it gets, and the harder it is to ever take a new one. Your brain is stuck in a rut thinking about this ex, and wants to arrive at the same ol' conclusion over and over again.

Start devaluing this conclusion to yourself. Don't fixate, don't rehash, don't brood. It is just a dream, which means your brain took the path of least resistance because it was asleep and lazy. Instead, now that you are awake, actively think about reinforcing a better conclusion. It takes a while, but it's not impossible to tell your own brain to shut up already. Best of luck!
posted by skrozidile at 10:36 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I kept dreaming of my ex, and found that time and not getting upset about the dreams was the best cure. As skrozidile says, fixating and rehasing were just reinforcing the dreams.

Do what you can to let go of the ex in every possible way outside of the dreams, too. But when someone is a huge part of your life for years, when they were a friend and boyfriend, and when they were your first for lots of things, your brain will Naturally come back to them in dreams. It took me Many Years to finally (mostly!) stop dreaming of my ex, but it largely stopped when I stopped getting upset and rehashing upon waking, and just shrugged it off instead.

You deserve to be treated awesomely, this ex isn't worth the rehash. Divert your attention to your awesome new guy who treats you right.
posted by ldthomps at 10:57 AM on August 23, 2012

Dont think too much of it. Dont you dream of your childhood, sometimes the places or the food or the aunt or the sister that you have? Same thing. Nothing major here it is just part of dreams.
posted by pakora1 at 11:21 AM on August 23, 2012

I'm not sure that the person in the dream actually represents your ex and isn't a symbol of something else. I would focus on the emotions in the dream and think about what they suggest to you.

Last winter, I was stuck in a lousy job and was desperate to get out but was having trouble motivating myself to do something about it. During that period I had dream after dream--probably once a week--about moving to a new place. My partner was worried that this meant I wasn't happy about our house, but I love our little house. The thing is, the moving was just the action that was taking place, but the important thing was the emotion, which was strong and the same in every dream: the feeling of anticipation and excitement that you get when you stand in your new empty house or apartment and everything feels new and you can make it anything you want it to be. The dreams were actually about wanting to start over and make my life work for me, the way you make a new home work for how you want to live. In January, my life changed (offered a new job and quit the old one, new job evaporated and I decided to go back to school) and the dreams stopped.

So think about the emotions in the dream and what they relate to. Is it as simple as a wish to have a chance to tell your ex something? Then write it out, but don't send it. Is it a relationship with someone else that needs repairing? You say that you dream about helping him; do you have a need to feel needed? Helping someone also gives you a sort of power over them and I can see how the situation would make you feel powerless; are you seeking to be more in control of this situation or another one?
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:22 AM on August 23, 2012

Is this a trick question? You asked "Why do I often dream of my Ex..." but then you so clearly answer your own question. Confused.

You possibly love him, you definitely care for him. You want to be a part of his and his fiance's life - each of these reasons is the reason.

A better question you should be asking: did I give enough time before diving into a relationship with current BF?
posted by Kruger5 at 11:44 AM on August 23, 2012

I'm in my 40s and have been in the happinest relationship of my life for more than 7 years, and I still occasionally have dreams featuring one or the other of the three major exes in my life (one of my college-era boyfriends, my ex-husband, and my first major relationship post-divorce). Sometimes these dreams are a little bittersweet and I feel a brief sadness or yearning, but most of the time now I just think of them as having mental/imaginary conversations with people from my past who still matter to me. Having this attitude has helped normalize them as just something the brain occasionally does in processing old memories, emotions, and experiences, rather than reading them as some sort of signal that there's something wrong.
posted by scody at 11:56 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's really nothing you can do to stop dreaming of people from your past. I dream of exes, long dead grandparents, elementary school classmates whom I haven't seen in years. I find either recording the dream in my journal, focusing on the ridiculous/unrealistic aspects of the dream helps to not feel bummed out about it (dreaming of my grandmothers usually makes me pretty sad) or if I wake up bummed out, I just close my eyes and count to ten and refocus on my morning.

You can't stop the dreams, and honestly, you can't stop your ex from invading your thoughts now and then. What you can do is control your reaction to these things, and not allow yourself to get stressed out, sad or ruminate on them. Focus on the present, and realize that as long as you and your ex are both still alive, the chance to reconnect as friends or whatever isn't gone forever. You don't know what the future will hold.

It stinks to be cut off. But does it help to know that cutting someone off stinks even worse? I had a horribly toxic relationship and after 2 years of trying to be friends with him after 4 year relationship, I had to cut him off. And I hate that I had to do it. I wish every bit as much as he does that we could have made things work as a couple or as friends, but at this point in our lives, it won't work. And I've recently been cut off from an ex, so I know that sadness and missing someone you love and care about, but being able to see it from his perspective, having had to do it myself, makes me realize it's more about self-preservation than whatever you actually feel about that person. I love the ex I cut off, and still care about him a lot, but he just can't be in my life right now, in any capacity. So I can respect that the ex who cut me off feels similarly.
posted by peacrow at 12:32 PM on August 23, 2012

Think of a dream as your brain trying to make sense of random neuron flashings. Just because you dream of something doesn't mean anything other than it's present in your mind. The people I dream of most are my deceased parents, and my first wife, whom I have known since high school. I never dream of my current girlfriend (which pisses her off no end), even though we've been together almost 9 years. Yet my daytime thoughts are almost never of my parents or ex-wife, and frequently of my girlfriend. But I guess my parents and first wife had a lot of time to leave impressions of them scattered all over my neurons.
posted by ubiquity at 1:35 PM on August 23, 2012

Like everyone else said, you can't stop them overall. They will pop up periodically. But if this is a serial dreaming thing, you can try one of these techniques:

(a) Deliberately short yourself on sleep for a few nights so that you either don't dream or don't remember your dreams (whichever it is). I find that a few nights of that usually interrupts a cycle of dreaming about the same subject.

(b) When you wake up, make up a different ending to the dream. One where you wish him well, but you've moved on and you don't love him any more. Whether that's true in your heart or not. That also tends to kill off dream cycles. Stopped nightmares for me, which was nice.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:33 PM on August 23, 2012

Thanks everyone. Peacrow, it's nice to know that you still hold a place for that ex in your heart. I'll always hold a place in mine for my ex. It's comforting to know there is a possibility that I mattered at all to him and all the memories we had. Perhaps it is best this way. It's an odd feeling...I'll tell you that. To care about someone, to have a history, to want to talk to them and have them in your life but not want them lustfully. Not wanting to hug, kiss, or anything like that. There's this saying about not being able to have someone in your life but in your heart.
posted by Asian_Hunnie at 5:39 AM on August 30, 2012

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