Seeing an old ex stirred up more feelings than expected
September 26, 2013 6:13 PM   Subscribe

So more than 4 years after the breakup and we only dated 6 months. But I see her car in the parking lot at the grocery store I go to. I've never seen her there before. I keep looking and see that it's definitely her in the car. We didn't talk. I don't think she saw me. I was leaving as she was pulling in. But my heart definitely raced and all sorts of emotions came flooding back. I was disappointed that it affected me as much as it did. Does this need fixing? How would I fix this?

It's just a shock to ego to still be so easily tripped up by something like this.

She was the first person I fell in love with and I guess it's hard to shake that, despite the relationship itself being so torturous. I still play over things in my head about how it could've been better or worked or what went wrong. But then I know all the ways in which I disliked her so much. I still don't comprehend how I so deeply liked someone that frustrated me so much and made me doubt and still sometimes makes me doubt my natural inclinations about relationships and love and romance (after all, if I weren't so weird about certain things, the relationship would've worked and we would've just had the good, pure marrow of ecstatic touching, talking, and love). I know that this is crazy, like if I heard someone tell me this, I'd be like, "Yo, you've got to get a grip. I'm saying this as a friend." But now I'm afraid that I haven't resolved/made peace with this enough. Out of sight of mind has worked but it seems there hasn't been an inward transformation. It's all still submerged.

So, any advice for truly curing these old feelings? Or should I just keep on keeping on and not worry about it and one day I'll feel nothing when I see a car that looks like hers pull into a parking lot? Or is this impossible and some things in life you never completely get over?
posted by yeahyeahyeah to Human Relations (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The more often it happens, the less fraught it will be. There are so many reasons that this happened, but the best one is that you loved her, and also because the relationship was so tortured. Apparently it's easier to grieve the loss of a relationship that was happy and resolved than it is to grieve the loss of one that was tortured and problematic.

It's really important to acknowledge your emotions, but emotions are unreliable advisors, so while you're acknowledging them, don't give them too much credence. In other words, see if you can develop a sense of humor about your emotions going all haywire when you see her.

Emotions arise due to causes and conditions. If the cause is there, the emotion arises. Also, the more irritated you are with your emotions, the more your emotions will arise and bother you. It's a vicious circle. I used to test this out with a local newspaper that would print these inflammatory and obviously erroneous headlines. I'd be walking toward a newspaper box, and I would think, "Oh, there's that newspaper that always pisses me off. Knowing that it always pisses me off should prevent it from pissing me off." Then I would see the headline and get pissed off. And then I would laugh because it never failed. But the end of the transaction was laughing.

People who mean a lot to us leave scars. Some scars take longer to heal to a point where they are visible but painless. Some old wounds always act up when it's about to rain.

I had a tortured relationship and I am completely calm and happy about it being over, and I haven't seen my ex in almost 7 years, but let me tell you, if I ran into him on the street, I would react. Don't take it too much to heart.
posted by janey47 at 6:38 PM on September 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

"Does this need fixing?"... probably not..

"How would I fix this?" ---- new grocery store.
posted by HuronBob at 7:23 PM on September 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think if you loved someone and nibbled on their ear, and called them honey, and held their hand, and told them your deepest darkest secrets, or spent all day just snuggling in bed, and brought them soup when they were sick, you wouldn't be human if you weren't affected by seeing them unexpectedly. It's okay. It wouldn't be okay if you we're still obsessing or pining or avoiding dating. But being rattled cause you saw here car? Nah, your fine, but you probably should get a new grocery store.
posted by bananafish at 9:57 PM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

after all, if I weren't so weird about certain things, the relationship would've worked and we would've just had the good, pure marrow of ecstatic touching, talking, and love

No, no, no; this is nonsense -- and it's unecessarily self-blaming. You have absolutely no idea that anything would have worked 'if only' this or that. Before you can get past or over any of these residual feelings, you have to quit framing it in this way. So it turns out she did not want you; that is hard to take, I know (believe me I do). But the answer to that is not, then, 'so I should have been someone different'. You can only be who you are, and sometimes that just does not work out to be a good match for someone else.

Maybe, looking back, you see things about your own behavior within that relationship that really were problematic for you, and by all means work on making those changes -- for your own sake. But even if you could make those changes and somehow magically go back and try again, there's nothing that says it would work out.

And now, maybe you can't control your emotional responses to things like seeing her again out of the blue, but I think you can at least convince yourself rationally that how things turned out were never really something you could have influenced, no matter how well you could have controlled or changed your own behavior. And that realization can weaken the hold that the whole 'how things might have been' scenario has on your imagination. And, ultimately, that can help defuse some of the emotional response.
posted by fikri at 10:19 PM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

In my extremely limited experience with this stuff, this kind of intense love can expose much more of your flaws much more deeply than most relationships --which can lead to a very unsettling and raw feeling that's pretty much impossible to know to be prepared for. That means if you really want to be with the person, you really have to work on your own deepest, darkest sh*t in order to remove the torturous blockages barring you from ever enjoying that mutual ecstatic touch again. The same probably went for her, and the relationship probably went torturous because neither of you were prepared to deal with that sort of depth of self-reflection. She drove you nuts because she made you so aware of what you could not tolerate within yourself, and very likely this was true about you for her too. Basically what you so intensely disliked in her were probably things you REALLY disliked about yourself, but hadn't realized it or admitted to yourself yet. I'm not suggesting that there still weren't things to genuinely dislike about her, but the way romance works and souls merging and all that, it's pretty easy to start projecting your positives AND negatives onto this person with whom you've so intensely bonded.

So use that intense emotional signal that she stirs in you as a cue for what you need to work in yourself. Use it to flush out any fragment of shame you have from your own issues that loving her inadvertently shone a light on. Pursue that inward transformation as something you need to do anyway for yourself in order to be healthy and open to that kind of love again. Cure those old feelings by being the highest vision of yourself you saw possible in that relationship. And then who knows... life can work in really weird ways sometimes. If this advice works for you, please let me know how it goes. Good luck!
posted by human ecologist at 11:38 PM on September 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

You don't have to do anything but flip your own script a bit. The feelings are memories crashing in, sensual, interesting, bittersweet, life. Just feel it all. Sit with it. Let it be.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:37 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Lots of good food for thought. I know the new grocery store was somewhat said in jest, but probably won't be switching that aspect. haha. It's just too convenient. Hopefully, I'm not asking again in a few months because I saw her in the canned soup aisle.

Luckily, had some fun events this weekend with friends so it was good palette cleanser. And as many times as I hear it from others and myself, that changing something would've made it work -- that that isn't the answer, it has an insidious way of never completely going away. I think part of it is there were flaws which it did reveal and which I've worked on but not entirely mastered. It always helps to hear again that you can only do so much and time-travel is the not the answer. Very hard to shake off the the idea that I was close to perfection and couldn't seal the deal. But that's it's own type of self-delusion I suppose.
posted by yeahyeahyeah at 12:50 PM on September 28, 2013

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