Is it ever a good idea to date your ex?
January 19, 2014 1:53 AM   Subscribe

How do you know if it's a good idea to date your ex? Is it just NEVER a good idea, as is the commonly accepted wisdom? Or can it work out sometimes? Should I give it another go?

I’m female, single, turning 26 in a couple of months. I just moved back to my hometown a month ago after living across the country for four years. Originally, I was only going to spend Christmas break at home to see my family, but while I was in town for the holidays I unexpectedly got a good job offer in my hometown. Last minute, I ended up moving back home- I drove across the country, got my stuff, drove back, and started my new job.

My ex-boyfriend/fiancé still lives in my hometown. We dated from the ages of 16-21 (17-22 for him) and were living together and briefly engaged at the end, but many family tragedies happened all at once, we both felt we were too young, I think, and we ended up breaking up. I haven’t seen or talked to him in four years- we went cold turkey no contact. He broke up with me, ultimately, but it was definitely not entirely one-sided- arguments and stresses had been going on for a while, etc. Still, it hurt. He was my first love, and still the only person I’ve felt that strongly about. It was a pretty hard breakup.

So while I was in town for the holidays, I reached out to my ex. I hadn't seen or talked to him in four years at that point. I originally wanted to see him over Christmas break, with the idea that I would just be catching up and making peace with him, and saying goodbye, and sort of psychically wishing him well/ending on a good note. I sometimes have thoughts about him, and wonder how he’s doing/if he’s getting married (many of our friends are) and hope he’s happy and enjoys his work, etc. I really and honestly thought it would basically be a “catch up and goodbye” type thing, and that I’d better do it, otherwise I’d never get another chance to see him. I genuinely entertained no ideas of getting back together with him, in fact, I wanted to “heal the scars from the past” so I could really move on.

Well, that was before I got the job. (No, he honestly did not factor into that decision. It was totally unrelated.)

I’m not sure if I would have made the date had I known I was moving back, but it was kind of too late to change it, and I guess since we’ll both be living in the same town, it was probably a good thing to do anyway. Tonight I had a date with him. I really had no idea what to expect.

So here’s where it gets complicated. It turns out he’s single, too, since last summer, and basically all the old feelings are there. We have a really easy rapport, and it feels like we naturally click just like we did in the past. I’m still attracted to him, and I’m pretty sure he’s still attracted to me. (He said at some point that I always look good, when I was trying to hide my terrible driver’s license photo from him). I had to stop myself from reaching out and touching his hair/holding his hand several times, that’s how natural it still feels even after four years. And not like, “twitterpated crazy lust” natural- like “loving parter in crime” natural. To be honest, I was quite shocked that it just all came back like that. I haven’t been pining for him all this time- I’ve been living my life, dating other people (no one as seriously as him) and pretty busy working. Part of me still cared about him, but I feel like I was over it except as you remember a good friend from the past fondly. But maybe I wasn’t really over it. Maybe I’ll never really be over it? In person with him, it’s very hard to be over it!

So my question is, is that a bad thing? I told him truthfully that I would be very busy in the next couple of weeks at work, moving into my new place, and so on. But he said he would love to see me sometime after that. He was sort of respectfully/cautiously friendly and not overtly romantic but I could tell he was nervous/feeling some serious feelings as well, and he offered to pay for everything. Should I be seeing him if I still have those feelings for him? Is it a really terrible idea to date your ex?

Has anyone out there had a similar sort of situation? Is there any way to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes again? How do I know if this is the right thing to pursue or not? Should I just try to be friends with him and not see him that often? Am I just going to ruin his life and mine? I was really not prepared for this.
posted by quincunx to Human Relations (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
For me, the answer always depends on why you broke up in the first place. It looks like you made the intelligent and self-aware decision then ( too young, too stressed to enjoy each other the way you deserve to) and that tells me you have a good head on your shoulders. It seems like you're both in a better place now and that it's remained easy and fun. Try again. The waters are calm enough that if it doesn't work out this time, you either a) know that the reasons it didn't have to do with something other than external factors you couldn't control or b) you remain friends.
It could also work out beautifully ( let's hope) and your relationship will have been stronger than ever for standing the test of time/distance/life.
Take a risk. That's when you know you're living.
posted by marsbar77 at 2:12 AM on January 19, 2014 [11 favorites]

Also, FWIW, I don't think you were ever really over it if you feel all that differently around him in person. It was just a defense mechanism, albeit a good one.
posted by marsbar77 at 2:13 AM on January 19, 2014

Your heart is overriding your head.

Is there any way to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes again?
How do I know if this is the right thing to pursue or not?
Should I just try to be friends with him and not see him that often?
Am I just going to ruin his life and mine?

All these questions are from the head. Your heart is asking permission to throw these out of the window, which feels good but can be painful too. I'd say follow your heart but very slowly and carefully. At the first hint of history repeating, listen to your head again. There is a good chance whatever happens in the future will have echoes of the past, but if you don't follow your heart you may always regret that.
posted by 0 answers at 2:19 AM on January 19, 2014

Married my ex. Plenty of people get back together with someone they dated, especially a teenage relationship as adults.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:36 AM on January 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Married my ex, too. My high school sweetheart, at that, after dating / marrying others in our 20s.

So it can work. It's easy for that to be a crutch, I'd say? You know the other well, its easy to get into a nice routine, etc, but if the feelings are really there and junk then that's not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by jpe at 2:55 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is it a good idea? I don't know. But I can tell you that you are probably a very different person at 26 than you were at 21, even if you don't realize it at the time.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:58 AM on January 19, 2014

The question is, do you want to date your ex? If the answer from your heart is yes, then go for it. The only thing stopping you is some idea of what you should or shouldn't do. But the relationship between the two of you is totally unique, as all relationships between two unique people are, so don't worry about generalisations and received wisdom. Think about what the issues were in the past and come to some agreement as to how you can avoid them this time around, but apart from that just take the risk and take it one day at a time. Good luck!
posted by billiebee at 4:20 AM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Give it a go, what the hell.

I say this because you haven't listed any serious danger signs. The one danger is that you could get hurt. This could happen through breaking up again for essentially the same reasons, but there are other ways.

Other than that, your 26-year-old self is much different from your 21-year-old self and in theory, it could also go well. You have the usual set of acceptable risks here.

You haven't expressed concerns that either of you is a danger to the other, or described a history of deliberate meanness or any of that.
posted by tel3path at 4:37 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I classify dating your ex as "a bad idea apart from a pretty narrow range of situations." Your situation is smack dab in the middle of that narrow range. It sounds like you didn't break up because you two are bad for each other, but because (quite reasonably) you didn't want to get married at 21 to your high school boyfriend. Now you're 26 and you know a lot more about yourself and it's a perfectly good time to start dating a man you might be really serious about.
posted by escabeche at 5:25 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Reader, I married him.

We do not talk about anything before our second go-round. I appreciate how much we *both* changed in the interim. And even when he annoys me, I reflect on how wonderful it has been to know him, and how much love I might have missed if we hadn't gone on our second first date. (Anecdote only, YMMV, click and rapport are not to be sneezed at, good luck...)
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:48 AM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why not? It may be great. It may be terrible. You'll find out soon enough. But it's not like you had some horrible incompatibilities, resentments or events in your past that would prompt us to caution you against it. And besides, you're only 26! If you spend up to a year figuring out if this is the right relationship for both of you and decide it isn't, so what? You'll be 27. Just, yanno, bring the full force of your maturity to the table, both with respect to making it work as an adult relationship and in evaluating whether it's one that could satisfy both of you on an ongoing permanent basis.
posted by slkinsey at 6:09 AM on January 19, 2014

Normally I think it is a bad idea, but you were quite young the first time and you've had some time to grow up. Not crazy to give it another try. Keep your wits about you though.
posted by mattu at 6:22 AM on January 19, 2014

Mr. Perfect does not exist. There is no "One". There are plenty of "Adequates".

May work. Probably won't. Life of most relationships is < 10 years. You will almost certainly make all the same mistakes you made before again. We all do. We like to think we don't, but we are all full of shit.

Dating doesn't mean marrying. If you like him, add him to your life and see what happens. You are an adult now, and presumably capable of making such assessments, provided of course, that you don't get drunk on infatuation. That's what most people do and probably why most relationships come apart before 10 years. It's a pandemic.

One point, though.... there are 10,000 other local available folks to choose from. Have you given yourself enough opportunity to find out if there is a better solution? You have plenty of time, and plenty of possibilities. Why rush?
posted by FauxScot at 6:31 AM on January 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

People generally do say it's a bad idea, but that's usually not after a four year separation. Your situation is the ideal for giving it another shot - You dated when you were young and broke due to outside circumstances (presumably) and haven't spoken in four years. It's like you followed all the advice you generally get about break ups to a T.

So I say go for it... but be careful. It has been four years and they could turn out to be a different person than you remember, but there's no harm in dating them again and seeing where it goes.
posted by Autumn at 7:27 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd never actually heard this was thought to be a bad idea. I thought unless people break up for reasons like 'the other person is somehow clearly an asshole' it was pretty ordinary to start dating someone again, not common, but not crazy unusual either.

Anyway, Mr. Llama and I broke up once, and we wound up married.

I suppose, 'what's the worst that can happen?' is probably a good question to ask. In this case it sounds like 'you'd break up again' which isn't fun but isn't so bad -- it's not like 'it would decimate my friend circle and I'd have to find a whole new social arena' or 'it would kill my parents'.

Am I just going to ruin his life and mine?

Highly unlikely, however it turns out.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:37 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Meh lots of ppl say don't do this or that. And maybe where you are, you don't have a lot of options so your ex is a viable candidate rather than meeting someone new.

Honestly, if you want to, go ahead. Just be prepared to be disappointed (like with any romantic relationship.)
posted by discopolo at 7:52 AM on January 19, 2014

I'm another one happily married to an ex. I think the key is that neither of us did anything that needed to be forgiven the first time around. So when we began dating again a few years later, there was no pent up anger or resentment or anything that needed to be hashed out or apologized for.
posted by amro at 9:14 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your cart, it's getting way in front of your horse there.

Do you want to go on another date with him? Then go on another date. Repeat, until you either feel very strongly you want to give it another go, or you don't. It does not have to be super complicated or catastrophic at this very early stage. You've barely had a date yet!

To directly answer your question, the only people for whom I hear this "works out for" are people on the internet. Mileages and all.
posted by sm1tten at 11:38 AM on January 19, 2014

Thanks, guys! I'm going to proceed with caution. I don't know what I'm so afraid of, honestly, it's probably impossible for us to mess up worse this time, being older and wiser.
posted by quincunx at 4:24 PM on January 19, 2014

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