Feelings for the ex?
September 18, 2006 5:50 PM   Subscribe

To what extent is it okay/normal to have feelings for one's ex? What if you're in a new, very serious, relationship?

Things ended with the ex in question not so much because of a lack of passion but because we were simply incompatible in everyway pertaining to life in the real world. In a vacuum, we would have been fine. We had several aborted attempts at reconciliation, which always started out secretly, one-on-one (i.e., in a vacuum) but soon became unbearable when we have to face reality.

Now I am in a wonderful relationship that works very well in terms of reality, but isn't always as passionate (what real relationship is?) as the one I had with my ex.

From time to time (quite often, actually), I think of my ex, just as I often thought of him before one of our ill-fated attempts. I know that I am being unrealistic, and that even if I were single, I would not to be with him. Still, I can't shake the reoccuring thought (which has reoccured since I met him 5 years ago) that I am "in love" with him. I have reason to believe that he still have similar feelings for me.

I am also in love with my S.O., but it's different, comfortable, much realer than odd feelings I have for the ex.

Is this healthy? How can I make it stop?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You should dump your new boyfriend and find someone else who you can be in love with and compatible with.
posted by dydecker at 6:05 PM on September 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

A guy here, but who's had a couple of female friends who've been in a similar predicament. Unfortunately, I don't have any good answers, just wanted to let you know that you're not an isolated case.
In my friends' instances, one was finally able to move on from the incompatible but intense relationship when she became pregnant, the other one knows rationally she and her fixation are incompatible, but still fixates on him.
posted by forforf at 6:07 PM on September 18, 2006

You must decide where you want to live--in the past, present, or future.
I like the present.
My ex liked the past and future.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:10 PM on September 18, 2006 [5 favorites]

What if you're in a new, very serious, relationship?

You're in a new relationship (though you don't say how new), so it's very common to have these thoughts/feelings.

Judging from the way you speak of the relationship, these feelings will never really go away, although over time they won't be as sharp. Savor it while you move on with your life, knowing you had this unique relationship.

Don't compare. They're two different people, with different qualities and the one you're with now is the one that, by your own admission, can hold together in reality. Passion is great, but if it has to be hidden away in order to survive, then what good is it?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:12 PM on September 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

My personal thought is that you may not be ready to be in another relationship until this older one is more wrapped up in your head.

Honestly, this is a question that no one can answer for you.
If you truly believe that things cannot work in the real world, then you need to focus on the things that bother you about him and move passed him- put that relationship behind you. Some things in life, no matter how nice in theory, are just not possible.

This is obviously more easily said than done. Putting an old relationship entirely out of your mind is very difficult. You probably don't really want to forget the good things but you have to remember that the bad things are what are significant at the moment.

Sometimes you know things on a certain level but feel different things on a different level. Figure out which you believe to be true. Be with the ex or don't. Choose. Convince the rest of you that this is the right decision. And give it time.

Nothing in life is easy. Best of luck.
posted by tysiva at 6:18 PM on September 18, 2006

Passion's your responsibility too, you know. Don't expect it to just happen.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:44 PM on September 18, 2006 [3 favorites]

Don't beat yourself up over thoughts about the ex.

I don't think it is possible to invest emotional energy in somebody over a significant period of time and then somehow have that simply switch off just because circumstances change. Inevitably, you will think about them in ways that may seem inappropriate to your new situation.

In these cases, a buddhist/meditative kind of approach might help: the thought arises, you look at it from a detached perspective, "oh, there's that feeling again", and sooner or later it floats out of your consciousness again, without you fixating on it.

This is in contrast to, say, a Catholic kind of approach, in which you feel that there is something dirty or wrong or sinful to feel such things. The thoughts will happen, just accept that, but let them slide away like any of the other million random things that pop into your head every day.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:09 PM on September 18, 2006 [4 favorites]

This will happen less frequently as time goes by, but I bet it won't ever stop. From time to time, I still think fondly of girlfriends I haven't seen for years. Don't dwell on it, but don't feel guilty about it either.
posted by kindall at 7:19 PM on September 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

This is perfectly normal, but that doesn't make it any easier.

If a person mattered to you one day and didn't the next, you'd be a frickin' robot. Feelings take time. I've heard it said that it takes as much time as you were together to get over someone entirely. Your mileage may vary, but that certainly matches my experience.

What's important is that you recognize that the past relationship has no future, and that you do not allow yourself to lapse into destructive behaviour like being intimate (whether emotionally or physically) with your ex. Move on with your actions, and eventually your feelings will follow.

I hope things work out with your new SO, but realize that if things don't work out, it doesn't necessarily mean that you and your ex are a better match. It just means that you and your new SO aren't meant to be together.
posted by randomstriker at 7:34 PM on September 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

"Is this healthy?"

Only if it persists and gets worse....

"How can I make it stop?"

... no need, it will happen on its own.

Perhaps this will help. In my experience, some feelings of passion actually grow out of threat to the relationship. They are bound up with fear and despair that make normal feelings of romance more intense. Thus your ill-fated relationship was passionate, and the "real" one is not. Furthermore, starting a new relationship or rekindling an old one both stir up falling in love romance. So you've repeatedly had that intense romantic thing with the ex, whereas you have only had it once with the current SO.

For a while after I broke up with my ex-wife I was troubled by the kinds of doubts you express. Now I'm not. Part of this fading was time, and part of it was me consciously reminding myself what had gone wrong, and how I felt about it. When thoughts of your ex pop up, recall the shitty things you didn't like, and tell yourself how glad you are to be free of them. Pretty soon you will be.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:05 PM on September 18, 2006 [2 favorites]


It's always easy to fantasize about the great doomed passion. Don't take it too seriously, any more than you would a crush on a movie star. Maybe you're a little nervous or insecure about your new relationship. Maybe you like hanging on to the thought that someone is maybe fantasizing about you. All of this is totally okay, as long as you keep it in its proper place in your head.

(It does fade in time.)
posted by desuetude at 8:46 PM on September 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Thinking about an ex isn't a problem, BUT thinking about an ex in terms of what you had with him/her that is missing from your current relationship is a problem simply because it reveals that something is missing from your current relationship! You might be right that a "real relationship" can't be as passionate as a -- what? -- bad one. But I sure hope you aren't.
posted by callmejay at 9:05 PM on September 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Any significant relationship you've had is going to be a part of you forever, in one way or another. Just because you've moved on doesn't mean you'll never think about times past.

It's only a problem if it's causing a problem, IMHO. It sounds like you're not really emotionally over your ex, even though you've intellectually figured out it won't work. That will probably come with time. If you find yourself thinking of them too much, remind yourself of how the relationship ended before — not to make yourself feel bad, but to remember why you're not in that relationship and why you stopped trying to be. It's easy to remember only the good parts of a past relationship and start to idealize it. (Or to remember only the bad parts.)

If thoughts of your ex intrude when you'd normally be thinking of your current SO, or if you find yourself thinking about leaving them to go back to the ex, then I'd think that you need to deal with your feelings more. (For all I know you should give the old relationship another try. It doesnt sound like it, though.) But to acknowledge to yourself that you're still attracted to your ex — that's normal, that's human. Just don't let it screw up your present relationship.
posted by hattifattener at 12:46 AM on September 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I hate the phrase "to have feelings for someone." You're human... you will always have feelings about people.

What hattifattener said - it's normal to still feel that way. It's okay to let yourself miss someone, even if you hate them (not that it's true in your case.)
posted by IndigoRain at 2:27 AM on September 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


You've identified the largest part of the problem, the passion angle, so work with your present SO on that. Obviously do not say " I was happier when X did this to/for me... and we always ...." but having said that I think it is easier to inject extra passion into your present relationship than beat yourself up over the absolutely normal feelings you have for someone who was clearly a very important part of your life.

There is a tendancy sometimes to want to have your cake and eat it. I think you can do that but rather than focus on what is missing in the present relationship which you had with the other S.O I would do the following
1. Identify the much better "reality" aspects of the present partner and make an effort to be more appreciative of how much better these are for your life and your happiness. Passion is always sexier than reality but we live in the real world! Let him know how much you appreciate those aspects of him which might lead to more.......
2. Passion. Every time you think of the old partner, make an effort to do something spontanous to/for new partner that will increase the "passion potential". Eventually as the feelings for old partner start to fade you may have established a more passionate relationship.

I don't agree with people who say dump him, all relationship take a bit of work.
posted by Wilder at 2:39 AM on September 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

Yes, totally normal.

Now, I think you have accepted that the old relationship can't work, and aren't really seriously thinking about getting back with the ex, but the lack of passionate feelings in this new relationship is making you wonder if all "sane" relationships are like that, and if all your future relationships will feel dim in comparison with the vibrancy of the old relationship. I think you're wondering, in part, whether this new relationship is as good as it's going to get, now that you've felt the love and passion that you have had with your ex, or if this relationship is not great either and you need to be looking for intense passion + stability.

I don't know the answers to those questions. I agree with i_am_joe's_spleen that the heartache of the last relatonship is probably largely responsible for the intense love/passion/romance and the feeling that you shared a unique love. In that way, I'd say that the past relationship was a bit fake, or at least built on instability. I'd say you don't want new relationships to be built on those negative emotions - stress, fear. I do think, if this is a good relationship, your love for this new boyfriend will grow and grow, and you will come to cherish the feelings of security, dependability, and constant love that you will receive from him. Whether the passion will ever be the same level of intensity, I don't know.

I'd be interested to hear from people who have had the kind of all-consuming but ultimately dismal love, broken up, and moved on to equal passion with someone else.
posted by n'muakolo at 5:56 AM on September 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

Comparisons happen. New partner, new job, new school, new pet, new car - humans learn from experience, so it's normal for your brain to rehash this stuff. It's not about that specific guy, though; as with all feelings, having them doesn't mean you must act on them. It may mean you shouldn't be with the new guy, if he's falling short in a lot of ways or if you can't stop finding fault with him. Sometimes we need to not be in a relationship at all for a while.

Don't mistake drama for passion. Relationships full of upheaval and upset generate high emotion, but the emotions are all adrenaline and hormones and lacking in depth. If you are coming out of a very theatrical relationship, your next attempts may feel quite flat by comparison. It may take some time to normalize.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:09 AM on September 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

It fades over time. For me it's turned into a general fondness for my exes.
posted by plinth at 6:29 AM on September 19, 2006

It sounds like you either aren't ready or aren't willing to fully commit to the new relationship, so you're using the ex as a mental escape route. It's understandable, but is it what you want to be doing?
posted by witchstone at 10:11 AM on September 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Totally normal. My answer comes from life experience, not only my own but from accounts of countless friends who have told similar stories.

I was once involved in a we-both-know-this-can't-work-but-are-madly-in-love relationship. Although I'm not sure the problems that doomed my relationship are the same that caused your relationship's demise (i.e., I am educated from a good family, he not either and very resentful and defensive about both), they were similar in the sense that my ex and I were both highly aware of our incompatibility. My ex constantly believed I would leave him for an intelligent, dashing man I would meet at university (he didn't go to college), which, to be honest, was a possibility to which I subconsciously remained open. Because of these feelings, my ex broke up with me literally monthly for our first two years together. I realize now he did it to confirm my feelings for him, to see whether I would cry and beg and plead to be taken back (and I did, and vomit and scream and wail), so that he could be sure I was not indeed going to leave him for Mr. Dashing Intelligent Man. And I believe these breakups were also to break me down so that he could be sure I needed him.

MORE TO THE POINT: After each breakup, I began to date. Each time I'd thought I met a guy I really liked, I'd end up comparing him to my ex, and indeed went BACK to my ex more times than I'd like to admit - not always full-fledged getting back together, but more often being with him in an in-the-moment kind of way, for comfort and to feel loved - that feeling which no one else could exactly replicate.

The remaining details are largely irrelevant - but the point is that we were madly in love when we met, and indeed stayed together for many years, but ended up at the inevitable point where we had to part ways for good.

I then met a person who was everything my ex was not, and with whom I fell madly in love. I no longer compared my new man to my ex or longed for my ex, or any other shortcomings that manifested with all the guys I dated prior.

If you feel those feelings for your ex still, perhaps it is that you simply are not over him yet, and relationships now are merely rebound. But don't go back to your ex if you know that the relationship cannot work merely because the next guy makes you long for him. There might be dozens of guys that you date that don't excite you like your ex did or with whom your feelings are not as intense, but that does not mean that there is not a fabulously compatible guy for you somewhere on the horizon. When you meet him, you will look back on your relationship with your ex with perhaps fondness, but never with regret that you are no longer together.
posted by orangeshoe at 12:16 PM on September 26, 2006 [2 favorites]

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