Dreams about the ex
April 20, 2007 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Why do I continue to have dreams about my ex-boyfriend from 10 years ago?

Daniel was my first real relationship and we were sophomores in high school. We were friends for a very long time, but the romantic part of the relationship was only a few months long, and ended badly. A few years after we were out of high school, we ran into each other once, had a few drinks together and laughed about how silly and young we were. We ended up thisclose to having sex that night, but decided against it for various reasons. We live in separate cities and only chat via email these days every few months and get along fine now.

I am currently in a very happy committed relationship of 5 years and we will be getting married soon. I love current guy and can't imagine being without him (hence the marriage).

Inexplicably, I still dream about Daniel at least monthly. I've had them for years, no matter who I'm dating or how the current relationship is going. The dreams are warm and fuzzy and make me smile when I wake up. They're not even usually sexual in nature.

Why do I continue to dream about him? Does it mean anything? Is this a normal experience? Should I tell my fiance about it or just keep it to myself as my happy little secret?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Jesus God, happy little secret.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:50 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know why you dream about him, or whether it means anything, but yes, it's a normal experience.
posted by box at 2:53 PM on April 20, 2007

As I understand it, the way dreams work is that your brain randomly throws images at you, and then you construct a narrative around them. So probably, your ex-boyfriend's face is just one of the zillions of random images that gets thrown at you sometimes. It doesn't mean anything.
posted by craichead at 2:55 PM on April 20, 2007

You're very happy, the dreams aren't sexual, and seem to be completely independent of your current relationship. If you tell your fiance, it'll just cause unneeded stress.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 2:55 PM on April 20, 2007

Happy little secret.

Unless you want to fight about this forever.
posted by Sheppagus at 2:56 PM on April 20, 2007

Dreams are weird, and of no real concern by themselves. Recurring dreams aren't unusual, nor are dreams about exes—the double-whammy probably isn't that odd either.

Should you talk about them with your partner, or not? Your call. If he's jumpy about discussing exes, probably not; otherwise, no harm no foul.

On the other hand, if you feel like they Mean Something, you need to examine what that's about. Do you have any compulsion to actually contact Daniel? Do you associate the dreams with times of unhappiness in your current relationship, etc?
posted by cortex at 2:59 PM on April 20, 2007

I would wager that a significant portion of the population has an ex-romantic interest that crops up in their dreams with some regularity. I know I do.

Unless you want to really bum your partner out, keep it a happy little secret.
posted by lekvar at 2:59 PM on April 20, 2007

I think it's normal. There are old flames you'll never forget. And really, you don't want to.

Be grateful you're not dreaming about homicidal exes. Much less fun.
posted by iguanapolitico at 3:04 PM on April 20, 2007

My opinion is that recurring dreams come in two flavors: 1) the WTF? version, where you have no clue why you keep dreaming the same thing, since it is completely fantastical in nature and bears no apparent relation to anything or anyone you know in the waking world; 2) the emotionally significant version where you revisit something or someone that has been very important to you and that lodges still in your subconscious.

For the first version, I regularly have dreams about certain locales I've never seen in real life, and these dreams share a general theme which doesn't seem to have any relevance to my current situation in life, the events of the day, or how I'm feeling at the moment. Maybe they're highly symbolic. Or maybe my brain just likes those storylines.

For the second version, I still dream about my late pet dog pretty frequently, and it's almost always in an "Omigod, I forgot to feed the dog--for TEN DAYS!" kind of way. I had to leave him behind with my family when I went to college, and one weekend they went traveling and left him in the garage with a lot of food and water, and he had a seizure and died while they were gone. Evidently I've subconsciously felt tremendous guilt about this ever since--25 years down the road. But I digress.

I imagine that your experience with Daniel was so crucially formative to you at an impressionable young age that it's become encoded in your dream nexus. First loves often set the standard for all subsequent relationships to follow, and they're seldom forgotten. They are very ofen more innocently intimate and hopeful and without reservation than anything we experience later as we become more jaded and experienced and as we find that life involves compromises and settling.

So it could just be that your brain likes going back to that uncomplicated time every now and then just as a mental vacation to relive those days filled with promise and wonder.

Possibly also you want to get sexy with him.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 3:05 PM on April 20, 2007 [3 favorites]

people put higher literal significance on dreams then they should. I seriously doubt it means anything directly involving your ex. secret
posted by edgeways at 3:05 PM on April 20, 2007

I have a few random exes that I dream about way more than is normal for people who I wasn't THAT into. I think that sometimes my brain serves up people who it associates with a very specific feeling or nerve impulse and shows them to me for whatever reason. Some of these people are still in my life in some odd way and I never find, for me, that he dreams seem to be aany way of saying "hey get back with this person" Like you they're usually non-sexy just sort of hang out dreams. I see them as similar to dreaming about college: a slightly idealized version of a life path that only existed in a possible (but actually pretty imaginary) future, when seen from the past.
posted by jessamyn at 3:07 PM on April 20, 2007

Hey, that said, I know a guy who had a high school sweetheart who he dreamed about for years afterwards, well into a 30 year marriage with someone else. Eventually he divorced and (I kid you not) got back together with that high school sweetheart, and they had a very nice fling, but it ended. He chalked it up to all sorts of what-if, missed-opportunity thoughts.

And he had told the ex-wife about the dreams, and that sure didn't help anything. Talk about bitter.
posted by iguanapolitico at 3:07 PM on April 20, 2007

Wow, for a second I thought I was on Yahoo! Answers. Heh.

To answer your question: You continue to dream about him, because you never resolved your relationship with him. I am by no means suggesting you go do that NOW; you'll put your current (and wonderful, sounds like) relationship at risk.

Think of it this way -- you have a nice little fantasy figure to think about. Just remember that if you left your boyfriend and hooked up with him, odds are you'd find that it was just a typical relationship (even if it were a good one.) In short, the dreams and the fantasy of it right now will always be better than the real thing would turn out to be.

So yeah, enjoy the feeling -- it's always nice to have something that keels you over emotionally, just to keep life from getting boring, and it beats the heck out of fantasizing about winning the lottery -- but be grateful that you've got the best of both worlds: a wonderful, real relationship, and an unfinished relationship from the past you can use for fantasy material.
posted by davejay at 3:08 PM on April 20, 2007

Another vote for normal and happy little secret.
posted by desjardins at 3:12 PM on April 20, 2007

You're not dreaming about him, you're dreaming about being 16 and in love. Who wouldn't want to revisit the good parts of that from time to time? He's just the person who happened to be there with you when you got to have those feelings. It doesn't mean anything about your feelings for him now.
posted by MsMolly at 3:28 PM on April 20, 2007 [6 favorites]

>Is this a normal experience?

Yes, I find that people from HS often end up in my dreams. Less so college friends. Its mostly nostalgia and considering that was such an emotional time, its no surprise that the 'language of your dreams' uses him as a subject or metaphor.
posted by damn dirty ape at 3:32 PM on April 20, 2007

As I understand it, the way dreams work...

NO ONE knows how or why dreams work -- or what they mean, if anything. There are many theories, some of them brilliant, but the bottom line is that the function and mechanics of dreams are mysteries.

This means that worrying about what a dream means is like sort of like worrying about the meaning of a snatch of conversation you heard two strangers having as you passed them on the sidewalk:

He: you should probably tell someone if you think it's dangerous.

She: you're right. I will!

Maybe they're talking about something that will have impact n your life (a possible terrorist device); maybe not (an exposed wire at the woman's office). The point is, you have no way of knowing.

Same with dreams. Maybe they're deeply meaningful, but if they are, you'll never find out the meaning (for reasons stated above). Maybe they're random collections of garbage from your brain. Who knows.

One more analogy: let's say I told you that the following MIGHT be a deeply meaningful secret code (to which there's no known key) or it might be total gibberish:

l;jl;jdfs eii-498-4 ---- 4 3jj

How long are you going to spend trying to figure it out? Don't you have better things to do with your life? If your relationship is great, great. If it needs work, work on it. The dream shouldn't impact things one way or another.

In my experience, people who fret (or worse: make life decisions) based on dreams are either (a) lacking knowledge about the state of dream research or (b) using the dream as a front for something else (e.g. I want out of my marriage because it doesn't satisfy me, but I'm going to blame my dissatisfaction on a dream).
posted by grumblebee at 3:37 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

what damn dirty ape said. I would guess you probably have these dreams when you're experiencing intensity in your current life. The old boyfriend is your brain's processing point for intense emotions and positive or negative stress.

I have one of those, too - in fact, yes, it is my HS boyfriend. They are very, very powerful dreams, but since he's now (20 years later) in a mental asylum, I'm pretty confident it's not about a current unfulfilled deisre to be with him instead of my husband.

'Cause boy, that ain't it.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:48 PM on April 20, 2007

Should I tell my fiance about it or just keep it to myself as my happy little secret?

In my version of the ideal relationship, I would certainly hope that you could tell your fiance. In this "ideal relationship" both parties should be totally secure in the love the other possesses and both should be absolutely trusting. So, something like this should cause no problems.

Of course very few relationships are ideal. Mine is not but I could tell my spouse this and I would. I would also like my spouse to tell me the same. This type of sharing makes me feel very close to my spouse. Not sharing it, leaves me sad.

But it would totally depend upon how secure your finance is. This could very well cause tremendous jealousy and insecurity with the relationship(especially if he is young).
posted by tr45vbyt at 3:49 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Never worry about Happy Dreams.

I mean come on, a persistent pleasant dream... I should be so cursed.

oh and don’t tell your boy.
posted by French Fry at 3:50 PM on April 20, 2007

on second thought tell him if youd like. he's a grown up.
posted by French Fry at 3:59 PM on April 20, 2007

I think the dreaming brain is actually quite lazy. It's got an easy actor that it knows well, so it uses it. When I have worky dreams, they're always set at a place I worked at ten years ago -- but I worked there for a long time, and it was my first Real Job. Brain still has the "set" around, and solidly constructed, so it just uses that. Sort of like the set from The Price Is Right, but if it had been re-used for thousands of later shows... Your ex- was your first significant boyfriend, you went out for a long time, he's got positive emotional associations, so he's "cast" whenever that dreamscript comes up.

Don't worry about it, enjoy it as a pleasant thing, and for goodness sakes, don't freak your fiancee out. The only time someone tells their partner about stuff like that is when you want to force the discussion. (And by "discussion," of course you know I mean, "fight.")
posted by mimi at 4:04 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

tell him if you want to, but there's no reason to. at this point you would know if you had unresolved feelings for daniel. my guess is that your unconscious is just what-iffing. i wouldn't worry about it. enjoy the dreams!
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:17 PM on April 20, 2007

I dream generally about high school all the time, so much that my spouse teases me. It also was very formative for me, and important, repressive, significant, emotional, tear-inducing, etc. Hence I have very strong long-term memories about it, and they're much more easily retrieved than, say, college memories. I'd say the same is for you. I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by artifarce at 4:33 PM on April 20, 2007

It being high school, of course, not dreaming about high school. ;)
posted by artifarce at 4:34 PM on April 20, 2007

Dreams are mental effluvia, and don't deserve any more special attention than a hiccup or a burp.
posted by dgaicun at 6:25 PM on April 20, 2007

“Yes, I find that people from HS often end up in my dreams. Less so college friends.”

Seconding this. I've been out of high school for 25 years and I dream of people I knew in high school—even people I barely knew—a lot. I really like mimi's explanation, too.

That said, I dream about my ex-wife quite a bit and have ever since we were divorced 12 years ago. Some periods more than others, and if there's a correlation between what's happening in my romanctic life, it's very loose and I can't see it. I do think, though, that it's not just because of familiarity that I dream of her, it's also because of the type of thing Midnight Creeper describes about “first love”. My ex-wife wasn't my first love, but she was my first really, really serious, intense, and long-term love.

It's also the case that when she first appeared in my dreams after our divorce, the dreams were mostly about me trying to resolve the intense emotional issues I had surrounding the divorce. Those went on for a number of years and then stopped. Since then, the dreams aren't sexual, but they are slightly romantic in more of a “comfortable relationship” sort of way—I'm just remembering when it felt right. Not falling in love, not having sex. Just the kind of relationship we had when the marriage was going well. Because of that, I don't think it's really about any latent attachment I have to her so much as it's just remembering happy times. Which is a roundabout way of saying what other people have said. I remember happy times and good relationships in dreams involving other friends and family, too.

I concur, though, on the wisdom of not mentioning this to your significant other.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:52 PM on April 20, 2007

I dream about people long forgotten in my waking life all the time. Sometimes it is a little unsettling, but rarely is it bad or scary. My dreams are often grounded to reality by some reference to the past or upcoming event. It can be something as small as my old Ranger Rick belt (a prized childhood possession) on someone or an old schoolmate being the featured protagonist. My dreams are pretty wacky so I don't try to read anything into them. I figure its just a time when my imagination gets free reign.

One time I had a sex dream about a coworker who I wasn't the least bit attracted to (didn't hate him either). During the dream, I was fully enjoying it. When I woke up, I was squidged out and felt the need to shower. ick. Felt awkward around him for a week.

Dreams are funny things.

Oh, and if your current SO has ex issues, I wouldn't bring it up with him.
posted by Empyrean_72 at 7:36 PM on April 20, 2007

For the record, I read this post yesterday, and last night had a dream with an old girlfriend in it. Weird.
posted by punkrockrat at 8:53 AM on April 21, 2007

posted by londongeezer at 2:36 PM on April 21, 2007

I would tell my SO. But that's us. We talk about everything. The fact that you are not sure suggests that it might be a sensitive topic for you/him.

I still have dreams about my exes too. The circumstances are different of course. I always assume that it's just because at some level, I miss that person.
posted by mai at 11:49 AM on April 22, 2007

Keep it a dream, just don't act upon it.

I was sleeping at work yesterday and dreamed that a friend of mine owned a Mrs Fields cookie kiosk in the mall and was baking up the most amazingly delicious gooey chocolate chip cookies EVER.

When I woke up, I was craving cookies like there was no tomorrow. I still am, but am too sick to go to the mall.

Going to get cookies is ok. Sleeping with the ex because you dreamed about it is not ok. :)

"Happy Little Secret."
posted by drstein at 4:58 PM on April 22, 2007

I just joined this site today after reading this blog. I had a vivid dream about my ex last night "which I will reveal in a minute" In high school, my best friend eventually became my girlfriend. We dated for 3 years & were very in love. Last summer she went abroad for college, and met another guy. She felt strongly for him & didn't know how to break it to me when she got back. She told me, "she wanted space" leaving me extremely confused. Around a month after our break up, I found out the real story about what happened (& not by her). I was completely heartbroken. I felt betrayed, backstabbed, & moved 400 miles away. It's been 10 months since our breakup. The past few months I have been dating, but feel a lifetime away from ever replacing what I had. Recently my ex and I started talking again, after I found out her & the new guy have broken up for good already. We had a long talk about 4 nights ago, and both decided neither one of us have the energy to try and repair our baggage, or even consider trying to start a new relationship with someone else. She turns 25 soon, and I am 26. I feel like it is late in the game already, and deep down I want what I had. I feel like the feelings might be mutual on her end, but now that everyone knows what happended, no friends or family would approve or support ud getting back together. SO HERE'S THE DREAM I HAD LAST NIGHT! ~I was on a cruise ship with another girl, and we were walking the deck when I spotted my ex. She was with a couple of her girlfriends, and we kept making eye contact. Shortly after this, a rouge wave hit the ship. My ex fell off the edge & into the ocean. She was knocked out, and floating on her back in the sea. I quickly dove of the boat and into the water to save her. I grabbed her, I swam to shore with her unconcious & safely under my left arm. When we got to land, I got a hotel. She woke up weak, and looked into my eyes. We confess we still loved eachother and kissed passionately for a long time~ Shortly after that I woke up. Today I am so confused, and feel like I am in love with her again. (hence me searching the web about ex dreams) I sent her a text message that I had a dream about her last night (with no details of the dream) but still no response. Since our long talk a few days ago, we haven't talked again. I really miss her & I have no clue what to do. I guess, post away! Maybe one of you will leed me the right direction. =)
posted by OoICEMANoO at 2:25 PM on May 3, 2007

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