The Power Of Nostalgia
Memories is a funny thing. We like to think that a memory is a perfect snapshot of an event; a moment in time indelibly frozen in our minds that we can recall with perfect clarity and accuracy.
Unfortunately, the reality is that memories are notoriously unreliable. Not only is our recall imperfect at best, but we are also prone to subtly re-writing our memories to better match how we want to remember things. Which includes editing out the bits we don’t like… like all the bad parts of our relationship. It’s not terribly surprising; after all, who wants to recall all those fights were so vicious you couldn’t stand to be in the same room together afterwards. Who wants to keep the exact look on your lover’s face when you saw his heart break for the last time or dwell on all of the ways you were an asshole to someone you supposedly cared about?
And while we’re busy toning down all of the bad parts of the relationship, we’re highlighting all the parts we did enjoy.
We wrap those warm, happy memories around ourselves like a blanket. We want to feel the way that we felt back then when everything was new and every day was a gift. We enjoy comfort and familiarity and that is part of what makes getting back together with an ex so tempting. It’s like sliding into a broken in pair of shoes.
Except of course, the shoes may still not fit, no matter how well worn they may be. The temptation of an old relationship is how easy it is, but that an unwillingness to leave your comfort zone – even one that ultimately leads to suffering and misery – makes it impossible for you to meet someone new. Meeting new people is frustrating. It can be stressful. Hell, it can be downright terrifying. But it’s also how you find someone who’s right for you… not by trying to relive the past.
“It’s Better Than Being Alone”
Sometimes getting back together with your ex is less about what you had and is far more about what you don’t have: someone else. Sometimes there can be nothing quite as depressing as an empty bed and Saturday night is the lonliest night of the week. Yeah, you may not really love each other. Hell you may not even like each other very much. But who wants to face another long stretch of holidays alone, spending your nights in bars nursing your mix of bitterness and whiskey while resenting the fuck out of all the happy couples around you?
Then, one day, you’re back in touch with your ex. And hey, you’re both single, you’re both lonely and God knows neither of you have any prospects… so why not?
Well, because sometimes the properties of individuals aren’t additive. You aren’t really together; you’re just alone with someone else, using each other as a way to try masking the void you’re both feeling.
And that’s if you’re both on the same page. You may be using her as a balm for your loneliness… but she is trying to make an honest second try at this. Now not only are you trying to numb yourself to what you’re really feeling, but you’re doing incredible damage to your partner.
You Want The Power Back
Sometimes, wanting to get back together is less about nostalgia or an unwillingness to let go of a relationship that you can’t accept ended the way it did.
Sometimes, it’s about wanting to fuck somebody else over. You got dumped. You were hurt, not just because the relationship ended, but because you weren’t the one who did the dumping.
Straight talk: I had no idea that this was a thing until it happened to a friend of mine. Then another. And then I found out that someone I had dated briefly had tried to pull this on me because I had the temerity to be the one to end things.
Look, even under the best of circumstances, we can’t control the way that relationships end; sometimes you’re the dumper, sometimes you’re the dumpee. If you are so hung up on the power dynamics – or so bitter from a bad break up – that you’re trying to get back together with someone for revenge, then you are profoundly fucked up and a horrible person. See a goddamn therapist before you dip your toe back into the dating pool.
You Are Not The Exception
Getting back together with your ex isn’t automatically a bad idea… but it’s rarely a good one. Even under the best of circumstances it’s incredibly tricky and filled with potential pitfalls. But even though we all know, intellectually, that the odds are stacked against us, the siren call of the past and the hope for glorious reunion sex can override the logical parts of our brain. Everybody knows of at least one couple that broke up then got back together stronger than ever, overcoming time distance and circumstance with the power of True Love, so why couldn’t you be that couple?
Well, one of the perks of my job is that I get to apply the Chair Leg of Truth to people’s fantasies.
And the truth is: those couples are the exception to the rule. You are not. How do I know you’re not? Because you’re relying on the idea that you might be. This is the same thought process that leads to people buying lottery tickets: somebody’s gotta win, so why couldn’t it be you? The fact that you’re hoping to be the one person to beat the odds is an indicator that deep down, you already know that this is doomed from the start; you’re just trying to convince yourself that it’s not.
It’s not about being delusional in one’s commitment to an idea or a fantasy, it’s about the attitude you’re bringing to the possibility of a second chance. It’s one thing to know that the odds are not in your favor, but you’re willing to put in the effort and emotional toil that it takes to make a relationship work because it’s that important to you. It’s another entirely to pin your hopes on the notion the roll of the cosmic dice is going to come up sevens instead of snake-eyes.
Unfortunately, confirmation bias and the temptations inherent in rekindling a failed romance are powerful forces, and it takes a strong, self-aware person to overcome them.
If you really want to get back with your ex, you need to put your heart (and libido) into check and take a very long, hard look into what you’re trying to do… and what you really want.