It was recently suggested to me by a well-meaning friend, that my propensity to hang out–-often–-with my ex could prevent my “getting over him” and “moving on.” But If I’m not ready, I’m not ready. “Where’s the fire?” I thought.
So how long is long enough? Should the cooling off period vary relative to the length of the relationship, or the severity or trauma of the break up--or is everyone different, and there’s just no empirical way to know how long one should wait?
“The Love Doctor,” relationship expert Dr. Terri Orbuch says “There is no set timeline to follow, and only you will know when you’re ready to get into the dating world again.” In her book Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship, she asserts, “Contrary to what your friends or family may tell you, studies show that there is no predetermined period of time after a divorce or breakup before you are ready to start dating again.”
So there, well-meaning busybodies.
I have a friend who jumps, almost literally, from one relationship to the next, a la Jennifer Lopez. It’s not just that she leaps on the next-best-thing who happens to come along, it’s that she goes out of her way to dust off those last-guy sandals and hotfoot-it to the next village before you can say “Nice knowin’ ya… not.” And almost as quickly, they’ve zoomed through getting-to-know-each-other dating and are in a drawer-sharing, key-copying relationship, complete with “Honey” and “Baby” talk, shared vacations and (too swiftly in my humble opinion), sleeping over habitually with kids from previous marriages in the house who also inherit the new instant family members.
Any attempts to encourage some quality downtime in-between, or to spend some time alone (egad!) to process, learn and/or heal are met with an eye-roll at best, or outright offense and derision at worst. “You just don’t get it,” this friend will say, “This IS my healing process.” She even claims her therapist recommends this wham-bam-right-back-at-em approach.
So, quicker than a lost online dating site password can be recovered, she’s back on the amorous airwaves shopping for a new mate, regardless of how she feels about the last one or what apparently led to their demise.
This friend is not alone (at least, never for very long… ahem.) She and Ms. Lopez have a lot in common with other serial monogamists who traipse from one “serious” relationship to the next as if potential partners are interchangeable and the next best choice just always happens to appear at the ready when they are. My erstwhile advice aside, could fast rebounders actually heal faster than those of us who lick our wounds longer before leaping back into the fray? Could they be on to something, or are they simply afraid to be alone and keep settling for the next Mr. or Ms. Maybe who comes along?
While it may be more typical for the newly split to avoid new connections while grieving and trying to regroup, for some, climbing back onto the proverbial horse while still smarting from the last fall may actually be a better choice. A new partner can do wonders for a bruised ego and can help distract those otherwise inclined to dwell on past heartache or “wallow” in the last wipeout overlong. Embracing the possibility of a new partnership is inherently hopeful, in equal measure, to the impulse for pain-aversion and self-preservation in some cases.
Perhaps quick-draw love leapers like my friend aren’t “afraid” to be alone so much as they’d just prefer not to dive into the emotional work (never fun) it takes for many of us to really heal from a broken previous relationship – but is that necessarily wrong?
Who better than a shiny, new enamored partner to shore up that ego wracked with self-doubt, or that sinking feeling that you’ll never love someone like that again… or have sex that good again… or find someone who loves Elvis Costello as much as you do again? Moving on quickly and proving to yourself that you can be happy again – perhaps in different ways – has the power to re-paint the actual breakup as “meant to be,” before you know it. “X and I had to breakup so Y could come into my life,” etc., clearing the way for new happiness and the possibility of positive growth and change.
So, when is love leaping not such a hot idea? When you are aware that you don’t feel whole yet in a way that keeps you from being yourself around someone new--that’s when. If any new partner has been chosen for mere want of making yourself feel better, rather than their personal merits, charm, character and wholesale attractiveness, you are about to commit an unfairness to the both of you.
Stop. Rewind. Hit pause… for now.
The truth is, we just can’t access our best judgment with excruciating-pain goggles on. What seems attractive once you’re whole, often bears little resemblance to what seemed to float your boat immediately post-breakup as you swirled around in a whirlpool of half-conscious processing. If you’re rebounding, it means you’re reacting to the NEW person primarily in context with the OLD person – what you did/didn’t like about them and/or the ways they hurt you that you’re now hoping to avoid. Such a frame of reference is so small, that rebounders understandably tend to miss (or ignore) plenty of other “flags” of all colors. The new hopeful simply hasn’t gotten a “clean slate” – for better or worse - from which to woo you or lose you on their own merit, rather than “compared to” old-so-and-so.
And, it will be tough to be fully “there” emotionally, because your subconscious will tend to want to unravel for examination the end of your last relationship, whether or not you pay attention to it. This could doom your new start, from, well… the start, inevitably undermining the ability of this promising new connection to thrive on its own as it might have with a less-dusty-cornered beginning.
Lastly, there’s always the risk that by sidestepping potential introspection and growth from confronting the real issues and fully grieving your loss, you’re simply delaying your pain rather than avoiding it. In which case you’re pretty much guaranteed that the causative core of it will eventually rumble back up into your present at the most inopportune time, generally perpetuating painful relationship patterns in that endless cycle of different partner/same crap samsara that so many serial love leapers endure.
Whatever the cause and regardless of “fault” in a tough breakup, finding a new someone wonderful can indeed precipitate healing, but only if you can truly be present in the new relationship and leave your excess baggage from the last trip behind. If not, taking a little more time to hurt, process, learn, and regroup might be a smart move, and kinder to yourself in the long run.
SIX SIGNS YOU MIGHT STILL WANT TO KEEP THAT DANCE CARD IN YOUR POCKET:
1 – TALK OF YOUR EX IS UNAVOIDABLE… TO YOU AT LEAST
Being unable to curb your conversations from veering into ex-land incessantly is obviously a problem, but it’s also a sign you need healing and perhaps some support to get there. If your friends or family look more weary and worn out than empathetic when you bring up your ex, or actually tell you it’s been long enough and they don’t want to hear about so-and-so any more, get thee to a caring therapist pronto.
2 - TALK OF YOUR EX MAKES YOU STEAMY… NOT IN A GOOD WAY
On the other hand, avoiding the topic of Mr. or Ms. X because you can’t do so without becoming angry or upset is an equally bad harbinger of future relationship viability. If you can’t discuss your past relationship with a modicum of composure you will not only be a tedious, inconsiderate date, but you are not in a “good place” to begin dating again without unintentionally using that next guy or gal to prove your ex inherently in the wrong to make yourself feel better.
3 – YOUR VERSION OF THE LAST RELATIONSHIP SOUNDS LIKE A CARRIE UNDERWOOD SONG
If you still harbor tire-slashing revenge fantasies or cannot give a reasonably succinct version of “what went wrong” that isn’t a one-sided rant brimming with vitriol in which you star as the innocent, wronged victim, you have more work to do. While the blame may not always be exactly attributable 50/50, it always takes two, as the saying goes, to make and then break every relationship. There is NO breakup that breaks this rule. If you can’t see your part in it, you are absolutely doomed to repeat it.
4 – YOU CAN’T SEE YOUR EX WITHOUT ROLLER COASTER TUMMY SYNDROME
You know that “bottom just dropped out of my insides” feeling you get when you’re not over someone? If you still get it when you see your ex, you’re not over your ex. Wait until seeing your last love doesn’t give you more butterflies than being with the new one.
5 – YOU AREN’T “INTO IT” EVEN THOUGH YOU “SHOULD BE”
You’ve started to see someone who seems really great, and while it feels awesome to be wanted by this terrific person and you think it MUST be good to get out there again and start to FEEL again… you just aren’t feeling… at all. If your dashing new squeeze tells you they’re crazy about you, gazing deeply into your eyes and you feel… meh… just meh, or hear yourself saying “I don’t know how I feel” – yes you do. You aren’t ready so tell Mr. or Ms. Wonderful the truth without further delay, and then take the break you deserve. Your heart isn’t dead, it’s just still in the ICU, so don’t push yourself until you’re legitimately feelin’ it.
6 – MUSIC MAKES YOU MAUDLIN
We all have certain songs that remind us of certain someones, which is fine. But if you still can’t get through your daily commute without every other sad song welling up inside of you and spilling out into sighs and tears and repetitive thoughts of your lost love, you are simply not done being sad yet. You’ll be ready when love songs – especially new ones--don’t make you think of anyone in particular at all.
In fact, music can be a great barometer for your unconscious. If you find yourself bopping along, listening to the radio and you notice that happy songs sort of swell up inside you again, it can be an indication that you’ve healed and may be ready to move on. Find an optimistic new vision of undiscovered romantic adventure floating through your brain with the notes of the chorus? Consider yourself ready once again to join in the dance.
Listen to your heart,
Author of The Heart Beat series
Art: Jugend, 1897 Munich. Illustration by Höfer