I just got out of a relationship four months ago and I’ve really been missing an old girlfriend of mine – the one woman I can’t ever seem to get out of my head. We dated when we were both really young, and it was our first big love but we weren’t really able to make it work out. I walked away from that hoping to get back together with her someday if the timing was ever right, but now it’s become this pattern. Every time I date someone and it doesn’t work out, I grieve the relationship and then find myself thinking about the one that got away, and wondering if maybe now we can get back together. I even wonder if the reason these things don’t work out it because I sort of sabotage them hoping to get back with this ex. Sometimes I catch myself in this sort of thinking and shut it down, but a few times I’ve reached out to the ex in a friendly way, sort of to test the waters… I feel like if it’s meant to be she will have to come to me, as I’ve made it really clear over the years how I feel about her, but in the meantime, if I can’t have her I’d like to have someone. How do I close the door on her so I can really commit to other women?
– Open Door
Hey Open Door,
So you want to get over the one that got away for good?
I understand the impulse. It’s an admirable impulse. But you might not be able to forget about her totally. She was your first love — but not all is lost, you just have to change the way you’re thinking about her.
Where some people get stuck is putting this first love on a pedestal, which suggests they’ll never again feel for someone that deeply or share a connection that intense. I bet you remember all the details of that first “real relationship” much better than you do the subsequent girlfriends you’ve had. While there is something so powerful about that first love (and first breakup), you’ve loved since, and you will love again.
You’ve taken the brave step of being vulnerable to your old flame — of letting her know that you’re there if she ever wants to reunite. Now, you need to get busy with living and loving and trust that she will find you if she wants that.
Any time you know you’re stuck and you want to change an old pattern, you have to first see clearly what you’re doing and why it’s harmful. I think you’ve done this — you know you get stuck in this painful longing for what you had, and you wonder if it sabotages your ability to be present to potential partners. You may find it valuable to think over some other ways this behavior pattern affects your life, so you can really see it clearly. In what ways are you denying yourself love because you’re hung up on the “one that got away?”
It might help you find a good match to think about what you loved so much about this woman and seek it in others — but this could backfire, say, if you’re always comparing a date’s dancing skills to your ex’s and then falling into a pit of despair midway through the date.
If you’re connected to your ex online, block her (at least temporarily) on social media. Stay friends with her on Facebook but hide her posts, for one. This way, you’ll need to actively look for her online to see how she’s doing rather than be exposed to her happy memories any time she posts.
You didn’t mention how the ex responds when you reach out, so I’m not sure whether you are truly friendly acquaintances or whether there’s a power imbalance here. Some people like to have that ace in their pocket, so they’ll be flirty with an ex to keep that “maybe, someday” promise alive. If you suspect she’s stringing you along that way, then cutting contact might be the right solution. I know you probably don’t want to think about that, but if she is holding out hope over you as power, it could be the best thing for you.
If you aren’t ready to start dating now, take some time for yourself. Take an adult ed class, try a new hobby, or get back to an old hobby you lost time for in your recent relationship. By shaking up your routine through a spin class or book club, it becomes easier to shake up that mental pattern with your relationships.
It sounds like thoughts of the ex has become your default self-care after a breakup, but it isn’t working for you. Find other ways to care for yourself, your body, and your mind. If you don’t know where to start, cooking and eating healthy foods can give you a simple routine, a wardrobe refresh and new hairdo can make you feel like a new you, or a journaling bender/phone call with an old friend can help you work through some old feelings and truly let go of whatever is keeping you stuck.
If you are ready to start dating, get out there mindfully. The best way to be present to a potential partner is to be in the moment with them, listen to them, and open up about who you are and what you are looking for right now — whether it’s fun for the night or something serious.
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