Either them, the idea of them, the relationship, or the comfort
I “dated” (went to the movies and held hands with) a few dudes casually, but my first serious boyfriend was someone I dated for two years in high school.
That was “long-term” for that age. Though not really that long when you consider this age is also often defined by uncertainty and following what seems to be “the cliché dream” until you work it out for yourself (at least it was for me.)
But at the same time, I knew we were meant for different lives. (And since breaking up over a decade ago, this has certainly proven out. He went on to get married and have kids (and heck yes, I am so happy for him!) while I went on to… confirm I didn’t want that.)
In other words: we weren’t meant to be.
Yet I spent years — literal YEARS; longer than we even dated— pining over the dude.
Or rather, the idea of him.
And after him, I dated another guy for five years before breaking it off (similar reasons; still panned out to be right.) But guess what? I then spent the next few years pining over the second serious boyfriend’s ghost. Even though I’d spent the majority of our actual relationship pining over the first one.
These break ups weren’t a mistake
Each time I took the time to re-rationalize and recall the reasoning, I would remember this and agree with the decision all over again. But that didn’t stop me from holding on to their phantoms.
I don’t miss all my exes. But when I do, I totally romanticize.
I idealize the good times. I remember the good shit, and only the shit about them that looks good “on paper,” even if it didn’t actually work for me (and even if I know that!) I’ll remember the feeling of security and ease. Comfort and cute inside jokes. The idea of them. Not them.
I don’t remember the loneliness, or lack of connection, or care.
I misremember because we all do. Human memory is scarily unreliable.And we are illogical, emotional beings.
Research shows that if you show people fake photos of themselves doing something, they’ll start actually “remembering” it. This is a phenomenon known as memory implantation.”
“Memories aren’t static… Every time you remember an event from the past, your brain networks change in ways that can alter the later recall of the event. Thus, the next time you remember it, you might recall not the original event but what you remembered the previous time.”
So every time we remember something, we only remember the last time we remembered it. And over time we remember it however we want.
“Why might some guy I fucked years ago remember us as having stellar sex when I thought it was pretty average? Because he jacked off about it a bunch of times.” — Emma Lindsay
And we’re all jacking off to memories of exes we miss.
It’s easier to lock our emotions up in a phantom than commit to someone in front of us
It’s so easy to compare a new partner to a previous one we’ve built up in our head, esp. when we’re willfully holding to that romanticized image.
“They’re not as [literally whatever]” — anything to keep us from investing.
It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that love avoidants, in all their own issues, are more likely to do this. One of the subconscious distancing strategies they use is dumping our frayed emotions into “the one that got away.”
Because there’s no risk of getting hurt by a phantom. We can make them whatever we want, and then live there.
But it’s not healthy.
There is no “one that got away”
There is only our real life, right now, present day — and the things we choose to hold ourselves back from living it.
Great relationships aren’t about finding perfect partners — they’re about being near–perfect partners. Which means accepting another person, flaws and all, and investing in them wholly, without carving off some of your care for “nostalgia” — or cutting either of yourselves short.
Choose the one to love. And then love the one you choose. You broke up with the ex for a reason, whether you’re ready to absorb that or not. We all have to let go, and move on with the life that’s in front of us.