There’s an old saying that in order to get over someone, you have to get under someone new. I’d never thought about the saying much — until I found myself dating someone who was, in fact, trying to move on from his previous relationship.
Our seven-hour first date was less than two months after his breakup. They’d dated over a year, he’d said, and the relationship came up over the course of natural conversation. It wasn’t a red flag for me; instead, it felt smooth and reassuring, the result of an easy intimacy we’d tapped into right away.
I had no reason to assume he was hung up on his ex. He very plainly said that he was over her; they simply weren’t compatible. I chose to take him at his word, and I didn’t think about her again until several months later.
Weeks later, however, I realized that wasn’t the case. He accidentally admitted to speaking to her on the phone and wasn’t quite over the relationship. Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have dated him to begin with — or at least I would have broken it off sooner.
Ever since, I’ve doubted the conventional “wisdom” of getting over someone by getting under someone new. Humans are complicated. Feelings can change and overlap, die suddenly or rush back. But what’s fair and ethical when it comes to dating when you’re fresh off a breakup and involving another person in your (likely messy) love life? According to relationship and dating experts, it’s important to be upfront.
Do not date others to simply “move on” from your ex.
In the immediate aftermath of a breakup, people often date as a form of romantic validation, especially if you were the one rejected. However, this move is only likely to stunt connection and cause hurt, says Chamin Ajjan, a sex and relationship therapist and author of “Seeking Soulmate: Ditch the Dating Game and Find Real Connection.” “Dating with the goal of finding a new partner when you have unresolved feelings is selfish,” she explains. “If you are not over your ex and you are dating someone new, comparison is inevitable. The person you are now dating is in a losing battle, because it’s common to idealize your ex instead of looking at him or her realistically.”
Not exactly the healthiest relationship dynamic.
Julie Spira, dating expert and digital matchmaker, says dating others to “rebuild self-esteem” is only a short-term solution for one party. “The new relationship can end up as a temporary high, or ‘love drug’ to help you heal, but unless you’re 100 percent available, you will get stuck in that comparison game.” Spira says she sees a lot of reactive daters, or a newly single man or woman who will “break up with someone and suddenly start dating a person who appears completely opposite, whether physically or intellectually.”
It’s not that this is bad, it’s just better to make these decisions having processed your last relationship, choosing a different partner — and path — from a place of growth rather than as a knee-jerk reaction to craving someone different. “Almost like trying a new flavor of ice cream,” Spira says.
Defrost the ice of your breakup, and figure out your feelings the best you can.
Laurel House, a dating coach and author of “Screwing the Rules: The No-Games Guide to Love,” says singles should try to get clarity on their feelings toward an ex before diving back into the dating pool. “Imagine that your ex is a layer of ice that is covering your body and seeping into your cells, veins, head and heart,” she says. “That ice may be filled with anger, or, on the opposite side it, could be filled with a romantic ideal made up of the good moments of your relationships — but totally unrealistic.”
To melt that ice, you need to “do the work” says House, which means “being honest with yourself about what happened, taking 100 percent responsibility for your contribution to the breakup and looking at the reasons for your breakup as opportunities to learn and grow.”
Imagine your feelings are dripping off, one by one, as you process different facets of what went wrong, she says. “When you look at and let go of those feelings, you will be able to have clarity about the reality of your relationship,” she explains. House says it’s common to see exes soften toward each other once they’ve taken a step back to analyze the breakup, and this is right when you’re at risk of going back — which she also says isn’t a bad thing if you ended things in anger, or because of a temporary experience.
But, of course, it’s easier to be single once you’ve thawed out.
Be upfront with any new potential partners, and wade in slowly.
Sometimes, you’ll thaw the ice and see your relationship wasn’t all you hoped it would be — that’s when it’s time to move on and think about meeting someone new. You won’t always be able to account for every latent or dormant feeling for an ex, even if you’ve done the work to heal. “There’s typically a crossover time between when you’re fully over your ex and when you start dating again,” Spira says.
When you do decide to date again, Spira says to be “honest and vulnerable” about unresolved or complicated feelings that may still exist about old relationships. It’s okay if the conversation is messy or unsure! Ajjan agrees, saying you cannot skip this step. “A potential partner should have the option to pass on dating someone who may not be ready to date,” she insists. “You may miss out on a date or two, but you get to keep your integrity.”
Once your feelings are out there, says Spira, you don’t need to bring your breakup on every date thereafter. “Let your new partner know they’re important to you, but you’re recently single and need to take the slow path as you reenter the dating world,” she says. If you need to pace yourself, Spira suggests dating multiple people before getting serious again. Going on at least several first dates, she advises, can keep you from rebounding into an intense new relationship.
If you find you’re still in love with your ex, end things ethically. Do not date while courting your ex.
If you’re dating someone new, because you thought you were over your ex, but you suddenly discover you might have ended the right relationship, you may want to talk to a therapist or dating coach to get some perspective. “But if you’re secretly trying to reconcile with someone while courting another, you’re not bringing 100 percent to the table,” says Spira. If you’re thinking of reaching out, tell your new partner first if you have any kind of commitment there; this person has a right to make their own decisions if your feelings have changed from when the relationship began, Spira says.
If you do break it off with a new partner, tell the truth. Jane Greer, a New York-based relationship therapist and author of “What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship,” says to sit your new partner down and explain how your feelings with your ex resurfaced. “It’s important to be caring and genuine,” she says. “Say you thought you’d moved on and wanted to give this an opportunity, but the fact is you and your ex think you can resolve things. You now want to give that a chance.”
It may sting, but don’t lie. “If you are dishonest about why you are breaking it off with someone new, you run the risk of that person finding out in a very painful way,” Ajjan says. “We live in a small world thanks to social media.”
When reconciling with an ex, address the root issue first.
Once you’ve fully ended it with your new partner, you will have work to do with your ex if you choose to get back together. “You need to realize that this is not a new rosy relationship,” House says. “Whether it was an issue of cheating, losing interest, bad timing, or something else, you broke up because you were broken, not bent. Before you can move forward, you have to regain trust.”
House says fixing the problem and rebuilding the relationship will be a multistep process: “Attempt to first address the root of the problem, as well as the damage that leaving may have done,” she says. “Be empathetic with your partner. Put yourself in each other’s shoes, discuss what needs to happen to reestablish trust and create healthy new habits as a couple.”
Oh yeah — and “enjoy the makeup sex,” House says.