We've all had that *one. That one guy who broke us apart and has a nickname in your friend group because he shall not be named. That one ex who maybe did the type of damage that’s etched on your skin like a fading tattoo. Most of us have all one (maybe two) of these types of relationships in our life. They aren't the type of relationships we're proud of because more often than not we experienced loss, trauma, or just heartbreak. Some of us experience all those things and more and take them back.
Reconciling or even entertaining the idea of being back with someone is never easy. It's the hardest thing to do because it requires a leap of faith that forces you to forgive the person who hurt you while giving them the opportunity to possibly do it all over again. Getting back with an ex is a choice that demands a lot of work on both parties, and there is no guarantee it will work. But let's be honest: When you love someone and it’s real, it's hard to simply walk away.
I had an ex who I thought was the one man I could marry. Our relationship was over a decade in the making because we'd been friends since middle school and tried (and failed) at a brief romance in our teenage years. Finally, I seriously entered a relationship with him when I was fresh out of grad school, living out of state and ready to “adult.” For me, being in a serious monogamous relationship was the best way to start.
We were together a year before I found out he'd been unfaithful a few times, and I broke it off. After a year apart with no communication, no social media and no contact, we came back and tried to make the magic happen again. This didn't have a happy ending for me, but as I've been in reflection mode, I've been thinking about those really intense months of reconciliation and what I learned from it.
There’s no blueprint to dealing with an ex, but what I learned will stay with me forever.
1. Time doesn't always change people.
I've always been a person that believes people can change. I know that is a debatable concept in some circles, but I truly am an optimist that believes if a person is willing, they can change. When I decided to entertain the thought of having my ex back with my life, I was determined to see if he had changed.
I wanted to believe that if I'd spent the past year healing and participating in organizations, therapy and church to better myself, then he must have as well. Had I been paying attention, I would have picked up on behaviors or patterns that showed the contrary. I was too caught up in my emotions to pay attention, and once again, the relationship failed me.
Had some elements about him changed? Sure. But was he the man I needed him to be, no. A year apart didn't change that. But I needed to convince myself he was different because if he wasn't, we had no future of being together.
2. When you build separate lives apart, coming together can get messy.
A year apart did many things for us both. We were both in our own careers and I was also in a new city. When we attempted to start reconciling, we had a lot of mechanics to work out that didn't exist in our prior relationship. This was very, very stressful to deal with on top of figuring out if we could be together again. Not only was I wondering if he was different and if could I trust him (among other things), but now I wondered if we could maintain the relationship long distance.
I questioned if it was even worth exploring when we were at a north and south pole of our lives. The bubble of being together in the same city with the lives we had didn't exist in our current reality and it made the idea of being a relationship more disheartening, given that we had broken up because he had been unfaithful.
We attempted to find balance in visiting and trying to integrate our schedules, but a factor in our failure was that he ultimately couldn't handle the 45 minute distance. When you spend enough time apart, reuniting, even under the best circumstances, can prove to be less than ideal for where you are in your present life. Maybe you have different friends, habits and beliefs — there are endless factors. It's doable with time and consistent effort, but it may not be practical if, like us, you’re living in different cities.
3. Instincts are everything.
If there is one truth I didn't want to miss this time around, it was following my instincts (aka, listening to my gut). My heart and head were in a constant battle about whether this was a good choice for me. And just when the prospect of a relationship became a real factor, he jumped ship.
I remember feeling so much turmoil and confusion that he couldn't follow through on promises of a future, managing the distance, being a good man and all the things we needed to have our happy ending. But I had a real good cry and I let it be. I listened to my gut for the first time, because while my heart was saying stick it out, fight for him and make it work, my head was like, if he's acting like this before he's even your boyfriend again, then it's for a reason. So I walked away. And when he tried to come back later on and tell me he didn't mean anything he said, and he was now ready to be serious, I had to keep walking.
It was very hard, but I knew it was the best thing for me. If I wanted to avoid the heartache of the past, I had to operate in real time and not the imaginary future I had so desperately wanted us to have. I wasn't perfect by any stretch because in hindsight it was a door I should have never reopened, but the one thing I give myself credit for is knowing when it was time to walk away. I didn't in our earlier relationship, but this time I didn't second guess myself.
Getting back with an ex is never easy, but if you choose to, pay attention to what you need and want out of a relationship. If the same patterns, behaviors or unhealthy feelings exist between you, it's probably an indicator that the relationship isn't for you
It's never easy to let go of people we love, and with social media and dating apps the prospect of being with your ex may be more tempting than starting over again. But if you do so, you may be cheating yourself out of a real future with a partner who could be everything you need and more. Don't give up, don't settle and if you go down the rabbit hole of being with you ex, give yourself grace, forgiveness and listen to your heart.