Your last girlfriend just got married. The girlfriend before that is happily living together with another guy. And your childhood sweetheart has just found true love. It’s enough to make you shoot Cupid.
But wait a sec. You’re the one who broke off each of those relationships. Why should you be feeling bad when they managed to mend their broken hearts and find happiness again? Shouldn’t you be at least happy for them since you did the dumping, they did the jumping?
Well, it’s not so simple. I know so many friends who were in terrible relationships with their partners. After months of agony, public fights out on the street, slammed phones, disrupted schoolwork or sick days from work, buckets of tears and oodles of hurt feelings, they finally manage to break it off. They’re both as miserable as drowned puppies for a while, but through lots of sympathy and ice cream (for the girls) and male bonding and beer (for the boys), each finally makes it through.
Eventually each of them leads a normal life again, not tearing up every time a sappy love song comes on the television (those songs’ lyrics always seem to resonate only when you’re heartbroken!). They may even start dating other people again. But then one of them will hear, through a mutual friend or even the ex him or herself, that the ex is beyond happy and settling down.
You’ve utterly forgotten about the fights, the tears, the accusations. And suddenly – and particularly if you’re not in a relationship yourself and really want to be – you can’t imagine why on earth you broke up in the first place! Think of Meg Ryan as Sally in the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally, a mess of tears when she hears her ex is about to marry his latest girlfriend – the one he dates right after Sally. “She wasn’t supposed to be the one,” Sally sobs, “She was supposed to be the transitional!”
Rule No. 1 about exes and their newfound happiness: Be realistic. By now you should’ve gotten back together with your guy or gal if you really truly thought you should be. Being passive about restarting a relationship will get you nowhere. And even worse, wallowing in self-pity and moaning about how you were “supposed” to get back together – even when you haven’t done one concrete thing about it – is totally detrimental too. Get over it!
Rule No. 2: The past is not nearly as you remembered it. It’s neither as bad as you thought it was, nor was it as good as you thought it was. You’ll inevitably skew one direction or the other. I suggest asking your friends, who witnessed the saga, how it really was. I’m sure they’ll be willing to remind you just how crap it was when you’re sitting all gaga-eyed remembering supposed good times.
Rule No. 3: No regrets! This means not wailing about the outcome or thinking what might have been. What’s done is done. All relationships are a cumulative process. You grow from them, and after each you’ll get better and better at being in them. This doesn’t mean you go into every relationship with a strictly utilitarian viewpoint, of course. All it means is that you ask yourself, after you’ve calmed down and the hurt has nearly all gone away, what you’ve learned and how you could do it differently the next time.
I have a friend who used to call himself the “grass is greener” guy all the time. He would always be regretting what he had in front of him and wishing he had what was on the other side. But now, after several relationships that he ended for various reasons, he’s finally seeing that it’s something in his own actions and not someone else’s that is making it not work out. He sometimes feels pangs of regret, but then gets over it, and I think he’s better for having ex’s – one’s that he has thankfully learned to exorcise.