You’ve just had the summer of your life. Beach days and bonfire nights with your love, making memories that will last forever (or at least until your IG story expires).
Every day with your S.O. seems better than the last. Full speed ahead — soon you’ll be dropping the L-word. But all of a sudden, out of nowhere, your old flame creeps into your mind. And you can’t seem to shake them from your thoughts.
Why are you even thinking about them if you’re so happy?
Relax, it’s normal.
There are a variety of reasons you might be reminiscing about an ex. Relationship and life transition expert Elisa Robyn says that when we fall in love, we’re often reminded of all the people we’ve loved in the past.
“It is natural for an emotion to bring up other experiences with similar emotions,” she said. “The feelings might match, and in fact, we might realize that our first relationship led to this relationship.”
Memories of an ex could stir up a sense of nostalgia, or even fear. Either way, Robyn said, it’s common and, in many ways, healthy.
Imagine that you’ve adopted a new puppy. Your precious furbaby arrives and you melt. You’re already head over heels for this bundle of joy.
Then, without prompting, your mind goes back to the first pet you ever had. It makes sense to think about other pets you’ve loved before because you just adopted a new pet. The love you felt for your first pet is similar to the love you’re feeling now. You might even feel a little sad because the old love is gone even though a new one is starting.
It’s the same with an ex, Robyn said.
But there are a few red flags to watch out for when it comes to thinking about a past love.
One of them is focusing “on all the positive aspects of our ex,” and assuming “they were our one and only — our soul mate,” she said. When we do this, “we run the risk of turning away from a wonderful loving relationship based on an empty dream.”
It’s easy to remember the good times and forget the bad, but there’s a reason that the relationship ended, and we need to remember that, too.
Before you know it, you might put your new partner in a position where they have to compete with the ghosts of exes past.
If the thought of your past love haunts you over and over again, if you cannot get that relationship out of your mind, it might be time to chat with a counselor. You might have some unresolved issues that you don’t want to take into your next relationship. You might have some healing to do.
That doesn’t mean you need to end your current relationship, but you might want to slow it down while you work to find resolution.
If you’re a widow or widower comparing everyone you meet to your late partner, Robyn suggests putting a halt on dating until you’ve had a chance to work through your grief.
“If we want to move on, we need to deal with our loss,” she said.
Now for the big question. Do you tell your partner that you’re having thoughts about your past love?
Play this one close to the chest, Robyn said. Openness and honesty are necessary for any relationship, but it doesn’t mean you have to share every thought you have.
Sometimes when you’re wrestling with an old hurt or broken heart, you want to know if your S.O. has experienced the same thing. So, you might ask if they ever think about their ex. But if you open that door, be prepared for the answer.
Another big question: Is it cheating to think about an ex? The answer is no, it’s not. But thinking about your ex during intimate times like sex is problematic. It could mean you’re afraid of new intimacy or are having trouble communicating your desires to your new partner.
“Sex is best when we are fully present,” Robyn said.
It’s normal to think about people and experiences that shaped our lives and led us to our present selves. While there are always anomalies, for the most part, our past serves as a reminder of where we’ve been, how far we’ve come and what we need going forward.
Kit Stone is a multimedia storyteller from the West Coast. If she’s not working on the next stamp in her passport, you can find her spending time with her family, tucked away with a good book or binge-watching her favorite shows.