It's A Pleasure

It’s Been 5 Years & I Still Can’t Stop Thinking About My Ex-Boyfriend

He pops into my head multiple times a day. How do I let him go?

Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle; Stocksy

Q: Five years ago, my ex blindsided me with a breakup and moved out. I was devastated. I spent the next few years in therapy unpacking what happened, the role I played in it, and what I could learn from it. I really feel like I've forgiven my ex. I'm not angry at him anymore — I'm glad our breakup pushed me to grow! I've moved out of our shared apartment, dated other people, and finally feel like myself again... but I still think about him every day, often multiple times a day.

Like, I get dressed in the morning and see the skirt I wore on our first date. I see my pregnant friend and wonder how my ex's pregnant wife is doing. I see a cute guy on a dating app and realize he looks like my ex. I hate that my brain won't let go of him. It's mortifying. How do I forget about him?

A: Well, I have some news, Eternal Sunshine: you don’t. You just don’t forget a person who played a massive role in shaping your life, both while you were with them and after you were apart. I haven’t forgotten any of my middle school English teacher’s names! Why would you forget about a person you were in love with?

This might sound like you’re doomed forever, but you’re not. I actually think that accepting that you do (and will) think about him a lot might help you curb the habit.

I certainly hear that you would like to think about him less. Which is fine! It’s neutral! But I would also like to throw out the possibility that perhaps this impactful person in your life takes up a totally reasonable amount of brain space. Whose standards are we using to judge how often you think of him? I mean are we talking 489 times a day? Or simply once or twice? I’m not saying the latter isn’t potentially irksome, I’m just suggesting that it might not be catastrophic or pathetic. It might just… be what’s happening. And I would bet that a lot of time that you count as “thinking of my ex” time is actually “beating myself up for thinking of my ex” time.

Give yourself full permission to think of him as often as you’d like without reproach. When you are reminded of him, think, “Oh yes, my brain is thinking of Bartholomew again” (or whatever his name is). “That’s fine.” Let the thought pass without judgment.

Thoughts and emotions are simply sensations. They aren’t the absolute truth, OK? A feeling can knock on your door and you do not have to let it in and make it a cup of tea. You can simply be like, “Oh no, I do not have time to dwell on where my life would have been if Bartholomew hadn’t left. Catch ya later, melancholy!” Or you can reframe your memories with gratitude. “I had such a nice time on our first date; I’m so glad I got to experience that.” You don’t have to punish yourself for experiencing unwanted thoughts, nor do you have to accept them as truth.

If you want to steal a mantra of mine, I like to remind myself that some things are simply not my business. What the scale says? Not my business. What a random person on the internet thinks of me? Not my business. What your ex is doing right now with his new partner? Not your business. If it’s embarrassing to still think of him? Not. Your. Business.

If you do feel like doing some extra introspection, approach your feelings with curiosity rather than judgment. Are you lonely? Tired? Hungry? Stuck in traffic that’s going to get you in trouble with your boss? Why might memories be popping up? What healthier outlets or temporary distractions might you have? Can you get drinks with a friend? Can you scream into a pillow? Can you go for a walk? Can you watch She’s the Man for the third time this week?

Again, I don’t think you’re doomed. It seems from your letter that you’ve done a lot of work on moving on — to the point that you’ve dated other people! You do not seem as stuck as you make yourself out to be. I also believe that time will lessen this. I bet you will slowly think of him less and less, especially if you don’t beat yourself up every time it occurs.

One last thing I’ll say: Be careful in dealing in absolutes. You don’t have to forgive him 100%, you just have to forgive him enough. You don’t have to forgive yourself 100%, you just have to forgive yourself enough. You don’t have to be over him 100%, you just… say it with me… have to be over him enough to let your life be full again. Full of new things. And also, of course, of memories, too.

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