An editor from a London newspaper emailed me a couple of months ago to ask if I believe in getting back together with old partners. It was a curious question given the context under which she emailed — she acknowledged the three-year hiatus my husband and I took between dating and marriage — but the follow-up questions (How did you surrender? How did you get back to feeling like yourself?) got me thinking: Would you get back together with an ex?
If a relationship ends before you want it to, and you force yourself to demonize your former partner because it’s the easiest ways to move on, or your friends come to your aid to supply a healthy amount of break-up shame by acknowledging everything about the relationship that was flawed to convince you that you’re better off…can you ever really recover from that?
We are, as the London editor so succinctly put it, “unhelpfully trained to think that love is black and white. [That] if someone wants to be with you, they will be. Otherwise, they’re an idiot and you need to move on.”
But love is much more complicated and subtle and multi-pronged than He’s Just Not That Into You made it out to be. There are plenty of circumstances that call for the termination of a relationship even where there is still love. I don’t want to replay information you probably already have about the minutiae of mine, but it is worth reiterating that when Abie broke up with me, it shook my sense of self-trust and assurance to its core. Here my gut intuition had effectively promised me that I’d met my match, so for that intuition to then betray me, for Abie to call bullshit on it, was transformative for my self-confidence in that it took it from 100 to 0 in the course of a single conversation.
I think the important pieces of the London editor’s questions sit quietly between the lines. The truth is, I still don’t think I have completely surrendered; one therapist even suggested that my fertility issues were a function of my inability to let trust in, and if I haven’t completely surrendered, can I truly be my most authentic self? But the reason these questions are even being asked, I assume, is because the editor is looking for resemblances, signs from my story that may indicate signs for her unfolding story.
To answer my own question, of course you can recover from putting your ex through the break-up shame ringer. Had you asked me prior to getting back together with Abie if I believed in getting back with an ex, I’d have said no — that when it’s over, it’s over, and that it ended for a reason. But that would have been fiercely judgmental, the response of a person who had not lived enough life to recognize that you can’t answer that kind of question with such a blanket yes or no. Every circumstance is different, every relationship its own breathing organism.
What I can tell you though, is that even when you do, you don’t ever really get back together with an ex. After you’ve broken up, you can’t resume the same relationship because you’re no longer the same people. And for better or worse regarding the fate of said relationship, trust me when I say, this is a very good thing.
Photo by Evan Agostini/Liaison via Getty Images.