Kara keeps returning to the scene of the crime, over and over, and it breaks my heart. Josh broke up with her over a year ago because she was, in his words, too clingy, too needy, too serious about what the future held for them—too much of all the things he loved about her in the beginning of their relationship. I was there to pick her up from the floor when Josh packed the last of his things and left. I have been there at least five times since their breakup to pick her up again after she believed Josh wanted her back, even though he’s never actually said those words and his actions have clearly proven otherwise.
Kara and Josh’s first reconnection (or fling, depending on who you ask) came after her grandmother passed away. Kara was very close to her grandmother, and Josh, trying to be kind, I guess, wanted to offer her comfort in those moments of immense grief. The thing about exes who know your heart is, they can always find a way into it if you allow it. His hugs became kisses, which went on to become two weeks of sex disguised as “maybe we should try again.”
Here we are, Kara and I, a year and five re-openings of a terribly wounded heart later, with me picking her up from the floor again. Make no mistake: life is full of heartaches, much of it undeserved and unfair. What I want for Kara, and for all of us who struggle or have struggled with our exes and our pasts, is a new heartache, a new wound in a different place that has a better chance of healing smoothly; not with jagged edges and extra calloused skin, and not slowly leaking until we are no more.
So I forwarded Kara a quick read from elitedaily.com entitled “Stop F*cking Your Exes: 5 Reasons to Leave the Past in the Past.” WHEW! The article is so elementary, so easy, so full of what we already know about revisiting past lovers with hopes that they’ll change. But sometimes the obvious is hidden in the fog. Our humanness, and with it our need for familiarity and our hopefulness, makes us eager to forget the past even when we know we know how the story will end, again and again.
Nine times out of 10 (and I’m tempted to write “10 times out of 10,” but I suppose miracles do happen), your ex is an ex for a reason—often a reason that hasn’t changed or been miraculously resolved. As I reminded Kara (and myself), of course an ex will make you feel wanted when you’re warming his or her bed. But the absolute truth of the matter is, he or she had the opportunity to have you, all of you, and they chose—through words or deeds—otherwise. Stop allowing someone to not choose you over and over again, because at some point you will believe that you are not worthy of being chosen.
Even more, the back and forth between you and your ex not only clouds your head and your heart, but impacts your ability to trust your instincts, your gut, the inner voice that leads you in not only your relationships choices, but in every decision you make in life. If you’re going to navigate this life without losing your mind, you and your gut are going to have to be bffs. Your relationship with your inner voice won’t fail you like your relationship with you’re a**hole ex will. Trust me.
It’s also important to remember that God and the universe conspire to give you, not what you say, but what your actions suggest you want. You can’t see the greatness ahead of you if you’re constantly looking back. Period. We often return to the bad habits of failed relationships because we operate within a space of scarcity. We convince ourselves (or maybe an ex has) that no one will love us in the ways we’ve been loved in the past—even when our minds fully understand that past love was imperfect and, most times, painful. If we approach life and relationships with our minds on abundance, our exes will become less and less appealing.
None of this is to say we can’t maintain some semblance of a relationship with our ex if we find him or her worthy. If we learn to set proper boundaries, our exes can actually enrich our future relationships by helping us reflect on love and the mistakes we’ve made in it. I even believe we can continue to love our exes, and that romantic relationships can transition into platonic ones. The thing is, we have to stop pretending we don’t know who deserves to be seated at our table and who, for real for real, can’t sit with us.
Josie Pickens is an educator, culture critic and soldier of love. Send her your love + relationship questions here. Also, follow her on Twitter @jonubian.