As life goes on and my previous relationships recede in the rearview, I still can’t stop thinking about my exes — and not about how much I hate them. It’s quite the opposite, actually. I’ll find myself remembering the good times we shared together, how amazing it felt to fall in love and be loved back, and how much I cared for them. I catch myself looking back on my partners as though they — and everything about our relationship — were perfect.
The reality of it, though, is that I’m just romanticizing my ex-partners and — conveniently — not thinking about all the negative and unhealthy aspects of those relationships. I’d rather think about the special romantic days than the days spent crying and arguing.
To romanticize means to “Deal with or describe in an idealized or unrealistic fashion; make (something) seem better or more appealing than it really is,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. Viewing my exes in an idealized way is exactly what I (and many others) do after a relationship ends. It’s easier to love someone when they’re not there to annoy you. Remembering the past in a way that makes it seem better than it actually was is a common act of human nature. Simply put, it’s nicer to remember all the good and forget about the bad.
We humans love nostalgia. When we’re nostalgic, we take a misremembered walk down memory lane in gauzy-lighting. We revisit old memories, but it turns out that our memories are malleable, and we can mold and alter them to some extent. In the case of romanticizing an ex, we might exaggerate the enjoyable aspects of the memories and block out some of the crappy times out.
One reason we may be continuously thinking of our exes — and romanticizing them — is because we’re addicted to them, in a way. Studies have shown that people in love show symptoms of drug addiction like euphoria as well as both emotional and physical dependence. The feel-good chemicals that are released when you’re falling in love are addictive. We want to feel the effects of those chemicals over and over, so we can keep feeling amazing.
Even when a relationship is over, we are chasing that “fix.” In a way, the end of romantic love can feel like withdrawal from a drug. Revisiting memories of your ex is like getting your fix in a very low dosage. Even though those memories of an ex can make you feel sad, they can make you feel good at the same time. Those little flashes of euphoria brought to us by memories are enough to keep us wanting to revisit them. When you think of it that way, it’s no wonder we want to think of our exes and romanticize them — we crave our fix any time we’re lonely!
So, what’s the big deal? Why is romanticizing our ex-partners a bad thing? Well, for one, it makes it a whole lot harder to move on and truly get over your exes. Our judgment becomes clouded. Our exes are exes for a reason, right?
When you romanticize them, you’re more likely to be fixated on the things you once loved about them and totally forget about the reasons the relationship didn’t work out. Thinking about all these good things will make you miss them even more, and even maybe fool you into thinking you should try to get back together — but please, don’t text your ex!
While they say time heals all wounds, the passage of time doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll stop romanticizing memories of your exes. I know it’s easier said than done, but we need to learn and practice living in the moment. Of course, everyone takes a walk down memory lane once in a while, but if your romantic memories are getting in the way of your current relationships, or bordering on an obsession, you might need to reevaluate.
It’s going to take some work if you want to break the habit. You’ll have to be mindful, catch yourself in the act, and work on changing your patterns. Something that can help is keeping your ex partners out of sight in hopes of also keeping them out of mind. Unfollow, mute, or even block them on social media.
Journaling about your feelings is always a good idea when you’re struggling, too. You can also make a list of the things you didn’t like about your ex and the unhealthy or negative aspects of your relationship so you can have a more realistic depiction of the past — reminders of why you don’t need to be hung up on them.
Additionally, you can chat with a friend who was familiar with your relationship struggles to see what an outsider has to say. Often, friends are great at snapping us out of our obsessive phases and reminding us how much our exes actually kind of sucked. They have a more objective view afterall.
Ultimately, looking back at you past relationships with rose colored glasses really won’t do you much good, but it’s a totally normal phenomenon. If you’ve been romanticizing your exes, you’re not alone.
Getting over an ex, or even just cutting back on how much you think about an ex, is hard — but you’ve got to make room in your brain and heart for someone even better to make memories with. This way, when “the one” shows up, you’ll be ready.
Originally published on Talkspace.
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