Love’s favorite thing to do is to stick around when it isn’t convenient. Perhaps the worst thing about a breakup is that the feelings don’t walk out of your life as easily as your ex did. Instead, they linger. Unsolicited late night “I still love you” text messages ensue. And if you’re anything like me, you think about your exes often, you still write in your journal about them, and, most importantly, you struggle to resist the strong urge to stalk them on social media.
According to the majority of Top 40 hits and romantic comedy plots, still loving your ex is a pretty common phenomenon. It makes sense to be stuck in love. After spending so much time being close and intimate with someone, it’s only natural to feel an ongoing attachment that can’t be shook off by simply eating some Ben & Jerry’s (though that could help a little bit). Once you open up your heart to someone, a little hole forms that becomes filled up by your partner’s love. Once that person leaves, the hole is open, and it won’t close on its own right away.
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To get a professional opinion on the matter, I spoke with two Talkspace therapists who helped me understand that, when it comes to relationships, “normal” varies greatly from person to person, and being hung up on an ex is definitely nothing to be alarmed about.
Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC, explains, “Just because someone breaks up with a partner doesn’t mean that love feelings stop. I would go as far to say that many people love their exes for some period after the breakup happens. It’s normal to have lingering feelings of warmth, love, and care towards your ex long after a breakup.”
How Long is It Reasonable to Love Your Ex?
As for timing, one size does not fit all. “There is no standard time period in which a person needs to ‘get over’ their ex,” Caraballo states. “In many instances, people feel those love-like feelings for quite some time after a breakup. This can vary widely depending on the person, their circumstances and personal history. Some people may just need days or weeks whereas others may take months or years to move on from an ex.”
Falling out of love seems to be a process that’s painstakingly longer than falling in love is.
Why does the rebound period vary so much from person to person? Well, a breakup causes grief, and as we know, that comes along with 5 stages. “A breakup is loss and with loss comes grief. There is no set time limit that it takes to go through the stages of grief. It is a process that takes as long as it needs to,” Angela Towne, LCSW, explains.
When you experience a breakup, you’re losing more than just a person. Caraballo adds, “Whenever we lose a relationship it’s important to give ourselves space to grieve the relationship we lost and all the expectations and hopes we had for that connection.” You’re losing plans you had for the future and experiences that were yet to come, from the little things like finishing that series you two were binge watching, to bigger things like your intentions to start a family together.
Breakups and the months that follow are a time to practice self-care, and this includes keeping a close eye on your emotions and well being. While it’s definitely normal to grieve the loss of your partner, you want to make sure those feelings aren’t turning into something more unhealthy. Towne says, “Any signs of depression, anxiety, or decreased interest in activities that seem to linger or are more extreme/last longer than you have experienced before are signs that it could be helpful to talk with a mental health professional to help process your grief.” Caraballo seconds this, stating, “While grief or depression are not one in the same, the experience of grief can mimic the symptoms of depression so it can often be helpful to speak to an objective third party, like a therapist, for insight and suggestions.”
How to Best Move On After a Breakup
Now that we know it’s totally normal to still love and miss your ex regardless of time frame, what can we do to aid in healthily moving on? (Hint: Not breakup sex!) It’s crucial that you don’t isolate yourself, even though you may feel like doing so. Caraballo explains, “Pain thrives in isolation so I would recommend that those grieving from a relationship find someone that they can talk to readily and openly about their feelings. This might be a friend, parent, religious leader or therapist ultimately, but it’s most important to have support as you start to get back to life in a healthier way post-breakup.”
On top of avoiding isolation, you should try to focus on what’s best for you and your future. Being without a partner will force you to be independent and get to know yourself even better. Try out a new hobby, revisit old hobbies, reconnect with friends, write a list of goals for the upcoming months — anything that’s healthy and makes you feel good!
As for what to do with that extra love that’s lying around, journaling is a great outlet. Write letters to your ex that you will never send. Pour it all out onto paper. Make a list of why you should never get back together with your ex, despite still loving him or her. My list for my most recent ex includes “wears boat shoes” and “doesn’t like emo music.” Keep it next to your bed, and refer to it often.
Lastly, don’t you dare beat yourself up for still loving your ex! Let me say it one more time — it is TOTALLY NORMAL to still love your ex. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You aren’t alone. I hope one day all of the holes in our hearts close up and we’ll be able to experience a new love — a love that will make past heartache worth it.