What I Learned From Years Of Chasing An Ex

When I met my ex for the first time, it was truly magic. He stunned me with roses, had his friends deliver me surprise ice lattes in class, showed up to my jobs to pick me up, and wined and dined me so hard I could write my own food blog. It was truly, as my childhood self dreamed, a fairy tale.

Well, I hate to kill the dreams of my precious kid self, but it wasn’t a fairy tale. It was a honeymoon stage. The next year for us was not a cakewalk—sure, it was filled with romance, served with a homemade side of bickering, screaming matches, and public irritation.

Yet years and years later, the memory that jolts my brain awake with sweet nostalgia is the same flood of dopamine I felt during that beloved honeymoon stage.That honeymoon stage stained me with years of permanent rose-colored glasses I couldn’t take off. In fact, no one could take them off—not my friends with cold hard facts, not my family by reassuring me I’d find love again, and not myself with attempted rationalization and breakup podcasts. I was in too deep; I placed my ex so high on a pedestal he surpassed my favorite feminist icons, celebrity crushes, and even myself.

So, I did what many people do when they can’t get over their ex—I tried all the “Get Your Ex Back!” propaganda. I played the no contact card while secretly praying for his name to light up on my iPhone. I read the (very anti-feminist) guides on how to “get the man” by muting yourself, constantly playing hard to get, and never actually telling people you care about them that you care about them. I became a chameleon, pretending I was okay with whatever my ex was okay with, even if it meant a text or two every three weeks and an Instagram like on every one of my pictures (some call this “breadcrumbing”).

We talked on and off for weeks, months, and even the better part of years. We tried to keep it casual, like the books, guides, and YouYubers told me to be okay with. He was still in my life, yet I was emptier and more anxious as ever. Where was the dopamine? Where was the romance? Where was the honeymoon fairytale la la land I spent the better part of my days dreaming of recreating?

Finally, my true feelings exploded after repressing them for too long. I couldn’t pretend, couldn’t play games, and definitely couldn’t act like I didn’t care when my heart was bleeding with love for one person.

So, I did what many in the relationship guru world advises against: I was open and honest with my true feelings. Out of all the tips, tricks, websites, podcasts, and books I’d read, being honest is the one thing I can truly recommend to all of you. I felt an anchor immediately lifted from my chest, even though I dreaded his answer due to fear of rejection. To my surprise, he hit me with a short but poignant response: “I feel the same way”.

Now, this should’ve been the start to our fairytale, right? After so many years of pining, dreaming, wanting, and manifesting, I finally got my wish. Unfortunately, that hot-and-heavy, movingly romantic, fairytale-ish love I felt the first time around never came back, despite us really trying. Things were different. We were different. Our lives were different. The image that I created of our future, of our relationship, of this constructed love story I blame on being raised on rom-coms and fairy tales, just wasn’t actually real. Not in the present, at least.

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but throw the “How to Get the Guy/Girl” books and articles in the toilet. Games are not the way to attain true love, and if you have to pretend not to have feelings or act like someone else for someone to like you, that person might not be your “one”. You and your ex may have a different ending—a happier one where both of your needs are consistently met and you truly decide to be partners. The only way to know for sure is through open and honest communication, no matter how vulnerable and sucky that sounds to us Millennials. Risking rejection and sharing how you feel is brave, not clingy. Having the courage to express yourself even if you don’t get the answer you want is being true to yourself. But also, remember that all the good times may be clouding our true reality of the present. We cannot recreate the past, we can only do what feels right in the present.

This isn’t about bashing my ex or giving you an answer as to whether or not you should text yours. This is a call for honesty—honesty with others, but mostly, honesty with ourselves. Are you seeing the full picture or did you and I buy the same pair of rose-colored glasses?

About the author
therapist navigating life, love and empathy in new york city Follow Alex on Instagram or read more articles from Alex on Thought Catalog.

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