Second time around

Should I start a new relationship, knowing that if my ex wanted me back I'd run to her in a minute?


Cary Tennis
June 23, 2003 11:48PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I'm a 20-year-old girl, and about eight months ago I was dumped by a girl I truly loved. It's been a hard year, romantically. I've had a lot of major rebound crushes that never came to anything much. I was just randomly throwing my suddenly huge stores of unrequited affection around, hoping it would stick somewhere. It all ended up on people that I soon realized I only wanted to be friends with, and who usually only wanted to be friends with me. I vacillated wildly on whether or not I was "over" the ex. Sometimes I would go for weeks thinking that I was just fine, "whatever, she sucks anyway, who needs her!" but I always ended up back where I started, crying pathetically into my beer, asking my horrified friends, "Why doesn't she love me anymore?"

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I dated the girl for two years, and even though I logically understand that our breakup was for the best (the spark was gone and didn't seem to be coming back, and she was tired of being tied down at such a young age, of course along with various other complexities that aren't necessary to explain here), I just can't seem to shake her. I may have only been 18 when I decided I'd love her forever, but I think I meant it.

What might be complicating this problem is that I still talk to her almost daily. Besides a few desperate outbursts a while ago, I've managed to hide the fact that I'm still in love with her, and she seems to be buying it. I do so because I feel that I need her in my life and I don't want to scare her away.

Here's the issue: I've recently started spending a lot of fun, flirty time with a really great girl. Being around her makes me realize that my earlier crushes were phony. I'm attracted to her in a real, honest-to-god visceral way that makes me feel like I'm alive again. But is it implicitly dishonest to start a relationship with somebody new when I know deep down that if the ex called one day and said, "Babe, I've been thinking, and I realized that we have to be together. I want you back and I'm willing to work for it," I would drop her in an instant?

Also, is it even possible to love for a second time, and will I ever be able to look into somebody else's eyes without thinking of hers? (The last question is rhetorical, but I kind of mean it.)

Needing Some Sense Knocked Into Her Head

Dear Needing Some Sense,

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It's not really wrong to start this new relationship while still feeling attached to the ex. But I think you have to be truthful. And this talking to your ex every day is a little troubling. Because it's as though you are actively keeping alive the possibility; that's different from finding yourself hopelessly unable to forget her.

Talking to an ex every day is like keeping a gun in the house: Maybe you feel safer that way. Maybe you feel you need it. But the thing can go off accidentally and wound the innocent.

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I think the only way you can enter into this new relationship with a clear conscience is to limit your contact with your ex and explain your situation to the new girl. I don't mean right away, but soon. If you get involved with the new girl, then you'll eventually have The Talk, and that's where you tell her. You talk about what the future might be like, and you tell her there's this girl that you never got over. You tell her that no matter how much you like the new girl, if the ex drove up right now in a white Chevy Impala, or even if she just showed up with a BART ticket and $20, you'd be out the door. Just confess you're powerless over this one aspect of your life.

Or, I don't know, you maybe don't have to be so damn dramatic. I'm not sure. Unless you really spell it out for her, she may be blindsided if the ex should ever show up. On the other hand, you don't want to insult her or hurt her feelings. So it's your job to weigh these elements, to be truthful but measured, to warn her without being overly dramatic.

It might mean losing the new girl, but I doubt it. People in passionate relationships tend to downplay the abstract dangers. And that's as it should be: You have to live in the world as it is right now.

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Cary Tennis

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