I left him but I keep dreaming about him

I moved, changed jobs, changed bars ... but he and his family make nightly appearances in my sleep!

Published February 7, 2012 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

A year and a half ago, I broke up with a guy I had dated for a year and a half, after a solid "Three strikes, you're out." I have no doubt in my mind it was the right thing to do. He got a new girlfriend about a week later. I never got any of my stuff back from him. It was a tough breakup for me. I cried for three months.

I changed everything. My job, my city, my drinking habits. Life is awesome. All three of those things, had I not changed, would have resulted into continuously running into him/them.

My problem is there hasn't been a night that has gone by that I haven't had a "nightmare" about this guy. And the new girl. And his parents, whom I adored. A recurring dream is that I move into a new place (which I did already) and I am so excited about it, and then I walk outside, and there they are, my next-door neighbors.

I have been on a couple of dates and met some really nice guys whom I really don't think twice about.

I know I did the right thing, but I am so embarrassed and annoyed that my subconscious will not let it go. Any suggestions on what it might take to stop these dreams/nightmares?

My subconscious would really appreciate it.

Over It But Not Really Over It

Dear Over It But Not Really,

My subconscious had a conversation with your subconscious and found out that you're still totally in love with this guy. Your subconscious is, anyway.

Your subconscious was telling my subconscious how attractive he was and what a good time you used to have until the conversation started to really irritate me and I had to break in and say some things to both of them.

"You're all about you, aren't you?!" I said to your subconscious. "Here this girl is trying to get over this guy and she's asking me for help, but you just can't get enough of him. You keep throwing him right back in her face. What's wrong with you?"

Now, because my subconscious and your subconscious were speaking to each other in their own special language, I can't transcribe exactly what your subconscious was saying. But here's a rough approximation.

"You really loved him, didn't you?" my subconscious said.  "You really loved him and she ditched him without consulting you. That's it, isn't it? You felt comfortable with him screwing up all the time, not being true, not being able to settle down, not telling the truth? How can you love a guy that much who treats her so badly? Aren't you and she one and the same? Don't you have any regard for her? You're just out for a good time and nothing more?

"You don't care? Really? You're her subconscious and you don't really care that much what happens to her? Oh, you don't mean that you don't care, but that you don't take her fears seriously because they're groundless ego fears? That she's not really in danger even though she thinks she is? That she doesn't really have a broken heart even though she's crying for months? What are you talking about? [Your subconscious can be a little arrogant and obtuse -- like a lot of subconsciouses.] It's just "ego fear"? Come on. Really?

"So riddle me this, Her Subconscious: Where were you when she was going through all this with this guy? You were right there? Why didn't you tell her?

"What? You liked it when he wouldn't behave? You liked the fact that he was out of control? That is crazy! That is perverse!

"Oh. Right. You're the subconscious. You're supposed to be crazy and perverse."

After having this conversation with your subconscious, I understand you much better. Your subconscious loves the jester and the cowboy and the wanderer, who make for sketchy boyfriends but your subconscious doesn't care. It's not that your subconscious doesn't care about you. In fact, you are all it cares about. But it considers many of your fears to be petty, society-based fears, not grounded in spiritual reality. See, your subconscious is coming from a perspective of pretty much timelessness, infinity, no death, that kind of thing. It's not in a hurry, your subconscious. It's got loads of time. It always has a parking space.  When it's just parking, it's into parking. If it's making love, it's just making love. It's just interested in what's happening before or afterward or in different locations. That's meaningless to the subconscious: future, past, here, there -- it's all the same. Plus, when postage rates go up, it doesn't have to adjust the meter, if you know what I mean. (That's the most amazing thing of all, if you're in a small business. But you don't know what I'm talking about now, do you, because you're not in a small business? Well, you should be. As a hedge against inflation and joblessness.)

Anyway, this explains why you are in such a tough spot.

So what can you do?

Well, I know one thing. You have to give your subconscious what it wants, or it will make life hell.

Think of your subconscious as if it were a child and you were the adult having to pay its way and drive it around.

It's like, OK, if it were playing baseball, it would be the one guy out there who is just enjoying the sensation of playing and doesn't care about the rules or the score; he loves the crack of the bat and the sliding into base; he loves the feel of the clay and the grass; he loves the uniform and being out in the sun and cheering when something happens.

That's your unconscious, or inner child, or soul, or whatever. That's the part of you that is alive and hungry.

Your subconscious misses him more than you do. It misses the sweets. It misses the chance to be on top of the world, in the moment, laughing in the bar, completely satisfied. It misses him, how he took care of things for you, how he made things right while he was making things wrong.

Your subconscious knew all along exactly what he was like and what he was doing and that was fine.

You have no secrets from your subconscious. I think that's where people get the notion of "God" as somehow all-knowing; it's our projection of our own unconscious.

Your subconscious is pure knowing. It sees and knows and shrugs. It shrugs, that is, as long as it is getting what it wants, for that's the other part of it: Your subconscious is also pure longing. It doesn't care about the rules he broke. It just wants him back. And it will keep serving him up in dreams until it gets what it wants, which is ... whatever it wants ... which it will tell you about in the cryptic and maddening language of dreams and coincidence.

So what are you going to do?

You have to own it, for one thing. You have to own your own desire. You have to say, out loud, here is my desire for that guy, and it is strong, and I do want him, I want the taste of him, I want the feel of him, I want to do the things we used to do, I miss feeling the way I felt after we did the things we did, and I miss knowing that he wanted me and was there, and all the things that happened while we were together.

Your hungers have led you into bliss but also torment. You are a Western person who takes it for granted that you are in charge and that there are rules, and that a lover can strike out if he violates the rules. What you are encountering, though, is the nature of desire and the subconscious, which does not care about rules and the violation of them but only cares about vision and passion and taste and touch and wanting.

Go easy on yourself is one suggestion. Admit that you are not in charge, that your desires are bigger than you. Observe that moving and changing jobs and changing bars did not eliminate the condition of desire. That is because desire does not inhere in conditions or locations. It is in you; it is your desire. It is yours. Own it.

Satisfy it.

By Cary Tennis

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