Miss Information

I can't get over a guy I haven't seen in five years. What's wrong with me?

By Cait Robinson

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Dear Miss Information,

Some time back, I got involved in a long-distance relationship with a guy from another country. At the time, I was in a tumultuous, long-term relationship, and as that wound down, things with the long-distance guy heated up. When we finally met in person, I felt like I had known him forever, like fate had brought us together, like it was "meant to be" — all that mushy and ridiculous stuff. When we first got together, we thought that at some point we'd end up in the same country. When it became clear that that wasn't going to happen, and things weren't really working out, he dumped me. I was pretty (okay, totally) devastated.

The problem is that this happened five years ago, and I still don't seem to be over it. I don't think about him much in my waking hours, but I keep having dreams about him, which leave me sad and cranky when I wake up, and put me in a bad mood all day. I also am having a hard time being open and trusting with my current, very sweet and trustworthy boyfriend. He assumes that it has to do with emotional baggage from the tumultuous long-term guy. But really, the relationship I'm having a hard time getting over is the one with the guy I spent less than three weeks with in person.

Now logically, I know that I'm idealizing this relationship in my mind because we lived a few thousand miles apart, and our time together was all the exciting parts of a relationship and none of the boring, everyday stuff. I also know, logically, that he isn't even the same person after five years. (We've had sporadic contact over the years, just a few emails here and there. He's married, for goodness' sake!) The person I fell in love with literally doesn't exist any more. But still, every couple of weeks, I have a dream where we are together again, or where he calls and says he's leaving his wife and wants to be with me.

I feel like this isn't "normal," and I feel like I should do something, but I don't know what. Most of my friends disapproved of our relationship to begin with, so I doubt I'd get a lot of support if I went crying to them now about how I can't get over him. And I doubt my current boyfriend, who is my best friend and confidante in most things, wants to hear about it. So what can I do?

— Long Distance Devastated

Dear Long-Distance Devastated,

We've spilled a lot of pixels here at Miss Information over how easy it is to idealize a long-distance relationship. This seems to be something you grasp pretty strongly. What sucks is when a relationship pits your rational brain against your bird-brain. It happens to the best of us.

I suspect that your keeping this secret is only pouring gasoline on the weird flame of your infatuation. You can't talk to your friends or tell your boyfriend, so it's just you, nocturnal neurons, and waking guilt. Answer this question first: do you really want to be with this ex? Or are you obsessing over/mourning something totally different? From your letter, I'd guess it's the latter — perhaps the issues of trust, betrayal, and dashed hopes are what keep you awake at night, not images of a foreign prince on a majestic steed.

Framed this way, your anxieties are not only normal, but very relatable. Start by lightening the self-judgment. If you're going to move past this, locking it away and hating yourself for it won't help. Try discussing it with one trusted friend, and see how that feels. A good friend will hear you out and talk you through it, rather than berate you. Hopefully you've at least got one friend like that around.

If talking it out with a friend proves helpful, you may decide it makes sense to discuss it with your boyfriend. Nobody wants to hear about an ex, but if you frame this more as an issue of loss and anxiety, it may be something your boyfriend can understand. You seem clear that a) the romance you had no longer exists, and so b) it's not worth chasing. Therefore, it's not a threat to your current relationship. It will require tremendous maturity and trust on both of your parts, but if your boyfriend is your "best friend and confidant," he should be up for the challenge.

It doesn't really matter whom you talk to — friends, priests, pigeons on a park bench. Take baby steps, but get it out there. I think you'll find your feelings are less weird than you thought. As your embarrassment dissipates, so too should the hold that this ex has on you.

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