We all have that friend who instantly bounces back after a breakup. Within days, she’s already revamped her online dating profile; deleted all of her ex’s social media accounts, photos, and anything else that proved his existence; and moved on. Within weeks, she’s dating someone new, having fun with her girlfriends, and basically living her best life. All remnants of her ex and her so-called broken heart have vanished.
Then there are those of us who are completely gutted after a breakup. It doesn’t matter how long we were with someone—weeks, months, decades—or how much we know, deep down, how incompatible we really were, breakups leave us completely devastated for a long, long time. We find ourselves in a negative spiral of depression and anxiety as we try to determine what went wrong, and wonder how we can ever be happy again. And then there are some of us who might even find ourselves in a brand new relationship, but yet still think about their ex for years afterwards.
So what gives? Why can’t you move on? Here are some very common, and normal, reasons why you can’t get over your ex.
1. It’s your brain chemistry.
Love is all about chemistry, literally. According to Dr. Berit Broagaard, when we find ourselves attracted to someone who’s unavailable or unstable—basically a bad match for us—the uncertainty fuels our attraction. In other words, we’re chemically inclined to love someone who’s bad for us. Great.
Their unpredictable behavior decreases your brain’s serotonin levels (the feel-good chemical) as well as your dopamine levels (the pleasure seeking chemical) when they’re away or unavailable. But once they text you, or are in your vicinity, your dopamine levels immediately shoot up, and want to feel that pleasure again, and again…
No wonder our attraction to the bad boy becomes like an addiction. Dr. Brogaard recommends treating this addiction like any other—don’t go cold turkey, but gradually get this person out of your life. If you must, try not to even think or talk about your ex. Taking charge of your own mind, including studying meditation or mindfulness, will eventually help you kick the habit.
2. You haven’t allowed yourself to grieve.
Breakups can activate old wounds, like past losses, relationships, and rejections. If you haven’t allowed yourself to fully process your experience, then there’s a good chance you’ll remain stuck thinking about your broken relationship. There isn’t a timeline on grief, but generally, it’s best to acknowledge your feelings as soon as you’re experiencing them. Grieving looks and feels different to everyone. Maybe it’s allowing yourself to sob or scream, maybe it’s writing down everything you’re feeling in a journal, or maybe it’s speaking with a professional. Often times we want to distract ourselves as soon as a breakup occurs, and tell ourselves to just get over it. But refusing to process and recognize our emotions will only lead to further emotional upheavals down the road.
3. Your image of your ex is allowing you to play it safe.
Romanticizing your ex is an easy thing to do, especially when you’re feeling lonely. You might even believe that you’re still in love with your ex after a long trip down memory lane. However, as much as it’s nice to replay your relationship like the rom-com it never was, the nostalgia is just your ego trying to hold you back from finding someone new. Here’s the thing: your ego wants you to play it safe. It doesn’t like risks. Which is why it’s easier to obsess and fantasize about an ex rather than risk falling in love with someone new.
Risking your heart is scary. No one likes being hurt. But it’s important to remember that you have fallen in love with new people before—and you can definitely do it again. Humans are wired to love. Remind yourself of the times you took a chance to get to know someone new, and take pride in that. Use that as your fuel and go try out that dating app, or say hi to the cute barista at your local coffee shop. Each little step forward will help you break the cycle.
By accepting that the relationship is over and processing our emotions, while actively reshaping our mind after a breakup, we can shove our ego aside and be open to new love—the kind we deserve.