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How to Stop Thinking About the Past...

Why You’re Not Over You’re Break Up by Kayla McCullough


Photo by Rakicevic Nenad from Pexels


My first college boyfriend was the sort of guy every girl pined for in their early years of school – and maybe even the kind that most parents want them to marry: smart, charming, fun, hard-working, HOT, and well-off. Better yet, all he wanted was “to settle down and start the family thing”: to graduate and grab a well-paying job, get married, buy a house, and have an un-Godly number of kids.

So, what was the problem? He wanted these things with multiple other girls. Long story short, I broke up with him after eight agonizing months of him trying to convince me that he would change. He never did and went off to cheat on the string of girls left after me. I then spent the following summer pining over his ghost.

I was dating another guy during that time, of course – he too was a fantastic catch: a hard-working architect living in a big city with Midwest morals, a good heart, and even more attractive than the last guy. And he wanted to spoil the crap out of me. What more could a girl want? It seemed like I had worked my whole life, sifting through crappy men, to stumble upon this one. I dated him for seven months before we broke it off. And – guess what? – I spent the following one and a half years pining over his ghost. Yes, even though I’d spent the first half of our relationship pining over the first douche bag.

But do you want to know something? These weren’t mistaken breakups – a lesson that took ages for me to realize. I could have married either of these men and been fine. My life would have played out exactly how I’ve always dreamt it would: living in a big house without a care in the world. Except, there was something inside of me that didn’t want this. Each time I took the time to recall the reasoning, I would remember why the relationship was not good for me and would agree with my decision all over again. But that didn’t stop me from holding on to their ghosts and romanticizing a life that would never happen.

Why we misremember and dream up fantasies.

Here’s the truth: I don’t miss all my exes after a breakup. And, I’ve dated a fair share of men. After I realize what I want out of a relationship, nothing holds me back. I leave and go on with my life. But the ones I do, I’ve romanticized a life with them. Though these men had their flaws; I only remember the good times. I hold on to why I fell in love with them in the first place and forget every lonely night I had with them. I forget every reason why the relationship ended because the feelings of security and ease wash over me. I misremember. And the unsettling part? At some point, all humans do. Our memory is scarily unreliable.

For example, there was a study done by scientists to test the human memory. They found that if you would show people fake photos of themselves doing something they’ve never done, they’ll “remember” doing it. This is called memory implantation. And what’s even more unsettling is that they also found that our actual memories are like a game of “telephone”: the signal becomes fuzzy over time and what we recall isn’t actually what happened. Every time you think you remember something; you remember the last time you recalled the memory. Over time, what you remember is whatever you want. Mind blown? Mine was too when I learned this.

It’s easier to love a ghost than commit to someone who’s alive. When I think back on “the ones who got away,” it was so easy to compare them all – to hold every new person up to an old one. If they weren’t perfect like they were, they were out the door. It was like I was trying to clone something that would one day kill me all over again. I would say anything to keep me from investing wholly to the amazing, commitment-ready, alive person in front of me. Because it wasn’t about my happiness or the person in front of me, it was about having a ghost.

People who are afraid of love do this. Someone who is love-attached or love-anxious will cling to anyone and everyone in front of them, right at the beginning of a relationship; however, love avoidants hang back, and subconsciously distance themselves and dump their frayed emotions into “the one that got away.” If you’re having a hard time deciphering who this could be, let me make it easy, it was me. I was so afraid to be hurt again that I would have rather loved a phantom than no one at all because there’s no risk of getting hurt by a person’s ghost.

What I’ve learned is that there is no “one that got away.” There is only your real life, right now – and the things you choose to hold yourself back from living. Great relationships aren’t about finding a perfect person because they simply do not exist. It is about being an almost-perfect person to someone else. Choose to love the person who shows up, who fights for you, who accepts you, flaws and all. Choose to love the person who is alive.


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