When you deeply love someone they become a foundational part of your life. You dream about them, you make plans about your future as a couple, you see a rosy horizon of possibilities. If you are securely attached (meaning somewhat healthy) in your love, there is little fear. Most of the partnership is about getting closer, loving deeper, and aligning evermore aspects of your life with this partner. A securely attached partner is ALL IN.
An insecurely attached relationship has some different dynamics. Or if one partner is trying to secure the attachment, but the second partner is distant, anxious, and unable to commit. If either partner has insecurities about the relationship healthy coupling is not possible. A lot of work is required to work through the mechanics and historical trauma of an insecure attachment style. And when one partner is desperately trying to be IN the relationship, the insecure partner is less certain and may have overwhelming fears keeping them from experiencing connected love. It’s hard when the imbalance causes anxiety in both partners.
The One That Got Away
A month ago I got a text from a past lover. It was simply a photograph of me, happy and laughing, during one of our travels across the country together. Nothing more. We hadn’t had any contact for months. I’m not sure what my old partner’s goal was in sending this photo. I wasn’t sure how to respond. However, being a communicator, I didn’t want to simply ignore the “ping.” An hour or so later, I responded by “hearting” the photo. No words. No further conversation required.
But, what was the point? What was this woman getting at? Checking to see if there was still a thread of affection between us? Was it an opening? Or more of a twitch of regret at letting a good one, a willing partner, get away?
As our relationship ended, this partner professed a desire to stay connected as friends. But, something didn’t work out for her with that idea. Each time she would “ping” I would respond with an offer for coffee or a phone call. And would get silence. Or an open-ended vague excuse. “I’m on a call.” Or, “I have company this weekend.” Or, “Can’t meet for breakfast today.” And then, silence. There was NEVER a rejoin. The response from someone who is interested in staying connected is, “I’m on a call, but I can call you back in 20 minutes or so.”
This “happy me” photo she sent unexpectedly after months of silence was confusing to me. I tried to understand the feelings it raised in me. 1. Why was she sending me a photo of our time together? 2. Was there any intention behind the “ping” and if so what were the words behind the text? 3. If I responded, what would I say? Was I going to offer another “breakfast” and get the “I’m busy” response? 4. I couldn’t be cruel, so I responded in kind, no words, just a heart. No further action required or requested.
Ghostings of Past Lovers
I know these “memories” pop up on our phones all the time. Their algorithm is unable to determine that this “happy” photo is actually now a sad photo. Maybe not a photo to be deleted, but certainly not one we need to be brought up annually. I’ve since turned off all “memory” type settings on my photo app and on Facebook.
The effect of the photo she sent was not immediately clear in my mind. She did insert herself there, with the flick of a finger. Something was being transmitted by that photo of our past. But, what was *her* intention?
As I understand these things from a few years of dating when it’s over, there are still pangs of loneliness, perhaps fueled by sadness or drinking, and these “memories” appear on our phones and we’re struck by our loss. Even if the moment or photo is a happy one, the relationship has been discarded and should be jettisoned from your active attention. Sure, have the memory, smile at your former lover’s image, but don’t send it to them.
Why would you do this? To reconnect? To spur on a conversation? Maybe revisit the relationship?
Nope. Don’t do it. It doesn’t make either of you feel good.
In my case, there was a short film that was triggered in my mind about the moment by the pool, with her dad’s dog on my lap. That summer of escaping the pandemic and driving across the country to Vermont. My brain could’ve traveled along that neural pathway for hours. What was the effect? A moment of sadness. And then my mindful monitor kicked in and said, “Wait, this is a mood that does not belong here, today.”
I was able to stop the flooding of images and stories that could’ve been released into my mind and heart by this photo. Nope. I spoke to myself, “Ah, I see this photo and now I’m feeling regret and happiness all mixed together. Let me label this mood, “sadness” and cap the runaway thought train that is right behind it. With a mindful switch, I can release the sad mood and move back to the morning I was having before the photo dinged and popped up on my phone to infect my brain.
There it is. It was as if a zombie had shown up and invited me to consider our summer of escape and love. No thank you, zombie, there is no future between us. Still, to be honest, my mind flickered with images and moods about her, occasionally throughout the rest of the afternoon. What was the point?
I had to learn to let go, sure. But did I have to block this former lover to keep such interruptions from happening? She had no intention of even following up with lunch or coffee. It was just an unconscious flicker of … Pain? Regret? Love? Joy? But, it was not an opening or invitation to reconnect. It was the reverse. Perhaps these types of “pings” from former lovers are more like requests for appreciation. Maybe it would’ve felt good for her to hear me say, “Wow, that was a great time we had.” But, why?
It’s not uncommon for former partners to remain in our hearts. The information and the love is all still there. Also, the possibility of falling back into some zombie relationship is possible. Maybe a quick FWB moment or two.
Just say no.
For some former lovers, it’s best to go NO CONTACT. If interruptions or random connections begin to affect your present life, it’s time to block, silence, and ignore. Sounds a bit rough, but continuing the connection, the conversation, and the reflection is counterproductive. We need to let go, forever.
That final break is hard. I was fully committed to this woman. I was fighting to achieve a mutually secure relationship. I lost the fight. She’s in some state of still reflecting on the “us” that failed to mature. The best thing for me to do is remove all temptations for both of us. It’s not that I want to be with her again. But, there’s always that allure of reconnecting with someone you really really really loved. Unless you have some more lessons to learn about failure and frustration, it’s time to close the door.
John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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*image: the happy moment, the response from her that said “nope”
- A Golden Thread Between Lovers: How Do We Disconnect?
- What Is Sexual Chemistry? Mood? Desire? Compatibility? Body Heat?
- Evolved Dating: Driven in the Non-linear World of Relationships
- Learning from the Hits and Misses of My Last Relationship
Here are a few of my books on Amazon:
- Single Dad Seeks: Dating Again After Divorce: Advice and Strategies on Learning How to be Loved Again
- Fall of the House of Dad: My journey through divorce, from loss to joy, again and again
- A Good Dad’s Guide to Divorce: One father’s quest to stay connected with his children
- The Sex Index: Getting Our Love Languages Right in the Bedroom
- Here Comes the Darkness: Surviving and Thriving After a Mental Illness Diagnosis
- The Third Glass: When Drinking Becomes an Issue
- The Storm Before the Divorce: When One Parent Wants Out, That’s the End
- Dating 2.0: Aiming for the Love of Your Life
Now Available from Amazon