Q: Eight months ago I called off an engagement with a man I'd started dating very young and had been with for many years. As we grew into adults, we became very different people. While there was nothing inherently wrong with the relationship, I realized I had become complacent and wasn't happy. (And around this time I actually reached out to a few LL lovelies off-blog, maybe they'll remember me!)
Post-break up, I think I've been doing pretty well. I had been living way out in the 'burbs, and am now in a great apartment near the city. I've been running and biking a lot, joined an online dating site/have been meeting up with guys from that, and have always had a great group of girlfriends to spend time with. I'm really happy with my life, and it feels more like what I had imagined for my mid-20s.
Here's my problem: I am terrified I am going to wind up in a relationship with him again. It's a completely irrational fear. Aside from the handful of civil conversations required to separate our assets, I haven't had any contact with him since our break up. Apparently my subconscious is on the same page because my latest recurring dreams start with me having accidentally gotten back together with him and feeling a total state of confusion/panic as to how I let that happen. During our relationship, we did break up and get back together a few times, so it's almost like I don't trust myself to remember why I ended things (of those breakups, I only initiated one myself). I've tried not thinking about him, I've tried talking to friends about him so much that I wind up apologizing for beating the topic to death. It's just a bad feeling to have lurking. How do I get rid of it?
– What Irrational Fear? Somerville
A: Don't take your irrational fears so literally, WIF. Your ex symbolizes a greater anxiety -- the fear of the unknown. No matter how great it's going after this breakup, you're probably a little disoriented. Your ex is in most of your memories. Your routine as a single person is still brand new. You're probably scared (albeit excited) about your next relationship. And no matter how complacent and unhappy you were with your ex, it's natural to have a tiny fear of missing out.
I imagine that it's weird and rather upsetting to wake up after having a dream about getting back together with your ex against your will. But every time it happens, and every time that you find yourself panicked about an unwanted reconciliation, remind yourself that your ex is no longer your ex. He represents something bigger.
You might have dreams about your ex for the rest of your life, and that's OK. I still have nightmares that I've missed high school exams and won't be allowed to graduate. I'm in my 30s and I still have that dream at least twice a month. That one's a symbol, too. It means that I'm worried about work or that I forgot to take out the garbage or that I ate too much candy before bed. It's just simple anxiety. Take a deep breath and redefine this fear. Give it less power. Try to watch television or read before bed.
Readers? Is this fear literal or does the ex represent more? Can you relate to the fear of getting back together with an ex against your will? What is this about? Is she having regrets? Discuss.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.