I’ve seen friends get into relationships that are reminiscent of yo-yo dieting: The couple gets together, they break up, they get together, they break up, start, fail, start, fail. Every time, some small component of their lives has changed, convincing them that things could be different this time around. But for the most part, these people are still who they were—he’d still rather stay home than go out; she still hates texting him back throughout the day—and it never works out.
This is why I always advise friends to never get back with an ex, despite the fact that every flawed relationship looks so rosy in hindsight, scrubbed of its passive-aggressive arguments and last-minute cancellations. Biology is actually trying to be kind when our brains wipe out unpleasant memories, but that’s a double-edged sword.
I’ve had the relationship that started, stopped, and started again—only to stop for good, with some fireworks for good measure. I’ve also had relationships that simply started and ended in tears. So after all I’ve learned, and all the advice I’ve told my friends, even I was surprised when I got together with my current boyfriend…
Yeah, he’s my ex.
But not every relationship that fizzled initially is doomed to fail a second time. Here’s why this time feels different.
1. The first time around, we were really young…
In the U.S., adulthood may technically start at 18, but our maturity level at that age leaves something to be desired, to say the least. When my boyfriend and I first started dating, we were the ripe old age of 20—not even able to buy a bottle of wine for date night. Our careers were still in the dreaming-planning stage, our parents still financially supported us, and we lived in the bubble that is student housing. We were two people still figuring out how to start our lives, planning our escapes into “the real world.” But anticipating the future and actually living it are very different things.
For a relationship to deserve a second chance, the couple shouldn’t still be in the same situation they were in the first time around, hoping against hope that some magical thing will be different. But time, distance, and the opportunity to grow can create that necessary change. These days, we’re grown-ups who know more about what we want and need from life, so our relationship is able to be more mature as well.
2. …and we were trying to make it work long-distance.
This is a rule I still tell people not to break, because it’s been such a monumental struggle whenever I’ve broken it. The truth is, dating long-distance hurts. Waiting all day until a video chat, communicating primarily by text, never getting to hold hands or attend events together… none of this is fun. So when my boyfriend and I started dating shortly before we went off to different schools, we braced ourselves for the distance. We did what we could to make it work, and alternated weekends visiting each other. But not only did this adversely affect my relationship with my friends (“Sorry, I can’t make it, again…”), it was exhausting. I always felt like I was missing out on both my relationship and my social life.
So when we got back in touch—years later, with 3,000 miles between us—I knew that this relationship wouldn’t work if it were still long-distance. When we were ready, we made the big, game-changing decision to move to the same city. It finally felt like a real shot at being together.
3. When we broke up, we didn’t go down in flames.
When we finally decided that the distance was much to bear, we ended things. I’m not going to say the relationship would’ve lasted forever if we hadn’t been long-distance, but this external circumstance was definitely the reason we ended things when we did. That meant that when we reignited our relationship, we didn’t have any screaming, ugly fights or hair-pulling frustrations coming back to mind. It finally felt like we were meeting in the right time and the right place.
4. We’d never really left our comfort zones.
I think that everybody should move somewhere new and far from home at least once in their life. Whether you grew up in a tiny town or a giant metropolis, there’s an incredible experience to be had by trying something new, and you can learn a lot about yourself that way. The first time my boyfriend and I got together, we were both Californians through and through; we both grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles and traveled only as far as the Bay Area for college. We’d spent pretty much our entire lives within the same state lines. After we broke up, I studied abroad and later moved to the East Coast. He spent months hiking across the country, coming home only to save up for the next great adventure. In that time, we also expanded our occupational boundaries, completely changing our careers. Getting out of our comfort zones undoubtedly helped us grow into our own selves independently, so when we met back up, we each had a greater sense of our individual identities.
5. I’m not thinking about “last time.”
I always let people know that we dated before, since I’m bound to tell a story or mention a time from that early year together. But normally, I’m not thinking about it. We don’t say, “I’m so glad we got back together.” We just say, “I’m so happy we’re together.” Because history or not, the people we are today make this relationship happen. We didn’t even talk for several years after breaking up, so although we have a long history together, we also have long periods of life that don’t involve each other. This gives us a familiar past to share, but the focus is on now… and the now is looking pretty good—especially since we’re not taking selfies with bulky cameras anymore.
Christie is a Seattle-based freelance writer with a deep interest in why we are the way we are, and how we can be a little bit better. She’s an LA native, Stanford graduate, relentless vegetarian, and coffee enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter @ChristieBrydon and Instagram @woweezow33.