He’s everything my ex wasn’t. He’s consistent, makes plans and tells me how much he enjoys my company without me having to ask. I like him but I’m not “in like” if that makes sense. I want to give him a chance but I can’t stop thinking about my ex.
This makes total sense.
If you watched Sex and The City, you remember this episode.
Carrie, everybody’s favorite Toxic Friend, found herself jonesing for drama. We all know someone like Carrie. They’re not happy unless they have something to obsess over, something to use to drag the spotlight back on them. Carrie was famous for this.
Aidan was stead-as-they-come. Dependable. Affectionate.
That was the problem. It wasn’t that he was too nice so much as he was consistent. And we all know how much Carrie hated consistency. He hated it so much that she made it her life’s work to blow up her life every chance she got. Turns out, there was a reason for this. (One of many, but we’re going to focus on one for now.)
Ask a psychoanalyst why you keep falling for the “wrong” one, and he will draw it back to an unconscious desire for suffering — something that stems from childhood and harboring painful experiences. But ask a neuroscientist, and he will offer considerable evidence that nature is the dubious culprit; that the constant attraction to inconstant love is rooted deep in the brain — more specifically, the reward circuitry of the brain.
When we receive a reward and it’s unexpected, the dopamine release is greater, resulting in a more pleasurable experience than if we were to receive a reward that was anticipated. This helps explain the paradox of being unhappy with a partner because they’re unreliable but continuing to go back to them time and time again.
Mr. Big, the ultimate Fuckboy, was unpredictable. Because their relationship was so tumultuous, Carrie was constantly experiencing huge doses of dopamine. Eventually, she became dependent on that rush from the dopamine. If you noticed, Carrie would drop whatever she was doing when he called. If he wanted to get together, she’d make it happen. Big was like heroin for Carrie. A a result, like many addicts, she’d even lie or engage in reckless behavior just to get a hit.
If I were a neuroscientist, I would posit that Carrie cheated on Aidan - good-hearted, predictable if-a-little-boring Aidan - because he didn’t stimulate the reward center of her brain the way Big did.
I would say the same about your situation, Letter Writer. You had to ask your Ex if he enjoyed being with you. Something about his behavior (as well as yours) compelled you to seek out reassurance. As Carrie put it, Big liked to partake in the “oh so attractive withholding game.” That played right in to Carrie’s bottomless well of need personality. They fed off each other. It sounds like maybe you and your Ex did the same. When we’re dating someone who intermittently presents and withdraws that can wreak havoc on our emotional well-being.
What you need to do is go on a 30 day detox of anything that reminds you of your ex. A month is about how long therapist Mike Dow believes your brain needs to dissolve the oxytocin bond you formed with your Ex. (So much for that 90 day kissing rule!)
What you absolutely must do is avoid his social media. From the linked article:
The trickiest of the heartbreak neurotransmitters is oxytocin. Dow told me that "oxytocin is the bonding chemical… and the brain needs time to undo that bond." This is why he recommends going "love sober" for 30 days. This means avoiding contact with your ex: don't call them, don't look at their social media, and especially don't have sex with them. Doing so will just make it harder to dissolve the neurological bond your brain has formed, which will stand in the way of getting back to your normal self.
The best way to kick off your detox is to indulge in self-care. Make time to hang out with friends. Partake in activities that make you feel confident and that boost your self-esteem. Avoid self-medicating if you can. That includes hitting up dating apps and going on a swiping frenzy. While we might not realize it, when we make our profiles public again or re-install an app, we’re actually seeking out rushes of dopamine. It’s funny how our brain knows exactly what we need even if we don’t.
It won’t be easy to totally deprive yourself of any memory of your ex. What you have to keep reminding yourself is how much better your life is going to be once you get over this hump. You’ll probably learn that this guy you’re dating isn’t boring at all.
You were just craving something you no longer need.