Let’s imagine for a second that love had an off switch that you could flip at will. The moment you sense relationship doom approaching you simply hammer away at your emotional panic button and off you go, into a rosy new dawn without a backward glance.
Does that sound appealing?
It might if you are currently drowning in a sea of emotional pain. The ashes of a relationship can seem so utterly wasteful. How could a connection that was built so painstakingly with all the blood, sweat and tears you invested just become a footnote in your personal history?
Alright, so that’s one way of looking at it. But I bet there was something else you felt when I asked whether that vision of the past was appealing.
I bet there is a side of you that resents the idea of becoming numb, no matter how painful or how raw your feelings are right now. A side of you that rebels at the thought of being buried under your scars. And if you ask me, this is why.
Why We Continue To Feel
The Primitive Brain
You might ask yourself why you continue to feel so strongly about something which you’d be objectively better off without.
There are two ways of answering this.
The first is that your subconscious brain isn’t logical. It senses that something traumatic has happened and is now urging you to “go back” to a time before this eruption of pain happened.
The key here is realizing that the brain doesn’t care a whit about what this time was actually like. It may have been unfulfilling, unhealthy or even abusive. But if it represented a routine of a kind, then it represented stability. And the brain just adores stability, because stability and predictability mean survival.
So, for the pragmatists out there, your capacity to feel is linked to the brain’s simplistic drive towards protecting you from the dangers of the physical world by pushing you to restore the relative “safety” of your previous routine. Isn’t that romantic?
Coping With Genuine Loss
But there’s something more meaningful to love than just a series of neurons firing. In almost every relationship there will be things that are tough to leave behind.
Maybe it was something as simple as your morning coffee together. Or maybe it was something more profound, such as the way your ex manifest their affection. The point is that we stand to lose something of genuine value when we part ways.
Accepting that this loss is real and has occurred is one of the reasons why letting go is so difficult, because our primary defense is denial.
Again, the kicker is that there is loss in almost every breakup, no matter how “beneficial” that breakup may pan out to be. If we were dumped, or if the relationship was something we felt was beneficial to us, the grief stemming from this loss is even greater.
If we plan on moving past the grief (while hopefully still retaining the love), we need to accept that this loss is real, and there’s also a chance it was one of a kind.
What Our Capacity For Love Says About Us
There’s another reason why it isn’t just normal to love your ex after a long time, but also healthy. Our capacity to love after its expected “expiry date” is a sign that our capacity to love remains intact.
While it is true that breakups take something deep from within us. Call it innocence or idealism or whatever else, it is also true that the growth that results from evolving through our insecurities adds value to our lives in the form of understanding and experience. It makes us stronger.
In this sense, our ability to take a beating but get up again is not just normal, but among the most potent mechanisms of self-improvement there is. It’s our romantic trial by fire.
If we can do all this and retain our love in the process we remain whole. The real sign of being broken by love or life is becoming numb and callous. Because it means we have amputated a part of ourselves in self-defense. A part of ourselves that we may one day sorely miss.
Why It’s Normal To Still Love Your Ex
Yes, it is normal to still love your ex. It is why this article exists. It is why you aren’t the only one to have read it and won’t be the last. It is why many like it in their many forms exist try and make sense of the same issue in every nook and cranny everywhere you look.
It is an inescapable part of being human. Both genetically and metaphysically. And personally, I find that when viewed from a standpoint of personal growth, a checkpoint on the road to self-improvement and a sign that everything’s working as it should.