Ask Elise: Getting Over Past Relationships

Photo courtesy of Elise Maren
Photo courtesy of Elise Maren

Ask Elise is an advice column meant for suggestions regarding LGBTQ+ community member dilemmas of any kind. If I am not qualified to answer your question (regarding issues for transgender individuals, people of color, etcetera), I will ask someone who is qualified and cite them. Your question is equally important and may help another community member. If you have a question, please submit it to [email protected] listing your pronouns and pseudonym if desired. If you need someone to talk to for more urgent or serious matters, please consider using the following hotlines:

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Dear Elise,

Do you have any tips for getting over past relationships? It seems to me that no matter how much time passes, there is still a part of me that holds onto those old feelings.

Thank you,



Dear Anonymous,

I tend to look at things with rose colored glasses, so I like to write down the cons of the relationship in order to cope. The intent is to not necessarily reflect on the experience as negative; we can still celebrate the pros of the relationship. However, it can be helpful to analyze the worst aspects of the experience and why you do not want to go back to them. If you feel comfortable, it may be helpful to invite loved ones into this process. They may see aspects of the previous relationships which you are unable to see that were not optimal. I can attest to this personally. This requires a lot of vulnerability, but may be worth it; it could be a huge opportunity for personal growth and even deepening of friendships. While discussing with friends, avoid bad-mouthing your ex, even if it helps you get over them. Constructive criticism for growth is different from gossip. Those negative thoughts are still valid, but consider writing them down for only you to read.

There may be some times when you don’t have enough cons and would go back to that person if they were interested. In that case, I would make a list of things that you appreciated about that person and that experience in a general fashion. That way, you can begin to envision a future partner who has similar attributes or values. Try to add things to the list that the previous partner did not exhibit that you would like to see in a future partner. Avoid getting caught in the why? And what if? There may even be things about the relationship that felt limiting. Maybe your partner was more extroverted, and you preferred to have more nights at home. Explore your introversion with a partner who is similar to you in that way. Maybe your partner was also introverted but you want a partner who challenges you more socially. Explore going out with someone more extroverted.

While no person will be perfect, the fact that a previous partner did not have some things that you’d like out of a relationship is an indicator that there could be someone better for you out there. As a testament to this, I can tell you that my long-term partner is unfathomably better for me than my previous “one who got away” (The only man I ever truly loved as a closeted lesbian, at the time). With being a religious LGBTQ+ person, I truly never thought I would find someone as compatible as my current partner.

You know your own heart best, but perhaps you could view the part of you that holds onto those old feelings as mere nostalgia for positive memories rather than something you need to get over. Putting pressure on yourself to feel ambivalent about a situation may cause an unnecessary lingering sense of shame. There is nothing wrong with healthy appreciation or even occasional nostalgia for a past relationship, as long as there is no painful rumination or negative effect on a current relationship. There are no rules about how you should or should not feel. It is all about what benefits you and your psyche. 

Does art help you cope? Perhaps you could make an abstract art piece depicting the good and the bad of previous relationships. Write a poem or a letter about the struggles of those relationships. Play some angry music, even if you can’t relate to it necessarily. Feel the big feelings! Sometimes you have to feel and sit with feelings before they will pass. Sometimes the feelings linger and won’t go away. In that case, remember that they are only thoughts. Acknowledge them, avoid assigning morality to them, and let them pass by.

Lastly, consider your boundaries surrounding past relationships. Are you really the kind of person who can stay in touch with an ex, or is staying friends on social media hurting your ability to let go? Some people can stay friends with exes in a healthy manner and some cannot. There is nothing wrong with either approach. Don’t be hard on yourself or let people judge you for leaning one way or the other. I believe in you.



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