Love Amnesia: “Whatever You Do, Don’t Date Them Again”

a scenic highway seen through the lens of rose-colored glasses
Image by John Martinez Pavliga / CC BY

“Good news,” I say. “I think we’re in a good place again.”

I tell them I just spoke with my ex-boyfriend. As with many breakups, things got a little weird for a while. But I’m feeling for the first time like we’re on the path to being on good terms again. If not now, then eventually.

This ex-boyfriend is a funny case. We’ve actually dated twice (with a two-year gap in between), and each time things started out really great only to have me shortly become frustrated and end it. Twice. The whole experience really shook me to my core, led me to doubt myself. How was I so far off base not once, but twice? And how could I let someone else get hurt in the process? Get hurt not once, but twice.

It wasn’t my finest hour. Not my best look. I don’t regret dating him, but I do regret hurting him.

Anyway, I’ve missed him dearly. He’s a world class conversationalist. And one of my favorite people.

So I’m thrilled that we just had a good interaction. I excitedly convey this to my friends. That we’d talked about an interesting writing project he was working on (since he’s also a writer, a very talented one). That we even hugged.

I’m so thrilled that I’m not at all prepared for what they say next, “Whatever you do, don’t date him again.”

I laugh and say, “Of course I won’t.” Because that idea seems so absurd. I mean, even if he were willing to trust me again, to say, “Oh yeah, you dumped me twice, but now I believe you. This time we won’t crash and burn,” (which is a big if), why would I go there?

I mean, I’ve learned my lesson. Haven’t I?

I carry that question around with me all night, even after I leave the party.

Am I someone who is doomed to repeat history? Am I someone who so easily falls again?

Redates Carry Long Odds

Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of redating people. Because they’re an ex for a reason, right? Especially in circumstances where it wasn’t external factors that made things impossible. Where someone didn’t move cross-country or get into a monogamous thing or you know… something that could have been inconvenient but more a matter of timing.

In circumstances where it’s about compatibility issues, it’s always seemed like a bad idea to date again.

I’ve rarely redated. And the few times that I did, it always came back later to bite me on the ass. The former issues that I thought were resolved were actually still there, just hidden for a while. Either glossed over by NRE or actively concealed by the person I was dating (who was on their best behavior for a time). Eventually when things shifted and settled into place, I was back in the same situation as I’d been in before.

I should have known this time wouldn’t be any different.

But I didn’t. And that bothers me. That I let myself believe something that I knew was likely untrue.

Forgetting the Bad Parts

I’m still carrying that question around me the next day, when I’m hanging out with friends at another party, a barbecue. Talking to Damsel.

I tell her about my encounter with my ex-boyfriend the night before. That we’d had a good discussion about his writing. How much it meant to me.

“And of course everyone was like ‘whatever you do, don’t date him again,'” I say. “Like I would do that. I’ve learned my lesson here.”

Damsel laughs and says, “You know, if you wanted to date him again, I would totally support you.”

This is not what I’m expecting to hear. “What? ”

She tells me that there are certain people who have wandered in and out of her life where she just doesn’t learn. It’s almost like she gets love amnesia, forgets all the bad. And there they are again, just as enticing and lovely as before.

“So you know, if he’s that for you, I get it,” she says.

“Oh C’MON, you’re supposed to talk me OUT of it,” I say.

She laughs. “Sorry, nope. You’re asking the wrong person.”

When Your Partner Has Love Amnesia

I recognize what Damsel is talking about — but from a different angle. Typically, I’m not the one forgetting but the one watching a partner do it. Watching a partner redate one of their exes in a situation where the whole thing seems a little shaky from the start.

It’s a difficult thing when they ask me for my opinion about it. Because the responsibility to tell them the truth and my blanket desire to support their autonomy often clash violently:

“What do you think of me dating X?”

“Truthfully?”

“Yes.”

“Well, truthfully, it makes me a bit nervous. I do remember A, B, C, and D happening when you dated before, and when it did, you were crushed. Devastated. But I support your right to make your own decisions about your life, so if you still want to proceed even knowing that, then I’ll support you.”

When having this kind of conversation, I’ve even run into circumstances where the love amnesia effect was so strong that my partner argued with me, saying that what I was reminding them of didn’t happen.

In one case, my partner insisted this until I retrieved an old chat log from the time where the two of us were discussing the incident in question and how much it had hurt them. At first, they were upset with me for finding the chat log, an act that they perceived as “lawyerly,” which I totally get (no one likes to be cornered, contradicted, especially not about something so personal). But on my side of things, I was just getting frustrated that the person I was talking to was insisting something never happened that I knew absolutely had.

Such things are always particularly vivid to the person whose shoulder was cried on. Hard to forget, without the aid of the form of love amnesia that strikes the person actually having the relationship.

So they were irritated at first that I’d looked for evidence and presented it. But after my partner stopped being upset with me, they thanked me. Said that they were willing to proceed with the relationship but only if their ex addressed that history.

Some People Seem More Prone to Love Amnesia Than Others

Sometimes I wonder if it’s a little easier for some of us to experience love amnesia than others. In my experience, it seems like certain people are especially prone to it. And other people seem to rarely encounter it.

I want to say that I’m somewhere on the low end of the spectrum, that I’m one of those people who experience it rarely. I seem to have dated quite a few folks in my past who are a lot more prone to love amnesia than I am, so I’ve more often experienced the effect vicariously (sometimes with great frustration, going “oh my God, c’mon, what are you doing?” in my head).

Before I redated this one ex-boyfriend, I would have told you that my own love amnesia settings were fixed at zero. That I was a person who didn’t easily forget the bad parts, the reasons why we broke up in the first place. Who moves on and doesn’t look back.

But this guy turned everything on its head. He’s special that way.

The truth of the matter is that this isolated love amnesia when it comes to him probably doesn’t matter at all in practical terms. It is extremely unlikely that we’d ever date again. I’ve burned him in the past, multiple times. His love life seems to be going extremely well, and he frankly doesn’t need to be messing around with me and the jankiness that we seem cursed to perpetuate on one another whenever we date.

And on my side of things, I don’t even want to date him again (which always makes my friends’ warnings seem a little silly to me). I’m excited about the possibility of being close friends with him again, but even that is a tenuous proposition.  Because you never know people’s true feelings, what is really going on in their heads. It’s possible that he didn’t find the conversation with me to be pleasant at all. That he scowled the moment I turned away. And was glad when I left the room. You never know.

But I can’t deny that to me it’s always been a unique dynamic. And that there was love amnesia there once upon a time. And that the fact that it ever existed scares the hell out of me.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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