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7 Signs That Someone Isn't Over Their Ex

Look for these seven clues to see how attached they are to an ex.

Key points

  • Talking negatively and often about an ex may indicate someone's still attached to them.
  • Online stalking of a former partner reinforces an emotional attachment to them.
  • Intense emotional arousal when the topic of an ex comes up signals a lack of closure.
  • Not letting go of items linked to an ex demonstrates an unwillingness to move on.

When we start dating a new person, we take our time feeling them out—ideally. What are their interests? What’s their personality like? Are they trustworthy? Do we find them attractive? How do they get along with our friends and family? How do we get along with theirs? One consideration many new daters face is determining whether a new prospect is emotionally available to them. This means: not encumbered by past (or current) crushes, liaisons, or deep attachments to someone they’re not yet over that isn’t us. Sure, there’s the obvious intertwining that lingers after your new mate’s last breakup—think shared pets, assets, children, perhaps. You’ll need to decide which of these you’re comfortable tolerating, and many partners are able to work out ways not to feel so threatened by such unavoidable realities. But it’s often the unspoken orientation of a new prospect’s heart that proves trickier to discern—and more determinative of how being in a relationship with them will go for us (at least at the outset).

To save yourself the heartache of thinking someone’s ready for a new relationship when they may not be, here are seven signs your new date isn’t quite over their ex just yet:

  1. They talk very negatively, and often, about their ex. If a new prospective mate continually disparages their partner to you, this may indicate they’re still quite hung up on them. It’s one thing to honestly reflect on what didn’t work and what led to a relationship’s end. It’s another to perseverate about an ex’s flaws ad nauseam. When we’ve made peace with someone from our past, we’re far less inclined to ruminate about how horrible they were. In some cases, clinging to anger towards a person can serve as a means of remaining connected to them—as well as a means of preventing others from getting close to us. If this sounds like the person you’re dating, be aware their heart may not yet be available.
  2. They get very worked up when the topic of their ex comes up. This is more than just the awkward shifting, darting away of eyes, and occasional stammer that can crop up when a former lover is referred to. Some discomfort is warranted when our ex(es) make it into a conversation—we’re not sure how someone may judge us for having dated them, we may not want to make a new prospect uncomfortable by discussing someone we were attached to in the past, or the whole situation may be something we’re not particularly proud of. But when a new date gets highly emotional (intensely sad, angry, or fearful, say), this can hint that their hearts are still entangled with the presence or memory of their former partner.
  3. They stonewall when asked about their ex. Alternatively, a new date may shut down completely when asked about a prior partner. This phenomenon, called stonewalling, can be a consequence of high emotional arousal or “flooding.” If it happens when someone is referencing their ex, this could indicate that the person is still a bit too attached to them.
  4. They covet objects linked to their ex. It’s one thing to keep an old photo album tucked away in a closet (or in a digital file off of one’s phone) that contains pictures of a prior partner. It’s another to maintain images of one’s ex in readily accessible places, or display them publicly on one’s social media account. Likewise, repeatedly wearing items of clothing, jewelry or keeping expensive gifts on display that belonged to or were given to someone by an ex is a pretty strong hint they’re still somewhat hooked on them. A readiness to move forward is often accompanied by a letting go of those objects we associate with people no longer in our lives.
  5. They display intense ambivalence about committing. While reluctance to lock into a new exclusive relationship can be encouraged by many factors, still harboring feelings for (or wishing to resume a relationship with) one’s ex is a strong contributor. If a new date is expressing hesitation to move forward in addition to demonstrating the aforementioned signs, it's best to accept they’re simply not ready to move forward.
  6. They’re in regular contact with their ex. Texting, calling, and spending in-person time with a former partner is a very strong sign someone isn’t yet over that relationship. Don’t be fooled by a new date’s claims that they’re still friends with someone they had a strong emotional and romantic attachment to in the past. This can very often be a cover for maintaining a tie with someone that keeps them from being able to attach to a new partner.
  7. They stalk their ex online. Liking, reposting, or simply searching for and spending time ogling an ex’s social media account or other online presence means someone isn’t doing the work of moving on from a former partner. Each digital interaction with them or their image reinforces emotional attachment. Beware of new prospective partners who digitally stalk their former lovers.

If you’re dating someone who is displaying some or all of these signs, it’s important to manage your expectations so you don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Healing from a breakup takes time, and some people do so effectively by resuming dating and beginning new relationships. But if someone is clinging to objects or images associated with or representing their ex, continually rehashing negative or positive memories about them, or becoming very emotional when the topic of their ex arises, it may be wise not to get your hopes up that they’re emotionally available to you. If you do note these signs, it’s worth an honest chat with the person you’re seeing about how each of you should proceed—and an honest look at what it is you want and whether you're seeking it from the proper source.

Facebook image: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

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