Have you ever tried to win somebody back you've previously broken up with? Man, is it hard. My friend just came out of a divorce and he was unfortunate enough to immediately meet a great woman. He knew he was in trouble. She was terrific—and he even loved her—but he couldn't tell her as much because he needed more time before re-committing.
After a few months of superficially dating a couple of nice women he had little interest in, he realized his mistake and tried to win his previous love back. But she was already gone. In treating many clients over the years I've seen this dynamic several times—I've even experienced it myself in my youth. There's a reason why the line: "That's the one that got away," is so popular. Most of us have experienced the "failure to recoup," and it serves as a valuable resource for romantics worldwide. Where would songwriters and other artists be without this dynamic?
Based on clinical experience, and my interviews with friends, students, and colleagues, I have come to several conclusions regarding this aspect of reconciliation. While hardly a large sample size, I believe the following results will at least stir up a thoughtful discussion on the matter:
- Once a woman loses her feelings, and in turn, her sexual attraction for a man there is only a remote chance, if any, that she will ever recover them... even if she tries.
- If your partner was "never" attracted to you, getting him or her back after a break is even more futile... unless the point of going back is to continue a dynamic such as a destructive sadomasochistic relationship.
- Many think it's romantic to try and win someone back—they may even encourage the effort. But when I asked these same romantic optimists if it ever worked for them, 100% responded "no." One person did report that his reconstituted relationship was "okay for a while," but that it eventually fell apart; hence his motto: "When you go back with someone, you find out within days why you left in the first place."
- It takes a clear mind—with foresight—to see and seize an opportunity. Finding good relationship chemistry is like getting to the Super Bowl. If you get there, you better take advantage of it because you may never re-experience it. And if you lose it, you may ruminate about the loss for years or even forever.
- People let appropriate partners go for a variety of reasons: As previously mentioned, the timing may be off; they may think there's always someone better out there; they may think they have plenty of time to find someone; they may be self-sabotaging; they may feel unworthy; they may feel uncomfortable with someone they love or who loves them; and, they may be replicating significant losses.
What can be done to avoid this type of loss? The fatalists I've interviewed believed: "If it didn't work the first time, it wasn't meant to be." They give up control to a greater power. I'm a bit more existential. I believe we have choices and that the clearer and more honest we are about what we want, and the less internal conflict we have about getting it, the sooner we can make an appropriate choice.
That said, if you're not truly sure that you want to win the Super Bowl, or you feel uncomfortable being a champion, then you may very well let the opportunity slip by—an opportunity that may never come your way again. In praise of icons everywhere.